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Independent Must Mean Independent

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Photo by peasap.

On the surface, the concept presented by TPS Board President Vasquez for an independent review of TPS seems appropriate and needed. However, past attempts at conducting such operational reviews have not resulted in meaningful reforms of TPS usually due to “school board politics”.

TPS officials have consistently used these opportunities to create favorable “public relations” usually timed to influence the next levy on the ballot.

In 1999 the Corporation for Effective Government (CEG) did a benchmarking study of TPS and its operational practices which was conducted by a blue ribbon committee of Toledoans and others. Not included in the study were areas involving union contracts or labor management practices. TPS administrators and union leaders who sat on the steering committee would not participate if these areas were included. Results: Not one single recommendation has been implemented.

In 2002-03, at the urging of education reform advocates, the TPS Board of Education agreed to develop a strategic plan and hired educational consultant and reform guru Phillip Schlechty. In May 2003, the public was presented a “roadmap to success”. Results: Not one single recommendation has been implemented.

In 2002, the public approved a major building program. The Board promised an independent oversight committee to monitor the program. The committee included many individuals who did business with TPS. Conflicts of interest abounded and some individuals serving on the committee were involved in some sweetheart deals. The committee met about 3 years – sporadically at the end before committee members lost interest and the committee stopped meeting.

When the community passed a levy to renovate Scott High School two years ago, the Scott community wanted an independent oversight committee to monitor the project. Having seen what happened with the building projects and the state of the TPS building plan, they were rightly concerned.

What they got was a handpicked committee of folks that had ties with TPS or the Board leadership. The committee has not been heard from since.

There are many more instances of community committees over the last 15 years including recently. Whenever community members get upset, TPS puts a committee together or implements a study to address the issue. The results are always the same: A waste of time and effort.

Can we expect Vasquez and the Board to deliver on his latest promise?

Let’s examine Vasquez’s January 2010 promise of a cost cutting committee when TPS said a new levy was needed. Most expected the committee to be similar to Mayor Bell’s “CSI” committee.

No committee was ever established. The community and employees had no input on potential budget cuts or ideas to save school funds. Vasquez failed to meet his promise. And there are more examples of Vasquez’s failure to act while on the TPS Board.

Finally, getting Board consensus on the effort along with the support of top TPS officials would seem the first order of business in getting an effort like this underway.

Vasquez admits in press interviews that he did not discuss it with all Board members before his announcement at a meeting of an economic development group called The Partners. A Blade reporter just happened to be in the audience. Why? A skeptic would see this as a great way to get personal attention for being a problem solver in preparation for his next run at city council.

Grandstanding never solved any problems. It can draw attention to problems, but most in this community already know that TPS has major intractable problems.

The current effort can only work if the TPS Board charters the committee by vote. It must be autonomous and look at both operational and financial practices including current union contracts. No TPS officials or employees should be members of the committee. All employees and records must be available for interviews and inspection. All committee members must be free of financial or other relationships that pose a conflict of interest.

The true intentions of the Board will be evident in how they structure the committee. Without independence and inclusion of the education reform advocates, it’s just more grandstanding in preparation for a November levy.

Photo by peasap.