By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
A school board is, perhaps, the most important thing you can vote for.
– Mike Mikus
The Toledo Public Schools Board of Education general election campaign is taking place imperceptibly while our attention is focused on the glittering Toledo City Council At-large races.
Yet, school board elections are urgently important.
School boards ensure that the superintendent effectively manages the district’s operations and expertly administers the millions of levy dollars they receive from taxing our homes.
A school board’s decision to open or close schools affects property values and can enhance or destroy neighborhoods. In addition, education priorities influence students’ knowledge, character, skills, and future.
A board’s decisions determine whether working parents have to play teacher or worry about child care while attempting to work. Board determinations also influence the quality of a child’s education if they have to attend school remotely. In addition, their judgments increase parental concern over schools’ health and safety, given the ongoing risks of COVID and the rise in violence.
Thus, voters must become familiar with those running for such an important position.
The following is my conversation with Bob Vasquez, candidate for Toledo Public Schools Board (TPS). The lifelong Toledo resident has served on the TPS Board since 2008.
Perryman: A few of The Truth’s readers may not be familiar with you. How would you describe yourself?
Vasquez: I’m a lifelong resident of Toledo, and I grew up in East Toledo. I went to Waite High School, so I’m a product of Toledo Public Schools. I have a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Toledo. I have worked in nonprofits, working with children and families most of my life. I’m currently vice president of External Affairs for the Toledo Zoo, where I’ve been for six years.
Perryman: How about your experience with the Toledo Public Schools Board?
Vasquez: I’ve been on the school board since 2008, and since then, I have been president and the vice president more than a couple of times. I have been chairman of the finance committee since about 2009. So, I’ve served on every committee that we have on the board. So, I have a history with the district and from being on the board of education.
Perryman: What specific strengths would you bring to the board?
Vasquez: What I bring to the board is consistency, and that consistency allows me to see things over time. For example, when I first joined the board in 2008, the country experienced the last major financial crisis. The school district was in the same predicament, and we had to make cuts in our finances. We had to ask for concessions from our staff and balance our budget until we could get back to being viable financially. I was there, and I know some of the reasons we were in those situations and, as president, I had to address all of those situations. It took powerful leadership. There were some tough decisions to make. I was not very popular at the time. The decisions weren’t popular at the time, but I really felt with the help of my colleagues and staff that we could do this, and we would get back on our feet. And when we did get back on our feet, what I promised was that I would make our employees whole, and we would continue to thrive as a district, and that’s precisely what happened.
Since those days, we have come a long way, so I want everybody to know that we are in the best financial situation, I believe, in two decades.
Perryman: What are the current challenges facing TPS?
Vasquez: My first challenge is to make sure that we remain financially viable. That is very important because, without finances, we can’t run a school system. The other thing is providing a safe learning environment for our students. There’s been an increase in violence in our community, and our schools are a microcosm of the community. Our students need to feel safe coming to and from school and feel secure in our buildings. Some of that involves our resource officers, some of that involves mental health, and some involve students having somebody to talk to. Students need somebody to talk to if there is something that they know about or something going on that could be harmful to themselves, their fellow students, or their families.
Perryman: Well, the head of your teachers’ union talked about tripling the police. How do you respond?
Vasquez: We have an adequate number of TPD police and school resource officers and our own officers in our schools. It would be good to maintain what we have and constantly provide training and professional development for our officers while enhancing our mental health capabilities for our students.
Perryman: How do you plan to budget the American Rescue Plan Act funds? I’ve been in other meetings where organizations have come to the City and the County requesting funds. The reply was, ‘you guys are coming to us to fund these educational programs, but TPS got a bunch of money too, and nobody’s going to them with requests.’
Vasquez: We’re currently trying to make sure that we have the proper guidance on how we can spend the money. The district is also going through and deciding what the priorities are within those guidelines for TPS. Then they also have it so that the board also contributes to that conversation. In the end, we’ll decide on what direction and what our priorities are. I think essential priorities right now are what’s important for the money within the guidelines we have.
Perryman: Are there any plans to involve the public in the conversations?
Vasquez: I believe that the district and staff are already engaged and getting feedback from the community through our already created channels. But I can’t say that we’re having any public forums.
Perryman: Are you committed to a yearly survey of families, students, graduates, community residents, faculty, and staff about what they see as the significant strengths and shortcomings of the district?
Vasquez: Absolutely, I always think that that’s a good thing to do. Right now, we do a number of surveys with our staff and with our students and their families. We have regular surveys, but I think what you might be getting to depends on what those questions are. We’re asking and surveying for specific purposes, which would be a combination of many things people would be interested in. Still, we could design something to get input from all of our families and all of our staff. So, yes, I’m committed to doing that.
Perryman: Are you willing to share the results publicly?
Vasquez: Yes, and for two reasons. One is, there’s no reason to survey if we’re not going to try to come up with some solutions, and to do that, we have to involve the people we’re surveying. So yes, they would have to have that information to engage them in helping come up with solutions. And here’s the other reason, we have the responsibility to be transparent and open to the public in anything we do.
Perryman: So, can I nail you down as to when you might do some type of survey with the general public?
Vasquez: I don’t want to make any promises because I can’t say as one board member. That’s something that we’d have to discuss with the board and Dr. [Romules] Durant, but you can nail me down that I will make that request.
Perryman: What are your positions on vouchers, charter schools and tuition tax credits?
Vasquez: I think that tuition vouchers and charter schools are negative, and I’ll tell you why. Charter schools are not required to have the same reporting requirements by the state as public schools, and they’re not required to have the same input from the community as public schools. They like to call themselves community schools, but I don’t believe at all that they’re genuinely community schools, so that’s one thing. With the vouchers, they’re taking public money without public accountability, and I think that’s absolutely horrible. If they’re going to take public money, they should have the same public accountability as any other governmental agency and especially as public school districts, so that’s the way I feel about that.
Perryman: Final question. Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or representative of the school system?
Vasquez: I see myself as a representative of the community, absolutely. It’s the community that elects me, and that’s why I am a powerful advocate for making sure that we are fiscally responsible with their tax money. It is all about our students and their families. So that’s who I represent.
Perryman: Thank you.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org