An A-MAZE-ing Race!

This week we got back into the swing of things as our kids began the school year.  It was so exciting to watch my 8 year [pullquote_left]There must be involvement from parents, health grandparents, website like this guardians, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, Pastors and close friends….sounds a little like that “it takes a village to raise a child” concept.[/pullquote_left]old and 6 year old eagerly (even though they tried to mask it) start back again.  Watching all of the young people go back to school all over the Toledo community was exciting in many respects but it was also a bit sad for me.  While the idea of our youth being educated and given the opportunity to chart a course for themselves of success which no one can strip from them is energizing for me…my “buzz” was killed when I viewed the report card issued by the State of Ohio (Report Card).  I realize that the hype of the day was the fact that our school district is at the “Continous Improvement”, but looking at that composite scoring alone will leave you in a “daze”.  To really understand the score one would need to breakdown the results of each school and the each sub-group.  That would be where my “buzz” took a sharp nose dive.

Take for instance scores of African-American children in grades 3-8.  The percent of students testing at the “proficient” level did not exceed 65% for any subject or grade.  Fifth graders across all tests were at 32.8% proficient.  Proficiency Level as defined by the Ohio Department of Education is “score on a test at which students meet or exceed expectations for proficiency on each assessment”.  Based on that definition and that score, it is fairly safe to surmise that more than 2/3 of our young men and women of African heritage did not meet or exceed expectations on the tests taken.  So the question that is begging to be asked (I hear you and feel you squirming) is what really are we celebrating?

Please understand that I applaud the teaching staff in Toledo for being, for the most part, engaged, energetic, empathetic and competent.  The question however is, “are we effective?” Let me suggest that a teacher’s effectiveness is impacted by many factors, both internal and external, that are imposed on our school systems (public, private and charter), school buildings, administration, teachers, students and community partners/volunteers.  Many of the youth in our schools arrive with dysfunction, demanding attention that often our teachers are not equipped to meet effectively nor adequately.  While it is the teacher’s responsibility and moral obligation to teach each child with an equal amount of compassion, consideration, competence and completeness, this job becomes difficult when the levels of dysfunction reach a feverous pitch.

There must be involvement from parents, grandparents, guardians, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, Pastors and close friends….sounds a little like that “it takes a village to raise a child” concept.  Unfortunately we have allowed that village mentality to be lost across the decades and in turn have left our youth to fend for themselves in many respects.  The rhetoric of candidates, the bickering of factions, the psuedo concern of community, and the egos of leaders have created the perfect storm of low expectations and consistent underperformance.

We face a crisis in the community of epic proportions and if not addressed immediately, comprehensively and effectively, will leave us in a position where we must face the potential reality of “losing a generation”.  Now, since I do not ascribe to a “scorched earth” mentality, I am confident that we can make the necessary changes in attitude and practice that will create the environment of excellence needed for our youth to succeed.

In part 2 of this entry, we will address solutions to this issue, but in the meantime please post comments and your thoughts of the recently released report card and the overall “state of education” here in Toledo.  We look forward to the dialogue!
[pullquote_right]While jobs are important, drug the main factor that precludes people from and causes significant barriers is the lack of a good education.  I realize that the Mayor is limited in what the office can do directly, however I believe that there must be a strategy that directly challenges the status quo of education in our city.[/pullquote_right] Earlier tonight the five major candidates for Mayor of the City of Toledo took to the stage at the Main Branch of Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in Downtown Toledo.  The event that was the first public event in which the community attended in person to view Candidates Mike Bell, D. Michael Collins, Ben Konop, Jim Moody, and Keith Wilkowski.

Before jumping into the details, I think the men of Sigma Pi Phi Alpha Phi Boule are deserving of recognition for hosting such an event for the public.  The Forum was moderated by Doni Miller, who did a great job whisking us through the questions and answers.  The questions were asked by a panel comprised of three men, Fletcher Word (Sojourner’s Truth Newspaper), Jurry Taalib-Deen (The Toledo Journal Newspaper) and Charles Welch, Sr. (WJUC Radio).  There were also questions asked by the audience.  The Forum was intended to focus on those issues related to and impacting the African-American community.

[note_box]Editorial note:  The Greater Toledo Urban League is a 501c3 organization and we do not endorse any candidate for elected office.  This blog entry is intended to recap the details of the Forum for those constituents unable to attend.  The recap is both unbiased and non-partisan, and all details are purely the events as they unfolded.[/note_box]

Now on to the fun stuff.  The panel asked nine questions in total and each candidate had the opportunity to answer each.  There were five questions fielded by the audience.  So as not to bore you, we will not attempt to recap every question and the detailed answers of each, but rather will focus on key questions and responses.

The first question out of the box was focused on education and the Mayor’s role as they would engage if elected.  Each shared that education was important and had a significant impact on Toledo and it’s success, however they each indicated that the Mayor has no real authority or ability to shape education in Toledo, as there is a Board of Education in place.  Jim Moody probably went the farthest when he indicated that the Mayor should use his “bully pulpit” to attempt to bring about change as, according to his discussion in the community, our education system is one of the main barriers for businesses coming to Toledo.

One of the questions that many in the audience wanted an answer to was related to the candidates involvement with Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), their current stance and what they would do in office to work with and expand this piece.  Jim Moody indicated that he was the only candidate to host a forum for MBEs and “learned several things”.  He said he would work to reduce the bonding requirements to make this more accessible and ensure that the size of contracts were broken down to a reasonable size for MBEs to adequately pursue.  Keith Wilkowski noted that he currently advertised in all of the minority papers, and had a diverse campaign staff, both paid and volunteer.  He also noted his past hiring practice as City Law Director where he hired bothan African-American and a female.  D. Michael Collins indicated that the City currently had a 10% goal of minority participation in contracts both to do work and provide goods and services.  He thought that this was good, but needed to be enforced.  Ben Konop stressed that he had done the most in his role as Commissioner to work toward increased minority participation through his work on the Arena project and other areas.  Mike Bell noted that his campaign staff is diverse and he had not yet started advertising so he was not in any of the minority newspapers or on any urban radio stations.  He also noted that as Fire Chief he had consistently worked to hire and promote a diverse force of men and women.

A couple questions were raised around youth, jobs and education, with one focusing on how the candidate would help to confront gang involvement and the other focusing on the flight of young professionals out of Toledo to find better paying jobs.  Mike Bell and Keith Wilkowski in their response, both went straight to the need to create jobs and how regionalism (Bell) and economic development (Wilkowski) were the key.  D. Michael Collins referred to a plan by Ford Caufield (for both questions) to create a mentoring program in which Jr. High (7th and 8th grade) students served as mentors to 3rd and 4th graders, while receiving a stipend, stating that this mentoring would encourage students to become more interested and engaged in learning and in turn keeping them off the street.  Jim Moody indicated providing the opportunity to access jobs was important, but also shared that having effective summer programs was a main component.  Ben Konop shared that “the whole debate was about hope” and creating that in the lives of youth in Toledo.  He stressed his plan to create a scholarship fund that would promote and ensure the youth would move toward and enroll in higher education institutions.  Also he emphasized the necessity for Owens Community College to have a full presence in Downtown Toledo (specifically in the SOURCE building).

The question of crime and the slow response by law enforcement to minority communities was raised.  D. Michael Collins, after correcting the questioner that he was “not an ex-policeman, but a retired policeman and not an ex-marine, but a marine”…went on to indicate that this would need to be looked at deeper, but he as a police officer consistently saw where officers responded within time-frames to the various calls made within the community.  Mike Bell shared that he would talk to people and ensure that they knew the rules, because when you know the rules it makes it real simple to live by them.  Ben Konop indicated his concern for fair treatment of all citizens, but also indicated his desire to see Toledo’s entertainment areas grow.  Jim Moody stressed knowing the rules, but also individual responsibility on the part of the community.  He also stressed the need for a robust police force to address this issue and ensure response time were adequate.  Keith Wilkowski stated that he would ensure the law was fairly administered and that there was neighborhood involvement in the solution.

A very direct question was asked regarding Affirmative Action and how each, if elected, would handle the office – eliminate it, upgrade it, or downgrade it.  Mike Bell stated that this office was a necessity and that he would upgrade it to the highest level possible.  D. Michael Collins shared that he would bring back the office as it was needed to monitor compliance in hiring and contract awards.  Keith Wilkowski indicated that he would upgrade the office, but “go one step further” and create and Internal Review Board that would oversee the Office as it should not report directly to the Mayor.  Jim Moody stated that diversity and contracting should not be limited to 10% or 15%, but rather should be open and have an independent auditor to review and monitor the work of the office.  Ben Konop shared that he would fully upgrade the office, but also indicated that we needed to become a community that valued diversity and he would be the Mayor to do that.

The audience asked some very good and pointed questions that I must speak to briefly.  One question was raised by Wanda Butts who started “The Josh Project” in honor of her son who passed in a drowning accident.  (Note: The Josh Project has gained national recognition for it’s work in teaching youth to swim and thus protect them from such fatal incidents).  Her question was related to the opening of pools in the summer.  Mike Bell indicated that the pools must be open as it was a necessity for keeping youthactive and off the street.  D. Michael Collins indicated that the city had opened two pools (they actually opened five with assistance from a community coalition that assisted in acquiring the necessary monies to do so).  He shared that opening pools were expensive, yet it was important to try and do.  Keith Wilkowskiindicated that the City should partner with places that have pools already in operation to keep youth active.  Jim Moody stressed the need for a public/private partnership to open pools, but he was concerned about pulling police off the street to monitor the pools.  Ben Konop took most of his minute to applaud Ms. Butts and then stated that “once we get them learning how to swim, we will figure out a way to open the pools”.

Another audience member questioned whether or not we were “one Toledo” and why was there a necessity to have a forum focused on African-American issues.  Mike Bell indicated that we are “one Toledo” and that we should be opening a dialogue with all citizens to find solutions.  D. Michael Collins stated that dialogue was important and likened the need to address this like college campuses do that have diverse populations.  Keith Wilkowski stated that we should be “one Toledo” and indicated we had the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum begun by the election of President Obama.  Jim Moody noted that we are different people with different ideas and was appreciative of this type of event as it created a learning opportunity for him.  Ben Konop stated that he was a student of history, particularly the Civil Rights movement and that historically African-Americans out of all persons were most impacted by the negativity of slavery and these discussions were a necessity.

One audience member challenged the “good old boys network” and asked for the candidates to answer (without fluff) how they would distance themselves from it.  Ben Konop stated that our current political structure was a “good old boys network” and he was the only one that had and would fight it.  Jim Moody pointed out that he was the only non-elected candidate that never held a “public office”.  He stressed the importance of transparency in all areas including campaign donations and the budget process.  Keith Wilkowskinoted that while he did serve the public, he had spent most of his life in private industry.  D. Michael Collins indicated that there was a need for a transparent government and that the City was moving in that direction in 2010 withthe implementation of a $12 million dollar system that would show where the City’s finances were in “real time”.  Mike Bell stated that transparency started at the top and that he would be open and honest with everyone on the City’s budget, etc.

Lastly, a question on “double-dipping” was raised. (Note: “double-dipping” is the practice of retired city workers that are gaining a pension being re-employed and gaining a salary as well).  D. Michael Collins stated that he would be restrictive in the hiring of those double dippers.  Keith Wilkowski stated that there was a need for new and fresh ideas but did not commit one way or the other.  Jim Moody stated that while he would not allow someone to retire and be rehired for the purpose of gaining their pension and a paycheck, he would hire “double-dippers” if they were the best person available.  Ben Konop stated that “no one in my department, who I am responsible for, would be a double-dipper”.  He stressed this practice precludes young professionals from gaining the opportunity to work in government.  Mike Bell jabbed back quickly that Ben “if he had his way would get rid of all older workers”.  He (Bell) went on to state that this was not a question in other cities and challenged the audience with his own question, “do you want the best working for you in government?”.

Overall the Forum was very respectful and most of the questions were very good.  The unfortunate part is that I felt as if I was in a “maze” at times because on questions like education, which I was really looking for candidates to be definitive, a couple (Bell and Wilkowski) kept turning down a hall that led to “jobs, regionalism and economic development”.  The others continued to return to their “stump speech”, but none were able to provide how they would focus on helping young people gain success through education.  Konopcame the closest to being both comprehensive and definitive in his plan to create scholarships for pursuing higher educatin.

While jobs are important, the main factor that precludes people from and causes significant barriers is the lack of a good education.  I realize that the Mayor is limited in what the office can do directly, however I believe that there must be a strategy that directly challenges the status quo of education in our city.  It is shameful that we have educational systems (i.e. – public, charter, etc.) that lack the accountability and transparency to be effective.  Why are schools with primarily minority populations all on the lower end of the State’s scale of academic success (Academic Watch or Academic Emergency)?    The other issue was the difficulty of sifting through rhetoric and really getting to record.  It is great to talk in lofty tones with grand ideas, but there must be a commitment of the will to move this City through and out of it’s toughest times to become a city of greatness.

Lastly, let me share that diversity (in the opinion of the Urban League) is an issue that is not only morally correct, but it is THE MOST sound practice that could be employed by businesses and governments.  We must move beyond talk to real action.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *