School nurses debate may end

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

After months of squabbling, the debate over funding for Toledo school nurses could come to an end tomorrow.

On the agenda for tomorrow’s city council meeting is an ordinance that, if passed, would allocate $50,000 from city coffers to help pay for seven nurses in Toledo elementary schools – 11 months and three council votes after Mayor Carty Finkbeiner announced he was cutting the program from the city’s budget.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” Councilman Peter Gerken said. “The mayor has fi-nally understood how serious we are about this.”

The saga began in January, when, facing a budget shortfall, the Finkbeiner administration announced it would no longer pay for the program, shifting responsibility to Toledo Public Schools.

The city spent about $327,000 last year on the nurses. The school district is projected to run a $7-million surplus this year.

Days before five nurses were to be laid off, three area health-care systems – ProMedica Health Systems, Mercy Health Partners, and the Medical College of Ohio – stepped in and agreed to split the bill with the school district.

In a move to help the hospitals and schools cover this year’s tab, council approved spending $50,000 on the nurses on July 8. Ten days later, Mr. Finkbeiner vetoed the proposal.

On July 23, council overrode the veto 10-2. But Mr. Finkbeiner ignored council’s vote, saying he would not pay for the program because council had allocated the funds from a nonexistent source, a city account that did not have any money to pay the bill.

While the city’s law department said the mayor’s move was legal, it haunted Mr. Finkbeiner throughout his re-election campaign.

At its last meeting, Mr. Gerken proposed a plan that could have made an end around the mayor’s wishes. The ordinance he introduced would force the city’s finance department to re-estimate the amount of money council is allowed to spend this year.

A strong economy has increased income tax revenues, Mr. Gerken said, and that extra revenue should be available for council to spend as it wishes – including on school nurses.

The bill passed council’s finance committee 5-2, but the full body held back from taking action on it in hopes of a compromise with the mayor.

“That was the last straw of the mayor’s resistance,” Mr. Gerken said. “When we finally challenged the finance department, he understood what we wanted.”

Last week, the administration identified another source of funding in city government that could provide the $50,000 council approved.

The new source: the health department’s rodent control program, which has not spent all of the money council allocated to it in this year’s budget.

Mr. Gerken painted the battle as a victory for council.

“This was the administration’s way of capitulating to the will of council,” he said. “It was a little bit of political gamesmanship.”

The bill to determine the city’s income is on the council’s agenda this week, but Mr. Gerken said he did not expect the body to act on it.

In other business, council will consider:

* An ordinance that would revise Toledo’s domestic violence law to match a new, tougher state law.

The revision expands the definition of who is a family member for purposes of prosecution and requires local authorities to enforce restraining orders issued in other states.

* Changing the speed limit on Airport Highway between Reynolds and Byrne roads to 45 mph. The current speed limit is 40 mph between Byrne and Angola Road, but 50 mph between Angola and Reynolds.

* Authorizing a $250,000 economic development loan to High Tech Packaging, Inc. The funds would be used to build a 200,000-square-foot facility. The company says the growth will create at least 150 new jobs.

Council will also consider spending $150,000 in capital improvement program funds to improve utility lines at the site.

* Authorizing a $150,000 loan to J & S Machine Products for a new facility in East Toledo. The loan would help create at least 10 new jobs, company officials said.

* Installing traffic signals outside Maumee Valley Country Day School at Glendale Avenue and a Wendy’s restaurant on Monroe Street near Talmadge Road.