THURBER: Flimsy excuse to stop charter school

By   /   August 2, 2012  /   Comments Off

By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog

Maggie Thurber

The Toledo City Council isn’t exactly keen on charter schools, but with a majority being Democrats and supported financially in their campaigns by the Toledo Federation of Teachers union, it’s not a surprise.

However, the latest excuse to vote against a zoning change for a charter school just takes the cake.

Connections Education asked for a special use permit at a downtown Toledo location, so it could open a high school called Nexis Academy of Toledo. Students would spend part of the day at the school and the other part at home using an online curriculum.

The city’s Plan Commission recommended the special use permit by a vote of 5-0. It was presented to the City Council for final approval and needed seven votes to pass.

The main opposition came from Councilman Steven Steel, who pointed out that the school would be within 1,000 feet of six convenience stores. Steel is a former member of the Toledo Board of Education and his wife, Catherine Hernandez, is a Toledo school teacher and serves on the TFT board.

Most people could wonder why a convenience store is a problem — and they’d be right in doing so. But Toledo is a strange place with unusual nanny-state rules and laws and, in its infinite wisdom and efforts to protect us from ourselves, the City Council passed a law governing convenience stores and their proximity to schools:

“A convenience store shall not be located within a 1,000 foot radius of a school, public park, public library, licensed child day care center, or other use established specifically for the activities of minors.”

Existing stores were grandfathered, so we do have some convenience stores close to schools, but the law restricts new ones from being any closer than 1,000 feet to a place primarily focused on children.

During discussion on the matter, Steel said that if the City Council doesn’t allow a convenience store to be placed near a school, it shouldn’t allow a school to be placed near a convenience store. Never mind that other charter schools are located in the area and just ignore that the law doesn’t place such restrictions on schools — this was his tortured logic since there was nothing else to halt the approval.

Then Plan Commission Director Tom Lemon noted that this location was in the downtown entertainment district and the convenience store spacing restrictions didn’t apply. The law says:

“A convenience store shall not be subject to the foregoing restrictions if the convenience store is located within the boundaries of any Community Entertainment District now in existence or subsequently established by ordinance of City Council.”

So even if the spacing restriction could be applied in reverse — which it can’t — the law clearly states that the spacing restrictions do not apply in the small downtown area where the school wants to locate.

Some on the City Council understood the situation. Councilman Mike Craig said he thought it was up to the school to decide where it wanted to go.

Councilman Tom Waniewski said it would be nice if the City Council would stop trying to shut down businesses and “stop playing moral police.” Councilman Rob Ludeman, agreeing with Waniewski, said thousands of kids go through that same area whenever there is a Mud Hens baseball game. “What’s the difference?” Ludeman asked.

But such common sense was not enough for four members of the City Council who voted against the permit. With one member abstaining, the final vote of 6-4 was not enough for approval.

It’s a flimsy excuse to oppose a new business and new jobs — as well as a new option for students — in Toledo.

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