Reading help for West Akron kids

Jun 16, 2014 by

Ernie Tarle is tired of inner-city kids getting trounced by suburban students on state reading tests.

So is state Rep. Zack Milkovich, Tarle’s lifelong friend and a two-term Democrat from Akron.

The intoxicating speakers are leveraging their humble roots, growing up together in East Akron.

Tarle — the only member of Akron City Council to be recalled by voters — and Milkovich — who lost his bid this year to switch from the legislature to clerk of courts — are redirecting their attention to social justice for urban youth by launching Leap Frog, a reading program designed to turn the three-month summer retreat into reading advancement.

Initial funding comes from “Zack and my wallet,” said Tarle, who filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and has apologetically asked for volunteers and cheap labor.

Heavily reliant on the commitment of parents, the program is modeled after a successful effort in Philadelphia.

Akron parents gathered June 5 at Mount Olive Baptist Church, which has donated space for the program, to hear riveting stories and promises from a confident Milkovich and an animated Tarle.

“There are only two ways out of poverty,” Milkovich told a crowd of 20, who responded to fliers circulating in the community. “You can work hard and save your money, or you can educate yourself out.”

“I still have air in my lungs. And I still have a big mouth. I will continue to fight,” he preached.

Tarle then addressed the crowd, sitting on folding chairs in the chapel. “Read, baby, read,” he chanted, throwing his hands into the air as if possessed by the spirit. “Reach for the stars, the world is ours.”

The men have been pounding the pavement in West Akron, asking businesses to give and parents to participate.

Tarle estimates $5,000 in goods and services already have been promised, including haircuts, oil changes, pizza, a bicycle and gift cards for local restaurants.

Tarle plans to give the donations to students who excel and parents who attend workshops. “We’re going to teach you how to teach your child,” Tarle told the attentive audience.

The program is free for the first 30 students. Additional seats cost $40 a week, or $200 for the summer.

They’re counting on volunteers and educators working for $10 an hour — what Tarle called “ridiculous low wages, for which we are very, very grateful.”

Second try

Tarle’s intentions are reminiscent of his 2012 plan to help Akron’s poor children by founding a charter school. He said the charter school never got off the ground after Mayor Don Plusquellic, a political rival, sabotaged his relationship with a prospective sponsor in Toledo.

Plusquellic confirmed this week that he wrote a letter opposing Tarle’s proposed charter school. He said he did this because of his general disdain of charter schools — based on their poor performance in Ohio — and his distrust of Tarle because of their past association.

“Ohio has allowed people like Ernie to apply, rip off the state and disappear after four to five years,” he said. “I didn’t trust what Ernie’s motives were.”

Plusquellic said he hadn’t heard about the latest educational endeavor.

“I wouldn’t trust those two with my kids,” he said.

Tarle and Plusquellic have tangled in the past in elections and on charter amendments.

“The mayor doesn’t like anybody that’s willing to question anything he does,” Tarle said. “He’s a bully, and he’s very good at it.”

Tarle was recalled from the Akron City Council amid bribery allegations after passing an envelope of cash from an oil and gas company owner to a colleague on the council. He later made money in real estate, created a “Rags to Riches” website and video that he sold for about $10 each, then lost everything.

“About eight years ago, I had, oh, about $7 million worth of property in Florida. Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans and the Gulf coast,” Tarle said. “Everything that I held became of much less value.”

Faith helps with finances

His faith, however, hasn’t faltered.

“As a follower of Christ, I believe that my mission on this Earth is to serve people, to help people. And by serving others I serve my God the best.”

He made his bid for a political comeback to the Akron council in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

He and his wife, who also manages properties, have been involved in 80 civil lawsuits in Akron Municipal Court since the early 1990s. He’s had delinquent taxes and is in a dispute with the city over about $360 spent to remove litter from a property he once owned.

Tarle said his unsettled finances and questionable tax history shouldn’t discourage supporters and investors from donating money or services to his reading program.

Back in the housing business, he said he’s doing the city a favor.

“We buy junk properties and we sell them. All we do is improve and manage them,” Tarle said. “They want to put this rap on me like I’m a dead-beat landlord. But all we do every day is fix up houses and make Akron better, putting people back to work.”

He said his financial woes shouldn’t dissuade donors from supporting his current efforts.

He has asked the Akron school board to supply his program with used textbooks, pass out his fliers and provide a list of soon-to-be third-graders who struggle with reading.

The school board won’t violate federal privacy law by divulging the names. But they’ve agreed to handle the fliers, and administrators are considering donating outdated textbooks, which normally would go to auction.

Board President Lisa Mansfield, however, cautioned Tarle that the books are not aligned to Ohio’s more rigorous learning standards.

Securing sustainable funding is no major concern because results will remove doubt, he said.

“We’re hoping that when we deliver we’ll be able to get some money together.”

by Education News
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Tarle, Milkovich try another project: Reading help for West Akron kids – Local – Ohio.

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