Farewell to Gene Tracy, faithful school district protester


Think of the school board as the Titanic. Gene Tracy was the only one aboard who knew how to swim.
If you’ve ever managed to stay awake through an entire Cleveland school board meeting, chances are you’ve seen Gene Tracy. He’s the guy sitting somewhere near the back, his hair too long and his waist too stout, who rattles off a bunch of threatening-sounding statistics whenever he gets a chance to talk. He railed against former schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s habit of fudging numbers —particularly the cost of the district’s massive school construction project. He’s questioned the wisdom of building a new West Side high school when the district has long known its enrollment numbers are plummeting. He once even showed up with a gag in his mouth, to protest a school board member who banned him from speaking... He’s a math teacher, you see, and in the Cleveland schools, that’s like being the one guy on the Titanic who knows how to swim. Year after year, he’s watched things get worse, as 9th and 10th graders arrive in his classroom unable to do basic multiplication. Which is why he finally decided to retire this year, just shy of his 30-year anniversary. “I have integrity,” he says, “ and I couldn’t go through with the product I was receiving.” Lucky for us, he’s not going to stop being a thorn in the side of the school board. Apparently, all these years he’s been trying to stay polite and avoid biting the hand that feeds him. Not anymore. He plans to crusade for an elected school board, ending the era of incompetent mayoral control. “I’m gonna get my right to vote back,” he says. “The kid gloves are gonna be off now.” -- Lisa Rab


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