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Commission seeks hiring and spending freeze at Lorain Schools

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LORAIN — The Lorain Academic Distress Commission has asked Lorain Schools to institute a spending freeze and refrain from hiring or making any personnel decisions until a chief executive officer is selected.

The school board says the commission has overstepped its authority in making the request.

The academic distress commission is searching for a CEO after falling test scores and poor state report card grades caused the Lorain district to be placed under academic distress in 2013 and then the purview of state House Bill 70.

House Bill 70, enacted in 2015, states that if a district is in academic distress and under the supervision of an academic distress commission for four years, the old commission will be disbanded and a new one will be appointed to hire a CEO to take over the district.

Under the law, a CEO has the full authority of a superintendent as well as most of the powers given to the school board, with the exception of putting levies on the ballot. After two years, the CEO also would have the ability to take a failing building and turn it into a charter school.

Former Lorain City Councilman Tony Richardson was selected in May to be the new chairman of the school district’s Academic Distress Commission, kicking off the CEO appointment process.

On Tuesday, Richardson sent a letter to Board of Education President Timothy Williams asking that the board refrain from spending and hiring while the House Bill 70 process is in motion.

Richardson wrote that he hoped the district received the letter in the “collaborative spirit that it is offered,” and that the commission’s concerns are rooted in the desire to have the tools and resources to do what’s best for Lorain students.

“While this search process is ongoing, we do not believe it is in the district’s, and ultimately the students’, best interests to expend district funds or make personnel decisions that could have a lasting effect on the district,” Richardson wrote, “so that the incoming CEO will have the most stable and solid platform to begin his or her work with the district.”

Williams wrote a response to Richardson on Thursday saying the board was “shocked and dismayed” to receive the letter without discussion or context after months of what the district believed was a collaborative partnership between the school board and the commission.

Williams wrote that the board worked hard with the previous commission to create an aggressive Academic Recovery Plan that included implementation of individual monitoring for students to make sure they were not falling behind.

The district engaged the community, Williams wrote, and chose to collaborate and not fight whether the board agreed with pending state mandates or not. Williams wrote that the board calmed parents and unified the community through “the apparently mistaken assertion that we would work with the state and the new commission for the good of our students.”

“Instead of returning the respect and courtesy of building a partnership, your letter clearly outlines that you intend to dictate to our district and our staff how to run our district and that you apparently intend to upset all that we have worked so hard to accomplish in anticipation of the impending CEO,” Williams wrote.

Williams wrote that instituting a hiring and spending freeze, which he said the commission has no authority to request, would harm students and families because in public education hiring decision are largely made March through July.

The district has about 25 positions that must be filled by the start of the school year, Williams wrote, and Richardson’s request would stifle progress.

“It has been difficult enough to hire in Lorain because educators and staff know of the impending CEO and the unknowns that come with it,” Williams wrote. “Now, their worst fears are being realized — and we cannot underestimate the chilling effect — which is both real and harmful.”

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com.



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