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Lorain Schools board member says she supports CEO


LORAIN — A Lorain school board member said she has “all the confidence in the world” in the district’s CEO less than a week after the board issued a unanimous no-confidence vote against him Monday night.

At the quarterly Academic Distress Commission meeting Wednesday night, Yvonne Johnson, the newest member of the school board, said people shouldn’t “believe everything you read” about the school board and while some of them believe in the work that CEO David Hardy is doing, there are others “who are in a political and personal fight with the CEO.”

“They know who to talk to,” she said. “They know how to engineer things in a different direction to keep up the turmoil and they know people at the newspaper and they know how to present it. All I want is to act like an adult, but that’s not happening with the board and I can’t do it myself.”

The relationship between Hardy, who is virtually all-powerful with the abilities of both a superintendent and a school board, and the elected body has been rocky in recent weeks after the board, led by President Tony Dimacchia, expressed concerns that it wasn’t receiving the necessary financial information to place a renewal levy on the ballot.

Dimacchia, who plans to run for mayor of Lorain next year, previously has said when the school district was being led by a superintendent, the board made levy decisions based on recommendations from him or her. But that’s not happening now because Hardy won’t attend their meetings and has been slow at getting them financial information.

But at the Wednesday night meeting, Johnson said she has “all the information that (she) needs” regarding the levy decision and she “never had any doubt about it.”

“It’s wonderful to be the newest member because I don’t have a hidden agenda,” she said. “I don’t want to be anything except a member of the board and have the children be better. If the board has changed, I’m new so I’m not stuck in that rut where I have to have all of the power and I have to know the policy. If my CEO says I have to come a community meeting to find out what’s going on, I’ll come to the community meeting.”

Hardy said he has talked to some of the board members and he’s reached out to others to try and initiate a conversation but hasn’t received a response.

“I would love to have conversations with board members,” he said. “The role of the board though is different, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to conversations.”

Steve Cawthon, a Lorain High School teacher who was the school board’s appointee to the Academic Distress Commission, said he’s “disappointed” in the relationship between Hardy and the board, but he’s an optimist and hopes a renewal levy can be placed on the ballot.

“I hold out hope that a level of diplomacy can be bridged and that the board and Mr. Hardy and cultivate a relationship that will both excel and accomplish the task of improving Lorain schools,” he said.

Commission chairman Tony Richardson expressed the desire to end the issues regarding information, especially considering that Hardy places all public records requests and their responses on the district’s website as well as other information.

“I think it’s unfair that we have to have these discussions and take up this much time,” he said.

Lorain NAACP President E. Jean Wrice said she wishes there was a law to remove the members of the school board and put new people in their positions.

“They’re playing games, which should have no place when it comes to our children,” she said. “I’m so sick and tired of it. If you don’t want to be a school board member, then don’t. We’ll find someone. It’s embarrassing, and I’m ashamed of their leadership in the city.”

There were three school board seats available in the general election last November and the candidates, Tim Williams, Bill Sturgill and Johnson, ran unopposed.

Resident and retired teacher Nancy Cook said the board has had a problem with Hardy since he came to Lorain last summer and after looking at their public records requests online, she isn’t surprised they haven’t been fulfilled.

“He has work to do,” she said. “He doesn’t have time. If you look at those requests, take them to the board and see how long it takes them. He just got here. He doesn’t have time to get the stuff they’re asking for. Emails, telephone calls, look at it. It’s ridiculous. There’s something wrong with the board. I’m sick of them trying to mess with him.”

Progress on ‘Lorain Promise’

The remainder of the commission’s quarterly meeting focused on the work Hardy has done on the “Lorain Promise,” his strategic plan for getting the district out of the academic distress it’s been in for several years.

Richardson said the discussion was framed around Hardy’s managerial, operational and instructional goals for the district because those are what House Bill 70, the state law that put both the commission and Hardy in place, outline as the CEO’s responsibilities.

Hardy said there wasn’t much to discuss yet on the instructional front because during his tenure so far he’s been focusing on how the district is set up.

“I will say the first seven months not knowing what I was jumping into the depth of change that is necessary around organizational culture, around staffing and positions, has taken a lot of time,” he said. “It has been pretty significant. I want to make sure the foundation is strong so that way we can build upon it.”

Operationally, Hardy said he and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Josh Hill, who also serves as the district’s treasurer, have taken a look at the budget and are beginning to make changes.

Hill said the district is on track to see only a 2.4 increase in spending this year, below previous years’ average 7.6 percent increase, because they’re trying to keep everything balanced.

“We’re doing well and really are holding people accountable for each and every expenditure and making them think ‘If I’m coming to you with a new cost, I have to have something I’m replacing it with,’” he said. “We’re really getting a hold of our staffing levels and if we’re going to add staff, how are we offsetting it? We’re not going to add. We want to keep it level — at or below has been our new slogan.”

Hill said the district is saving and that includes the five chief positions that were recently added as well as two senior project managers — in July of last year there were 54 people working in the administration building. Now there is 52, he said, and the cost has shrunk from $4.5 million to $4.3 million.

Hill also said district has changed its health care provider as a cost-saving measure and is having employees be paid out of different funds when allowable. For example, when employees do work related to food services, they fill out a time log and a portion of their paycheck comes out of the food services fund.

The district also will make changes to its busing to increase ridership rather than cut reduce routes.

“During the 2018-2019 school year, we’re going to look at repositioning some of the routes to maximize utilization,” Hill said. “For the remainder of the current year, we’re going to allow the buses to stop along the routes to pick up students that they see walking to school so if anyone is within the 2-mile radius and is walking to school anyway, they’ll be picked up.”

Hardy said changes also are coming to human resources because that department has been eliminated in favor of the People Office.

“We’re finding and beginning to get more information around how our HR office has run in the past and we’re finding some gaps, some of which might be significant,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to wrap around the personnel side. … The work is going to be significant.”

Hardy said he also plans to beef up the administration staff at each buildings by adding a “turnaround principal” and an “academic dean” to each.

“This is probably the hardest section to talk about. Great schools don’t happen without great school leaders,” he said. “It’s hard to find, so this was a priority for me. We want people who can elevate the performance of our young people. What’s hard is sometimes there are people who are working hard every single day, but the results don’t necessarily match.”

Hardy said earlier this year he sat down with each of the building principals to interview them for positions next year, plus he received 270 to 300 applicants for one of the three school leadership positions.

“I know when I was in St. Louis with 24,000 kids and 72 buildings, if we had this many applicants we were jumping for joy,” he said. “I think people are recognizing the opportunity here.”

Hardy said finalists for the principal positions will be determined at the beginning of April and he hopes to have the final decisions made and the appointments announced later that month.

Richardson noted later this year Hardy also will be evaluated, but because his position is relatively new, with Youngstown is the only other district in the state to go through this process, the commission will have to work with the state to build an evaluation for him.

“I think it’s really important that we evaluate our leadership,” he said. “It’s not about ‘I got you.’ We want to learn together but also hold each other accountable. It also starts at the top so we want to make sure that’s the culture of the district and that he’s not exempt.”

Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or Follow her on Twitter at @KatieHNix.

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