State lawmakers are questioning the legitimacy of legislation that has led to the takeover of the Youngstown and Lorain school districts following a new state review of the Mahoning County district.
According to a news release, the spring review completed by the Ohio Department of Education says Youngstown Schools are failing key state education standards ranging from fiscal management to curriculum delivery.
The news release said the Youngstown district lacks a professional development plan, a districtwide communications plan and is missing support for students with disabilities.
“Mounting evidence is bringing together lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to freeze state takeovers of our local schools,” state Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, said. “We’re close to including language to that effect in a soon-to-pass bill and, less interparty political pressure or closed door deals, most Republican lawmakers seem ready to join us in taking a hard look at what’s really going on in education.”
Smith and state Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, have a pending amendment on state Senate Bill 216 to put a three-year moratorium on the state takeover of local schools in the hopes of developing alternatives for failing school districts.
Both Youngstown and Lorain school districts are being run by virtually all-powerful CEOs as opposed to superintendents and school boards as a result of state House Bill 70, which was passed in 2015.
The legislation mandates the creation of a five-member Academic Distress Commission when a school district has a history of failing on its Ohio Department of Education report cards. The commission then appoints a CEO.
Youngstown CEO Krish Mohip said in a statement that he believed the review, which is being referred to as a draft that the district has 10 days to review before the final version is released in a few months, shows the successes that have been made since last year. He said since there are many challenges in Youngstown, it “will take several more years to fully transform the decades of failures.”
“My focus is improving the lives of the children of Youngstown,” he said. “I am proud of our teachers, administrators, and support staff who are working diligently to do just that. We are headed in the right direction, and I welcome a conversation with anyone who thinks otherwise. However, I have no interest in being a party to the sensationalism of our work for political gain. That’s not why I came to Youngstown.”
Mohip said the district’s local representatives have been briefed on the district’s data and he’s attempted to reach out to Smith in the past, but his communications have gone unanswered.
Mohip pointed out that a review from the Ohio Department of Education is not necessary, but he opted to have it completed “in the interest of transparency and to keep the public informed.”
Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said Lorain Schools chose to not have an ODE review because it already had been “done by a different organization.”
“Lorain is requesting a review from ODE for next school year,” she said.
Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy did not respond to requests for comment.
State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, said while he wasn’t as familiar with Youngstown’s situation as he was with Lorain’s, he wasn’t surprised by the Ohio Department of Education’s review of the district.
“It’s not surprising this isn’t working with the way it was pushed through,” he said. “There were no hearings. No one was consulted. It was pushed through without being read by everyone in the legislature; so no, this isn’t surprising.”
Ramos said the legislation was an attack on impoverished districts like Lorain where students in kindergarten are more worried about where their next meal is coming from than their stable middle class counterparts.
“I’m glad members, both in the minority party and the majority party, finally want to pump the breaks on this,” he said, noting state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, broke party lines when they voted against House Bill 70. “But I wish it had happened before it got passed.”
Ramos said at a House Education and Career Readiness Committee meeting last week that a vote almost occurred to include Smith and Fedor’s amendment after several Republicans voted in its favor.
However, Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, ended the meeting before a final vote could be taken. Another committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
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