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Ohio Supreme Court takes House Bill 70 appeal

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YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal regarding House Bill 70 submitted by Youngstown Schools Board of Education and others, which could set a precedent for districts under state mandate.

The original lawsuit, filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in August 2015, challenged that House Bill 70 was unconstitutional. While the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled in June against the school board, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the appeal Wednesday.

The Lorain Schools Board of Education filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” on the appellate case, meaning the board offered input on behalf of Youngstown’s school board, as it is interested in the case’s outcome, but not party to it. The Lorain school board, along with East Cleveland School Board of Education, the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Ohio Federation of Teachers, and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials filed briefs in support of the Youngstown school board.

School board President Tony Dimacchia said he was surprised that the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

“Up until this point in time we haven’t really gotten a whole lot of traction and support against House Bill 70 and the fact that they’re at least willing to listen to the appeal has some major implications that could down the road affect Lorain and anyone else that would be affected by this very poor legislation called House Bill 70,” he said.

Youngstown Board of Education member Dario Hunter said in a news release the Ohio Supreme Court had made the right decision in accepting the board’s appeal.

“While in the past I have expressed skepticism of the board’s approach of endless legal appeals, I have been convinced of the need to fight by any means necessary the mercenary way in which CEO (Krish) Mohip and his administration have used and abused HB 70 to fritter away our district’s finances without getting academic results. The many holes in that piece of legislation have allowed for misuse of taxpayer funds and mired the district in years more of abysmal failure.”

House Bill 70 was passed quickly between the House and Senate after two amendments made by the Senate Education Committee the morning of June 24, 2015. Despite changes imposed by those amendments, the bill passed in the House and Senate that same day. It was signed by Gov. John Kasich in July and took effect that October.

Youngstown Schools Board of Education, AFSCME Ohio Council 8 AFL-CIO, Ohio Education Association, Youngstown Education Association and teacher Jane Haggerty, filed their lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Education, state of Ohio, and superintendent of public instruction. The lawsuit alleges House Bill 70 violated the three reading rule, constitutional rights regarding elected school boards, the Equal Protection Clause by denying the right to votes for members of a school board, and caused irreparable injury if an injunction was not granted.

If the Ohio Supreme Court rules in favor of the school board, a precedent could be set for other districts under state mandate, including Lorain Schools. If it sides with the lower courts, the Youngstown School Board could appeal to federal courts. East Cleveland Schools sued to block its state takeover last month.

Dimacchia said Lorain is watching the outcomes of both cases.

“This would have a major effect on all of us and I’m just happy that they are going to hear the appeal,” Dimacchia said. “I wasn’t sure if that would ever happen and I’m not sure that we’ll get the result that we need but at least they’re hearing it. What makes it difficult is House Bill 70 is a Republican agenda that has seven Republicans on the Ohio Supreme Court and no Democrats, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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