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Proposal aims to weaken House Bill 70

  • Joe-Miller-56-Head-shot-color-jpg

    Ohio Rep. Joe Miller

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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Two Ohio House members and former educators — including Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst — are working on legislation that would repeal portions of House Bill 70, which governs state takeovers of local school districts.

The proposal by Miller and Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, would dissolve the Academic Distress Commissions put in place in struggling districts and encourage “a

building-based, bottom-up reform model.” They plan to introduce it in the Ohio House next week, Miller said.

The bill directly would affect the Lorain school district, which is governed by a CEO and an ADC instead of a board of education and a superintendent. It has been under state control since mid-2017.

“We realize that when you move decision-making farther and farther away from students, the more likely you’re not going to be able to meet their needs,” Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “And there are a lot of things that go into that classroom than just children trying to score a certain test score.”

The ADC model “has proved to be a failed model, but the idea that we can create community learning centers to individualize specific needs of the children in these lower-performing buildings. We’re hoping to give local leaders the decision-making powers and control to meet these needs,” he said.

An academic-improvement plan still will be part of the proposed changes, but in consultation with and input from school leaders, Miller said.

Miller, who taught social studies at Firelands High School before being elected to the Ohio House, said his proposal would give low-performing schools a chance to provide community-based support to students through tutoring and social services.

“We’ll still work with the (Ohio Department of Education) to find ways to fill the gaps in curriculum, food and income insecurities and wrap-around services like tutoring and mentoring,” he said.

Jones — who represents the 95th Ohio House district including Carroll, Harrison and Noble counties and portions of Washington and Belmont counties — spent more than 20 years as an agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser at Harrison Central High School, according to his official Ohio House biography.

In the statement announcing the proposed legislation, Jones said that Ohio schools “need more local control — not less.”

“Academic Distress Commissions have not only taken away school and community pride, but have proven to be unsuccessful in their mission,” Jones said.

Critics of House Bill 70 say it was pushed through the Ohio Legislature without enough debate in a single day after being championed by former Gov. John Kasich and former Ohio Schools Superintendent Richard Ross. The bill sometimes is called “The Youngstown Plan” after the first district it affected.

In the announcement of the proposed legislation, Miller and Jones said the plan placing Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland schools under state control “has been a disaster.”

“In each case, the Academic Distress Commission has been unable to work effectively alongside the district’s teachers, school leaders and community at large,” Miller said in a quote for the announcement of the proposed legislation on the Ohio House Minority Caucus Blog. “After three years, we haven’t seen any evidence that state takeovers improve academic achievement. It’s time for us to restore local control and give struggling schools the support they need to succeed.”

Miller said he has high hopes for the bill, and is expecting more representatives to sign on as co-sponsors.

“I think I’m hearing good things from the new united Republicans and united Democrats that have worked together on the transportation budget, I think this is going to carry over on important work such as education,” he said.

“It’s a good vibe. Morale is returning in Lorain and that needs to help in Lorain Schools as well, because the (takeover) model’s failed,” Miller added. “Morale is key to any successful organization, and this is a bottom-up approach. This is where it starts.”

State Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, also thinks HB 70 has been bad for Lorain Schools.

“I was against it and am concerned about Lorain,” Manning said Friday night.

Manning said she has been working with numerous education groups, including Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio School Board Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials on legislation to repeal and replace HB 70.

“The students of Lorain deserve the best educational experience, and not the turmoil they are experiencing,” Manning said.

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.

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