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State reps move to stop House Bill 70

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    Steve Hambley

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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COLUMBUS — Another bipartisan effort to stop House Bill 70 was introduced Monday.

State Reps. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, announced House Bill 127, which would create a moratorium on further state takeovers of struggling school districts.

HB 127 would not impact the three districts already under state purview: Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland, Hambley said.

“At this point, untangling that knot’s a little bit more complicated,” Hambley said in a phone interview Monday. “But I think the one thing I can say about our proposal is it doesn’t create any more victims.”

He added later, “Frankly, this kind of approach that Ohio has adopted disrupts not only the school districts, but also the community itself in a way that is almost impossible to overcome,” Hambley said. “I think what we have is three case studies on how not to help a community. … Each (has) its own story.”

Those potential “victims” included 10 districts in Ohio that had received one or two failing scores on the state report card beyond safe harbor provisions. Potential districts were Ashtabula, Canton, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Lima, Mansfield, North College Hill, Painesville and Toledo.

Of those districts, Columbus is the largest in the state per student enrollment, followed by Toledo at No. 5, Dayton at No. 13 and Canton at No. 21. All of the districts considered “failing” under the current sate report card are listed as having high student poverty, per the Ohio Department of Education’s 2013 district typology.

This bill comes on the heels of an announcement by state Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, of planned legislation to dissolve Academic Distress Commissions currently in place and implement a reform model that retains local control. Proposed on Friday, Miller said he plans to introduce the bill formally next week.

Hambley said he supports Miller’s pending legislation, but noted going headfirst into repeal-replace legislation will take more time and discussion than just stopping the bill in its tracks.

“At this point I feel that we don’t need any more victims or any more districts to kind of go into this situation until we really figure out as to how best to deal with those that are struggling communities,” he said. “It really is a much more holistic problem, it’s not just about a struggling school district, it’s also a struggling community. I’m very much convinced that we can’t disrupt the political culture of a district, of a community, as the current approach does and really gain academic improvement.”

Miller said he supports HB127, but stands by his and Jones’ replacement. He suspects both will go to the House Education Committee, once his has been formally announced.

“I have a feeling we’ll see one of those come out, or maybe both,” he said. “It’s kind of one of those things where we could try to just stop the bleeding, or we can actually fix the problem and I think the legislation will do more than just stop the bleeding, it’s going to go to the root of the problem and that is returning local control of school districts back to the local leaders as intended.”

As for a timeline of HB127, Hambley hopes to have it in place by the end of the school year — and certainly before the next set of state report cards come out. He and Miller are both critics of the current report card system.

Hambley said he believes the current system lacks credibility, and hopes to work on creating legislation to revise it moving forward. The state report cards are the driving force behind a school takeover — if a district receives a failing grade for three consecutive years, it falls under House Bill 70.

“I think it’s better to do a quick repeal and eliminate the uncertainty,” he said. “The report cards will be coming out here in the fall, and it still gives us the timeframe for the remaining part of the year or the General Assembly, with a new governor, to come up with a plan that makes much more sense in terms of working with the struggling school districts and hopefully come out with a better measurement system than the current grade report card.”

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

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