AMHERST — Two local legislators suspect change is coming for districts under state takeover.
State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, have both been working on legislation to help fix some of the damage wrought by House Bill 70, the quickly passed education reform bill that has put Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland schools under state control. Miller said in talks with an Ohio Department of Education spokesperson, there are going to be policy changes in the upcoming budget.
“Everything is kept very close to people’s chest down there — except for the drama,” Miller said during a joint office hours session with Manning on Monday evening.
“But those kinds of things like when things are coming out and what we’re looking to do, it’s a strategy thing, it’s almost like each person has their own idea of what plays they’re going to call to win the football game, if you will.”
Manning, who was in the State House when HB 70 was passed and voted against it, introduced Senate Bill 110 earlier this month. Only impacting Lorain Schools, the bill would change the makeup of the district’s Academic Distress Commission to return some local control and require the CEO and ADC to renew communication with the locally elected school board. It does not affect the district’s CEO and their outlined powers.
“If House Bill 70 stays, I wanted to at least get something out there that improved the situation for Lorain City Schools that’s Lorain-specific, something I’ve heard from everybody,” Manning said. “I don’t want to call it low-hanging fruit, but some of the bigger, obvious problems with House Bill 70. I’m working with the Chair of Education and we’re working on a
bigger picture, bigger fix — but a lot of the fixes out there are either to stop House Bill 70 or more for future school districts. I was a little worried that Lorain and Youngstown and East Cleveland were going to get forgotten since we’re already in the mess.”
Miller and state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, recently introduced House Bill 154, which would dissolve academic distress commissions and require the creation of community learning centers for buildings in low-performing school districts, similar to what HB 70 was supposed to do before it was amended.
Both men suspect there will be something soon to move forward with school turnaround policies — whether that is going to include Academic Distress Commission is another matter. Miller referenced State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria’s recent report on commissions sent to legislators Friday.
Miller noted everyone has a different strategy for how to change the state takeover mode, but many are pushing toward local control.
“Something that was wrong with House Bill 70 was it’s a one-size-fits all,” he said. “We all recognize the more help the better but if we can bring in more resources for Lorain or any school district — yeah, bring in the resources but let the local community, they know what’s best for the community, let them have a seat at the table.”
One member of Lorain’s Academic Distress Commission was in attendance Monday evening. Steve Cawthon, a teacher at Lorain High School and the local school board’s appointment to the ADC, said community members’ biggest concern is what happens if the legislation is not changed before next school year.
“We cannot exist another year in Lorain under what has happened,” he said.
Miller said he is optimistic that there will be change over the summer – even if his introduced legislation is changed or bills are combined. He said the biggest thing holding up more people from reforming state takeovers are the issues of local control, creating a system of checks-and-balances for power and transparency to understand how to help districts need to improve.
Manning said it’s not easy to pass legislation, even his relatively “simple” bill like SB 110, which only impacts one school district.
“I do think that there’s an appetite there, the fact that it’s very specific, it’s local to Lorain, I think gives us a huge chance,” he said. “But I do think there will be something in the budget in regards to House Bill 70.”
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