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Lorain teacher, union head testify against House Bill 70


COLUMBUS — Testimony from a Lorain teacher and her union president had House members and the audience in shock at the damage wrought by legislation they are in the process of repealing.

The Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee met Tuesday evening to hear testimony on House Bills 127 and 154, both proposed legislations looking to remedy the problems created by HB 70.

Teacher Julie Garcia and Lorain Education Association president Jay Pickering were two of several to give testimony in support of HB 154 at an Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee meeting Tuesday evening. House Bill 154, introduced by Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, would repeal HB 70 — the controversial 2015 legislation that allowed for state takeovers of struggling districts — and replace it with options and supports to help boost academic outcomes.

Garcia and Pickering told committee members the damage wrought in Lorain by HB 70 via CEO David Hardy, who according to Garcia has created a culture of fear among teachers. Pickering echoed similar sentiments. They also noted the high number of administrators in the district, and it’s unclear where the money to pay them is coming from. Pickering estimated as many as 56 administrators across the district’s 14 buildings and central office. He said before HB 70 the number of administrators across the district was in the 30s.

Garcia also noted the grading system for when administrators walk through classrooms is unclear. She estimated teachers have walkthroughs of their classrooms about 15 times a month.

“It’s become a culture of we have to accomplish certain things to fit certain programs,” Pickering said.

Rep. John Patterson, D-Euclid, noted the number of administrators and the unclear evaluations “hit a nerve.”

House Bill 127

First on the agenda was the second reading of House Bill 127.

Initially introduced by Reps. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, and Kent Smith, D-Euclid, the bill would create a moratorium on further state takeovers, as up to 10 districts could be subject to the statute within the next two years. An amendment introduced by Hambley at Tuesday’s meeting added language to address the three districts currently under state takeover: Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland, removing them from state control and stopping more districts from falling under HB 70.

The substitute would allow for a clean slate, Hambley said, removing the Academic Distress Commission language from Ohio Revised Code as it currently stands.

Jennifer Hogue, from the Ohio School Boards Association, Barb Shaner from the Ohio Association of School Board Officials, and Thomas Ash, from the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, gave proponent testimony on the bill, noting the proposed legislation is what the state needs to stop the damage done in Youngstown and Lorain from spreading to other districts. They also suggested passing the legislation before the start of the next school year, and separately from the state budget.

Chad Aldis, with the conservative Thomas Fordham Institute, gave opposing testimony, noting Youngstown has seen an uptick in report card scores under HB 70, and asked legislators to take a look at if the legislation was rolled out improperly.

“The state still has an obligation to taxpayers and families to step in when students aren’t being served well,” he said.

“And the districts currently under ADC control have demonstrated both weak academic attainment and low levels of student growth year after year. Some of them struggled for a decade. Jettisoning the academic distress commission model rather than improving it would undoubtedly by unpopular but would come at the expense of students.”

He said the institute is in favor of Sen. Nathan Manning’s legislation. The North Ridgeville Republican introduced SB 110, which would modify Lorain’s academic distress commission in favor of more local appointments and require the district’s CEO to have open communication with the locally elected Board of Education.

He said the appointed CEOs don’t have a lot of time to create a turnaround plan, and the data has yet to show in Lorain and definitively in Youngstown whether strides have been made.

Miller agreed the model is flawed — but that was where his agreement with Aldis stopped.

“We have a failing model, we’ve watched it go downhill in Youngstown, we’ve watched it go downhill in Lorain, and I expect it to go downhill in East Cleveland as well. I think you’re just getting that dead cat bounce here and what I mean by that is you’ve got a slow tick up and then … we have a failed model and for us to continue to put these children through a failed model knowing it’s wrong that’s negligence on our part.”

House Bill 154

Jones introduced a substitution to House Bill 154, clarifying exit strategies available for districts under state control. Initially, HB 154 required those districts to create Community Learning Centers — a measure that was part of the initial House Bill 70 before it was amended to create the current “failed model.”

“What we wanted to do is look at the research,” Jones said. “… This bill was just introduced, but this work began in 2015. We’ve been working on this for a long time and this is not new.”

Under the substitution, starting July 1, “failing” districts under takeover would transition out of the ADC model and into a community learning center or other option. Starting July 1, 2020, districts that were not subject to an ADC but had received an overall F on the report card would begin to transition into an alternative model — including a community learning center.

It also changed the progressive interventions, requiring a district’s board of education to create an improvement team for each school building that had received an F for its previous school year, and continue to implement improvement for multiple years with oversight from the school board.

It also would allow for the Ohio Department of Education to provide support in creating the improvement plan and perform mid- and end of year-reviews of a district’s measurable benchmarks to make sure it is on the right track and provide feedback.

The State Superintendent would determine if a district could more out from “in need of improvement status,” a designation a district or building would receive if it received an overall F on the state report card.

Rep. Kent Smith noted all of the districts currently under state takeover are impoverished, and later said he felt like there needs to be a separate pot of money to provide a la carte wraparound services to districts as needed, or suggested hiring a navigator for districts who would help find grants or community partnerships for services needed in individual buildings.

Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association, said in her proponent testimony it is time to take steps to end state takeovers before they do more damage.

“The current state takeover law provides no citizen oversight through elected school board, no voice for classroom teachers and has been bad for our kids,” she said. “Our experience in Youngstown and Lorain has demonstrated that the Academic Distress Commission/CEO model does not work.”

Lorain Education Association president Jay Pickering agreed. He and Larry Ellis, Youngstown Education Association president, alluded to some of the damage done in their respective cities.

Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, asked if the situations in either district had impacted enrollment — which in turn would lower the funding they receive from the state.

Ellis and Pickering both said it had, but Pickering added he knew the district was losing students, but had yet to see data on how many. He said many parents are conflicted, as often they grew up in Lorain and love their city, but are thinking of pulling their child from the school district because of the situations they face. Patterson advised Pickering to make public records requests for the data; Pickering replied often the district does not respond to those filings.

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

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