ELYRIA — Members of Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland school boards met for the first time Saturday since they all came under state takeover.
The three-and-a-half-hour work session at Lorain County Community College included updates on legislation to revise or repeal House Bill 70 — the controversial 2015 law that allowed for the state takeovers of struggling school districts — and the impact of academic distress commissions on local control and economics within a community.
“This bill is so bad, it’s done so much damage it makes my stomach sick just thinking about it and the time we’ve dealt with this,” Tony Dimacchia, Lorain school board vice president, told the packed audience. “I know you’re going to hear similar stories because it’s clear what House Bill 70 has done to public education and more importantly to our poverty-afflicted and urban school districts.”
“Ditto” was the theme of testimony from East Cleveland’s Mary Rice and Youngstown’s Ron Shadd, who spoke with Dimacchia as part of one of three panel discussions held during the work session.
Rice, a member of the East Cleveland Board of Education and head of her board’s House Bill 70 Committee, said when Youngstown first came under the law, she started reading everything she could about its issues. From there, she said she began to see “this is wrong on every single solitary issue.” Then, she followed Lorain’s dive into state takeover, which initially embraced and prepared for the bill before its own problems arose.
“And then East Cleveland, when we were threatened, that’s when I put on my little shoes and started going everywhere I possibly (could) to learn more about the process and see what was happening,” she said.
She continued, saying teachers left the district before September’s takeover, leaving East Cleveland to start the school year in a deficit.
“(HB 70) is the most destructive — how in the world could this governor … and he wants to run for president, can you imagine what would have happened across the United States if he got into any of those policies?”
Similarly, Shadd, who is a member of the Youngstown Board of Education and its committee chair for House Bill 70, said they lost staff not only because the takeover was coming, but because of a state change in retirement requirements for teachers.
“We had an average of 10 years of experience for our teachers, and that dropped to seven,” he said. “I wanted it to be known that HB70 played a huge role in that.”
Later during the panel discussion, Shadd said the district has spent an estimated $13 million less in the classroom since CEO Krish Mohip was appointed. The CEO — who is on his way out, after resigning in October — hired 32 people at roughly $100,000-salaries, plus retirement, but cut spending for wraparound services like social workers.
“That’s the problem we’re in,” he said. “Even when this comes to an end, we have to make some strict changes based off of money that’s been spent in one year.”
A similar situation happened in Lorain, with a sharp uptick in building and district-level administration under CEO David Hardy. Under Hardy’s leadership, there are three administrators at each of the district’s elementary and middle schools and 14 at the high school. Each is paid between $83,900 and $115,000. Those are in addition to central administration chiefs, who are paid between $81,000 and $190,000, according to their contracts with the district.
Youngstown and Lorain both have renewal levies set to expire soon. Without the renewals, both districts could fall into fiscal distress on top of their academic struggles, but neither board is comfortable asking voters to renew the measure given their respective CEO’s spending.
Dimacchia noted as teachers start leaving the district, economics takes a turn.
“When you start losing folks and you start replacing them with unqualified Teach for America people, that becomes a problem because those folks aren’t living in our community, they’re not spending dollars in our local businesses, they’re not eating in our community,” he said. “Just like our CEO, he won’t move into our city and won’t bring his kids to our school district because it is unsafe in our school district. The very guy that made it unsafe is scared to bring his kids to our school district.
Again, Rice agreed.
“Quite naturally, businesses are leaving as well and East Cleveland, for those of you that don’t know, is one of the poorest communities in the state of Ohio,” she said. “So therefore, this one item is just like a see-saw, we’re up and now we’re down, can’t move one way or the other than going further down, however.”
State legislators Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Sens. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, came to the session, each addressing the need to reverse the damage done by the state’s takeover process.
Miller and Manning have both introduced legislation to mitigate those issues. Fedor has spoke in support of Manning’s bill during its Senate Education Committee hearings.
Manning’s Senate Bill 110, which would affect only Lorain, would change the makeup of the district’s Academic Distress Commission by giving one of the state’s appointments to the mayor and requiring the CEO to be more transparent and communicate with the locally elected school board. SB 110 has had three hearings in the Senate Education Committee, but has not been voted out to the floor.
“I’m very optimistic we will get something done in the budget,” Manning said. “What that is I’m not really sure yet, but there’s a lot of people at the table, thankfully, unlike how House Bill 70 was done. So I do think we’ll get something done. My fear is for Lorain, East Cleveland and Youngstown school districts because I’m very confident we’ll get something done for those future school districts but we can’t forget these three school districts.”
According to a presentation by Roetzel Consulting Solutions on Saturday, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, is holding an invitation-only meeting for superintendents from struggling districts Monday to discuss options and proposals regarding state takeovers.
Miller’s House Bill 154 would in a way return HB 70 to what it was before it was amended in a day to add the academic distress commission language. Before the change, HB 70 originally provided wraparound services, including creating Community Learning Centers, in struggling districts.
HB 154 looks to repeal HB 70 while allowing districts to create plans to improve academic outcomes with support provided from the state.
“We get it, we see it, we live it and I’m down there trying to do something about it,” Miller said of current Ohio Revised Code. “Nate’s down there trying to do something about it and, to be honest, I think there’s a lot more that we aren’t willing to recognize because we’re doing things either below the water or above the water, but there’s a lot of waves being made.”
Fedor, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Education Committee and was an educator for 18 years in Toledo, called for CEO David Hardy’s resignation, noting HB 70 was designed to fail communities.
“If House Bill 70 is the vision for fixing education in Ohio, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, or for me, the chalkboard,” she said. “This design is a complete failure and disastrous for whole communities. We have three whole communities represented here, if we were to add up those numbers it would be in the hundreds of thousands of people that are impacted by that failed policy, including the businesses who don’t like what’s going on with the vision of House Bill 70.”
East Cleveland and Youngstown Board of Educations have filed lawsuits regarding HB 70. Lorain has signed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief, for Youngstown’s appeal, which was accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court in October. Dimacchia is named as a witness for the East Cleveland’s school board in its case against Ohio Department of Education, which is now in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
Youngstown’s Supreme Court Case against the Ohio Department of Education alleges the way HB 70 was amended violated the state’s three-reading rule . A hearing data has yet to be set.
East Cleveland v. Ohio Department of Education alleges the grade the district received on its state report card that sent it into academic distress was based on flawed, unreliable data the Ohio Department of Education was aware of. A trial date has been set for Nov. 4.
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