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School board president, Ohio schools superintendent disagree on state of Lorain Schools

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LORAIN — The state superintendent and Lorain Board of Education president disagree about the state of Lorain Schools, according to the latest email exchange between the two officials.

Lorain Board of Education President Mark Ballard sent an email to State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, members of the state school board, local legislators and others Friday morning pointing to the “disaster” created in Lorain by House Bill 70. DeMaria responded later that evening, noting there is “another side about Lorain that’s not being told,” calling Ballard’s aforementioned list “conspiracy theorist.”

Ballard’s 13-point list in the email includes criticisms against the Academic Distress Commission process and the Ohio Department of Education’s handling of it, as well as problems with district CEO David Hardy’s recent actions in the district, which he said has raised spending concerns and a culture of fear among staff.

It follows a chain of emails sent earlier in the week between DeMaria and local officials — the first correspondence DeMaria has sent to Ballard directly since late February.

“In the last two years, Hardy has alienated our local leaders and our mayor, equating this with making tough choices,” Ballard wrote. “Let me be clear — the tough choices were already made by (former Superintendent Jeff) Graham and we were on the path to success until HB 70 derailed our progress. Let’s end the narrative that we didn’t have a plan or that we were OK with status quo — we didn’t need HB 70 to tell us that we needed to improve and we had an excellent, community-driven plan that was working. (The Ohio Department of Education) derailed it, so please spare us the quotes about insanity because had you bothered to be listening when you were appointed to your position, you would have known that we already had plans in place — Dr. Graham was our change agent.”

Later in the letter Ballard notes he doesn’t “Know what the deal is” with Chiefs for Change, but finds the connection “odd,” as DeMaria is a Chief for Change and Hardy is part of a cohort.

Chiefs for Change is an education advocacy group and nonprofit network of education leaders at the district and state level. It was founded in 2010 by former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, as an affiliate of his Foundation for Excellence in Education. It underwent reorganization in 2015 and broke away from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Its current membership includes DeMaria, and Hardy is listed as a Future Chief in Cohort 2. The Future Chiefs program, according to the nonprofit’s website, are provided with collective learning opportunities and mentorship from current chiefs.

DeMaria’s reply Friday evening was sent to Ballard and members of the Lorain and state boards of education and local legislators. Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and members of the district’s Academic Distress Commission were not included in his email, though they were copied on Ballard’s 13-point email.

“I want people to know that I think Mark Ballard is a really nice guy,” DeMaria wrote. “We broke bread together back in March, and it’s clear that he loves Lorain, and he loves the students in Lorain schools. He is not the revisionist historian and conspiracy theorist that is reflected in the words below. (Mark, I want you to know that I care about you as a dedicated and caring public servant and as a colleague with whom I share a commitment to the success of Lorain’s students.)”

He went on to suggest those copied on the email watch “Perfecting Our Craft,” a video put out by the district from the March 19 Academic Distress Commission meeting. In it, the principals from Admiral King Elementary, Garfield Elementary, Helen Steiner Rice Elementary and Longfellow Middle schools discuss changes and programs in their buildings.

“These principals are doing exciting work that is making a difference for students, and much of it is based on The Lorain Promise,” DeMaria wrote. “It’s a much different narrative from the ‘chaos’ and ‘disaster’ that is reflected in Mark’s words below. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything — I realize not everything is perfect. But I also feel there’s another side about Lorain that’s not being told.”

Friday evening, Ballard said he disagreed with DeMaria’s characterization.

“I think for him to take a clip of prop principals, who have been set up by the CEO to tell this flowery story, versus all the other information that’s out there in Lorain — where there’s newspapers, where there’s fights, where there’s police reports, where there is Facebook reports — and to think that all that doesn’t matter because these four principals said, ‘Hey, The Lorain Promise made us a better district’ — it’s just so disingenuous,” he said.

Lorain Academic Distress Commission member Steve Cawthon, who was copied on Ballard’s original emails but removed by DeMaria from his most recent correspondence, said he was disappointed the superintendent fails to realize the severity of the situation the district is in. Ballard sent him, and the others removed from DeMaria’s email list, the superintendent’s response Friday evening.

“His continual deflection of the impact of HB 70 and the leadership in Lorain is beyond frustrating,” Cawthon said. “This situation is at critical mass, and it’s time he realizes that.

Ballard said he plans to keep communicating with DeMaria, but had little confidence the state superintendent would see the problems in Lorain.

“It’s obvious that he’s a lost cause and we’re just going to have to put our faith in the hands of the legislators, because he’s defending things that are indefensible,” he said.

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

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