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Lorain Schools CEO, administrators testify in defense of HB 70

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The Lorain Schools CEO and several others testified in support of academic distress commissions at the Ohio Senate Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education session Thursday afternoon in Columbus.

Just days after members of the Lorain Board of Education and others testified to the State Board of Education about the woes created by House Bill 70, CEO David Hardy, General Johnnie Wilson Middle School Principal Kejuana Jefferson, Longfellow Middle School Principal Rae Bastock, administrative clerk Sherdenia Strnad, Loretta Jones and Monica Snipes submitted written testimony and spoke before the subcommittee as it discussed the biennial budget bill. Written testimony and supplemental filings are available on the subcommittee’s website.

Currently, House Bill 166 includes language from Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, that would dissolve academic distress commissions — the body that appointed Hardy as Lorain Schools’ CEO. Under HB 166, struggling districts would have local control returned, but have to implement an improvement plan and receive support from the state to raise test scores.

“I ask that you take the next year to understand the complexity of this challenge, the progress that is being (made), albeit our length of time for growth has only the age of a toddler,” Hardy wrote.

He added, “There is a reason we are where we are in communities like Lorain and all across the country. Changing course now would do nothing more than create more, real chaos, significant dysfunction greater than what we inherited, and will derail all progress for kids and the community that has their future deep in their hearts and minds.”

In his testimony, he said he was moving outside his normal leadership style to address the committee “because of the narrative you heard is coming from elected officials and former governance of Lorain City Schools that has carried less than 3 percent of the Lorain communities vote.” He states he wants to speak for those who have a fear of retaliation from the establishment.

“I rarely, if ever, directly respond to criticism from angry individuals who have suffered the feeling of accountability and the lack of power to wield their continued oppression on young people and the people care deeply about educating them.”

He added toward the end, “The idea of state intervention on local communities is significant, but I would argue in this case it is imperative and more importantly it’s your duty. The lives of 6,500 young people are at stake and the lives of future Ohioans will pay the price if local politics are the victor over its people and their children’s progress.”

Other’s written testimony offered similar sentiments.

Snipes urged the Legislature not to change the current law, as it allowed things that have been put in place by the administration to help students succeed.

“The work that is just beginning doesn’t happen by accident,” she wrote. “It happens because people care, really care and know what is needed to make kids better.”

Strnad wrote she doesn’t think the local school board should have control and that the Senate should do a thorough investigation of the district before a vote.

Lorain resident Rhoda Lee and youth football coach Ricky Smith also spoke at the session, according to Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville.

Student data

Rae Bastock’s testimony states she is not there to take sides for any one bill, person or group, but hopes the Legislature will make a decision “that truly puts our kids first.”

“I have seen people charged with making decisions in the best interest for kids not be brave enough to make changes because of adult relationships which sometimes come from local control. I have seen programs and people dismissed because we challenged our adults to reflect on themselves and their practices and that made us uncomfortable.

“I have seen much attention paid to ‘why’ our students are not successful and blame put upon everything else, but not on how we can be better,” she wrote. “I have also witnessed state oversight with the first ADC in place and attended many meetings where transparency was not always evident and where the priority of ‘looking good and saving jobs’ was the goal.”

In addition to her written statement was a submission of absentee data for students, noting a 90 percent attendance rate for the day. The document included student names and personal telephone numbers for students who weren’t in school at Longfellow Middle School on Wednesday. More than 80 students’ full names, grades, phone numbers and reasons for absence were listed. The document has since been pulled from the Senate website, though it is unclear when it was taken down.

Copies downloaded or screenshot before it was removed were shared with The Chronicle-Telegram. Screenshots include a web address of “search-prod.lis.state.oh.us,” which is the Legislative Information System for the Ohio General Assembly.

Lorain School Board president Mark Ballard said the board’s lawyer is looking into whether the filing violated any privacy laws, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

“Some parents were very concerned that their young peoples’ names, grade levels and phone numbers are exposed on that open record,” Ballard said. “If somebody wanted to use it for ill gain — stalkers, abusers or anything like that — they can just get openly those kids’ telephone numbers that we’ve put out there on the public market like that. And we’re very concerned about that.”

Town hall and time off

In the midst of the group’s testimony to the state, Thursday’s town hall meeting was canceled, with emails to media going out shortly after 2 p.m. The meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m.

When asked for a reason for the cancellation, Marketing and Communications Coordinator Eric Bonzar replied he had not been made aware of one. CEO David Hardy did not return a request for comment regarding whether the trip to Columbus caused the cancellation.

According to the district’s absentee report for the day, Jefferson, Strnad and Bastock took full days off to attend the session, with none of them listing a substitute was needed. Jefferson and Bastock listed the reason as a meeting/conference. Strnad used a vacation day.

Hardy did not take time off to testify, according to the district’s report.

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

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