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Lorain Schools transformation plan suggests changes to state takeovers

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A report from a legislative work group on academic distress commissions is causing a stir in Lorain.

A May 7 draft of the Ohio School Transformation Plan: An Alternative to the Academic Distress Commission was recently shared with The Chronicle-Telegram. The document is from a work group that included State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, state Sens. Peggy Lehner, Nathan Manning and Lou Terhar, state Rep. Gayle Manning and more than 20 other private and public parties.

Lehner, R-Kettering, chair of the Senate Education Committee, held the same position when House Bill 70 was passed in 2015. The controversial law, pushed through Lehner’s committee in just a day, allowed for the state takeover of Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland schools. She has since said in a March State Board of Education meeting HB70 needs some changes but does not want to see it abolished altogether.

The May 7 plan includes establishing a new state-level Transformation for Student Success Board, or TSSB, which could replace local academic distress commissions. The proposed board would report to the governor. Its members would include: the State Superintendent, Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation and as many as five members with experience in school or district leadership or education policy, technical assistance or research appointed by the Governor, Senate President, Speaker of the House, Minority Leaders of the House and Senate with input from the State Superintendent.

Districts currently under ADCs would have the option to stay with their current commissions, or fall under the TSSB, according to the plan. Those that choose to change to the TSSB model and submit an Improvement Plan to the new board could receive more local control, it states.

Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said the May 7 document is out of date, as the group has met since May 7. He said having a work group to help create legislation is not unusual, though the report out is unique.

He said he doesn’t fully agree with what is in the document, either.

“While they released that report, it does not mean that everybody was on the same page, it was just an initial draft,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress and at the end of the day I’m there to represent Lorain’s interest and make sure something good comes out of this and if it doesn’t, I certainly won’t support it.”

The plan goes on to outline phases for districts that receive failing grades but are not yet under state takeover. These include allowing outside consultants to help identify problem areas in struggling districts. Improvement plans, made in consultation with outside authorities and local leaders.

A suggested funding proposal would grant districts between $100,000 to $167,000 a year for at least three years to analyze and create an improvement plan. The highest funding model would give a struggling district $167,000 for a minimum of three years — totaling $500,000 to focus on rapid improvement, coaching every teacher every week, every principal twice a month and provide progress monitoring. These funds would be in addition to any funds allocated by the current or proposed school funding formula.

The report’s timeline includes changing the state budget language. Currently, the language in the biennium budget is based on Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, House Bill 154, which would repeal and replace House Bill 70 with state-provided supports for struggling school districts.

Manning said the language has yet to be changed by the senate, and he suspects any changes would be part of the omnibus amendment — which combines all of the already submitted changes into one bill. The deadline for that is in the next few weeks, he said, but did not expect the language as it stands in the May 7 document to be what is passed.

Miller called the plan “HB70 2.0” in a statement sent via his campaign email Tuesday afternoon, stating the plan still keeps local communities out of the decision making process.

“You know how many teachers were included in the group? None,” he said. “You know how many families in Lorain, East Cleveland and Youngstown who have been ignored and even demeaned by unaccountable CEOs were included in the process? Zero. Those most educated and closest to our children and who administer to their daily needs were left out of the process.”

Lorain School Board president Mark Ballard also criticized the plan, calling it “more of the same or even worse.”

“I am hopeful that the House version will prevail,” he said. “The legislature needs to stop experimenting with the children of Lorain and it’s time to get back to doing what is needed for the kids. And that solution doesn’t come from Columbus.”

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

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