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Oral arguments set in House Bill 70 case before Ohio Supreme Court

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Oral arguments in Youngstown Board of Education’s case against the state are slated for this fall.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments starting Oct. 23 in Youngstown Board of Education’s appeal against the Ohio Department of Education, according to a filing Tuesday.

Youngstown’s appeal, accepted Oct. 24, alleges the process the state took to pass House Bill 70, which allowed for the state takeover of Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland schools, was unconstitutional and violated the three-reading rule.

Brenda Kimble, Youngstown Board of Education president, said all they can do is wait in the midst of the lawsuit and potential changes in the state budget.

“The attorneys have done a wonderful job since the beginning, but it just seems like when we get to Columbus there’s nobody hearing them,” she said. “It’s just like we don’t even have representation in those meetings or hearings because they don’t acknowledge anything that the attorneys have said, none of the evidence, none of the data, nothing. And so I’m just hoping that this time they will hear us. House Bill 70’s been a hot topic lately, and everyone knows that it’s not the right thing to do.”

In addition to Youngstown Board of Education’s suit, several proposed changes are moving in this General Assembly. In the House-passed version of the state budget bill language from Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, to repeal and replace the current state takeover law with wraparound and state support services was included. That bill, as standalone legislation House Bill 154, also passed the House and is in Senate committee hearings. Miller and Jones’ language in the budget was pulled by the Senate after hours of testimony and a potential plan from Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, that would have kept the majority of House Bill 70 intact, changing the names of the Academic Distress Commission and positions while adding a state-level board to oversee struggling schools. Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, also introduced Senate Bill 110, a Lorain-specific bill to change the makeup of the Academic Distress Commission in favor of more locally appointed members and requiring more collaboration between the CEO and school board.

The state budget is in conference committee.

It is unclear how a legislative change could impact Youngstown school board’s lawsuit. Kimble said short of a full repeal — along the lines of Miller’s and Jones’ language — the board plans to keep the lawsuit moving forward.

“If it stays as is, absolutely not, we will continue our fight,” she said. “And if it is dropped and local control is brought back, then I think that will probably be a question for the state Supreme Court. However, I think they really do need to hear it because it violates the state constitution, (they need) to make a ruling on it.”

Lorain Board of Education and its Education Association filed amicus curiae on Youngstown school board’s behalf in the lawsuit, as Lorain Schools have a vested interest in the case but are not part of the original 2015 filing.

Lorain Councilman at-large Tony Dimacchia, former Lorain school board vice president, was unsure what role Lorain school board would take in the ongoing legal process, but plans to support Youngstown School Board as much as possible — despite currently having little faith in the justice or legislative systems to remedy the problem.

“I’m just not too excited about how things have gone,” he said. “I’m just really frustrated with the entire process and the system, and it’s criminal. This is obviously, clearly an unconstitutional bill that has been thrust upon minority, poverty inflicted school districts and everybody that has anything to do with it can see the irreparable harm that it has created, and I just don’t understand what the Senate is doing.”

He added that legislators have agreed the state report card system, which triggers state takeovers, is flawed, and that moratoriums have come up in discussions. East Cleveland Board of Education’s lawsuit concerning its district’s takeover hinges on the F it received on the 2018 report card, alleging the Department of Education based the district’s failing grade on “flawed, unreliable data.” Its trial in Franklin County is slated for Nov. 4. Lorain school board also has filed amicus curiae in that lawsuit.

Supreme Court arguments will be in Williams County as part of the High Court’s Off-Site Court Program. Under the initiative, the Supreme Court relocates twice a year from its place in Columbus and holds sessions in another county, while offering educational opportunities for area high school students and residents.

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


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