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Moratorium possible on state takeovers under House Bill 70

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With negotiations ongoing, a moratorium could be included in the biennial state budget to prevent other school districts from falling under state control.

After the Legislature missed a June 30 deadline for the budget and passed an interim budget good through next Wednesday, the latest rumors from Columbus are the budget could halt other districts from being taken over by the state via House Bill 70, while hashing out what to do with Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland in a separate bill.

Sen. Nathan Manning, and his mother, Rep. Gayle Manning, both North Ridgeville-based Republicans, disagree with a moratorium for what it means for Lorain. Both voted against House Bill 70 when it was initially passed in 2015, with Gayle Manning voting as a senator and Nathan Manning as a representative.

Nathan Manning said he understands from a big-picture perspective the importance of the moratorium, but as someone who represents Lorain Schools, is upset they wouldn’t be included in the rumored change.

“If it’s such a bad bill or bad process out there where we don’t want future school districts to be taken over by House Bill 70, then we certainly shouldn’t keep school districts that are currently taken over in it,” he said.

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Montville Township, who is on the Conference Committee, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The committee, made up of members of the House and Senate, is charged with reaching a compromise on outstanding issues in the budget ahead of it going to the governor for his signature.

There are 10 school districts that could fall under House Bill 70 within the next two years if their state report card scores do not improve: Ashtabula, Canton, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Lima, Mansfield, North College Hill, Painesville and Toledo. Cleveland Schools, though failing, are exempt from the provision as they fall under their own plan, House Bill 525.

“Certainly we want to get something done, I want to get something done for Lorain,” Nathan Manning said. “Is it the right thing to do to have no hearings on specific language and put it in the budget? Most people would probably argue ‘No, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ but with the time crunch we have sometimes you’re better off doing something like that than what you currently have. If there is something out there that we can work out very quickly, a compromise, I will certainly be advocating for that.”

As legislation moves along, so too do lawsuits against the state concerning the takeover process. Youngstown Board of Education’s appeal was taken up by the Ohio Supreme Court last year, with oral arguments slated for Oct. 23. East Cleveland Board of Education’s lawsuit is in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, with its trial date set for Nov. 4.

Nathan Manning, who previously served as a prosecutor in North Ridgeville and owns a law firm with his sister, said legislators are keeping close watch on what the courts are doing with these cases. If the law is not changed and declared unconstitutional by the high court, he said legislators would have to act quickly to help transition those districts under state control back to local boards.

Gayle Manning said she would not support a moratorium and had voted for House Bill 154 both as a standalone bill and with its language in the state budget. Introduced by Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, House Bill 154 would repeal the current state takeover law, replacing it with community learning centers, wraparound services and support from the state for struggling districts, while maintaining local control. It was included in the House-passed version of the biennial budget, but that language was removed by the Senate before its passage.

Even though Lorain is no longer in her district, she said the moratorium is a disservice to the city and legislators have to find a way to fix it.

“The problem is we’re in a situation where you’ve got three school systems, so you don’t have that many legislators down there that are really yapping about it,” she said. “The other ones don’t have any understanding and you try to tell the story and then they hear from other people maybe in the district that say everything’s great, so I think they’re to the point where they’re talking a moratorium and I keep saying, ‘Well, that’s great but what about Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland?’ If we don’t think its working and we’re going to give a moratorium to all the other school systems, let’s do it to those three.”

This is not the first time a moratorium surrounding the issue has come up. Reps. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, introduced House Bill 127 earlier this year, which would have enacted a moratorium, but the bill was later left in committee after the introduction of Miller and Jones’ bill.

Gayle Manning noted she tried to pass an amendment to give Lorain the same safe harbor provisions afforded to other districts following changes to the state report card, but then-Gov. John Kasich had called other legislators, threatening to veto the measure and forcing her to back down.

She said the House has canceled its sessions for the rest of the week and suspects the budget process to stretch until its current deadline. Nathan Manning said he plans to be in Columbus today to see where other senators are landing on the issue.

“Most people are saying that conversations are still going on and nothing’s been finalized yet, so unfortunately there’s no answers quite yet,” he said.

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

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