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Senate break postpones changes to state takeovers to mid-September

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School districts under state takeover will have to continue to wait for a reprieve, according to one local legislator.

State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said while the Senate still has an "as needed" session slated for Aug. 20, he doesn't expect changes to come to House Bill 70 then. The Senate did not meet Tuesday, though another "as needed" session had been penciled in before break.

While the House attempted to repeal and replace the controversial 2015 law that allowed of the state control of Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland schools in the biennium budget, the Senate removed the measure before sending the bill to Conference Committee. The final bill included a year-long moratorium, but did not effect the three districts already under state control.

Since then, the issue has stalled over the legislators' break, despite initial talk that something could be hammered out by the end of August.

The Senate is looking to amend House Bill 154, which would replace House Bill 70 with wraparound services and supports for struggling districts while maintaining local control. The original bill passed the House 83-12 in May and has been discussed extensively in the Senate Education Committee.

Those changes, Manning said, are likely coming from a proposed amendment by Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, which was introduced in Committee in June. Lehner's bill included language to lengthen the timeline for supports given to struggling districts, replace academic distress commissions with school improvement commissions, trade a CEO for an improvement director, and establish a state-level school transformation board to oversee struggling districts.

"There's still a lot of what the administration and some senate people wanted was some sort of 'teeth' or 'stick' if school districts aren't actively doing what they're supposed to be doing to turn themselves around," Manning said. "Obviously, hopefully earlier intervention and maybe improvements on how it's calculated for failing school districts, hopefully no school districts will have to go through that, but in case there's a school board or a district that's not doing what they're supposed to be doing, they at least want some sort of intervention by the state to be allowed.

He added, "I don't necessarily agree with that but as long as we can get to a point where school districts that are doing everything they're supposed to be doing. But unfortunately maybe not doing as well on the report card as you would expect, still have the time to continue doing what they're doing and turnaround before this intervention by the state."

If the House does not agree with the Senate's changes, the bill will move to Conference Committee -- similar to the process taken with the state budget. From there, members of both chambers will come to an agreement the majority can live with.

If amended and not passed with an emergency clause this fall, House Bill 154 would not take effect until roughly January. While it would permanently save the 10 districts slated for takeover under reprieve via the budget's moratorium, the mid-year shuffle could cause further turmoil for Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland. Lorain's Board of Education is working on a transition plan, but it is unclear what that switch could look like or what it would mean for the CEO or those hired by him during his tenure.

The state Legislature is back in session Sept. 18. The senate is slated to meet at 1:30 p.m.

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