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Proposed Cleveland School Oversight Board Would Be Exempt From State Sunshine Laws

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, pictured here at a 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event, is asking state lawmakers to make a host of changes affecting the Cleveland school district.

The package of new legislation Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says will once again "transform" Cleveland's schools would create a new nonprofit group to make significant changes to the school district, including drawing together both traditional public schools and charter schools.

But unlike school boards for both traditional public and charter schools, that new group would not be subject to state public records and open meetings laws. That means that residents would not have the right to attend the new group's board meetings, for example, or to see records about the new group's financial operations or decision-making process.

As we reported earlier:

Many of the requested changes would give the school district’s leadership more control over teachers’ pay and contracts, sidestepping the current collective bargaining process... The plan also calls for the district to create a “portfolio” of traditional public schools and charter schools, a popular concept among some urban districts [outside of Ohio]... Jackson also wants the district to be able to share local tax dollars with charter schools.

The mayor's office has released a current draft of the legislation (Go ahead and read it. We've highlighted some of the more interesting parts for you). Among the many changes in the draft legislation, the Cleveland plan would:

  • Prohibit tenure for teachers licensed after 2011 or licensed before 2011 but without masters degrees or similar education;
  • Require "performance," broadly defined, to be the determining factor in deciding which teachers to layoff or rehire and allow seniority or tenure to be used only as tie-breaker;
  • Explicitly allow the district to fire teachers rated "ineffective" for two years in a row and principals whose schools have failed to meet district performance standards;
  • Allow the school district to share future tax levy proceeds with some charter schools;
  • Require groups that want to open charter schools in the Cleveland school district to get approval from the new Cleveland nonprofit "Transformation Alliance" first;
  • Permit the school board to negotiate new union contracts as if the old ones did not exist.

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Many of those changes -- such as essentially ending tenure for new teachers and removing seniority as the primary factor in layoffs/rehire decisions -- echo parts of Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining bill repealed by voters in November.

Others changes -- such as sharing tax levy proceeds with charter schools and limiting the reach of state public records and open meetings laws -- were not in SB 5.

The mayor expects a legislative sponsor to step forward in the next seven to ten days, said Maureen Harper, a spokesperson for the mayor's office.

Lobbyists for the school district and the group of private foundations and other groups supporting the plan have been working directly with the Ohio Legislative Service Commission to write the legislation, Harper said. The mayor has held several meetings with the Cleveland Teachers Union, but has not yet received written feedback from union leaders, Harper said.

Ohio's teachers' unions -- the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers --   are both against the plan. Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke called much of the proposed legislation "restarts of Senate Bill 5, if not outwardly worse than what was proposed in Senate Bill 5."

And the unions have begun a public advocacy campaign against the proposed legislation and have begun to rally their troops. Quolke, the Cleveland teachers' union president, wrote in a message to members yesterday:

We have already made contacts with our brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO, the Ohio Education Association, city council members, faith-based leaders, community leaders, and many of our friends during the SB 5 attacks... As I have said in the past, things will begin to move and begin to move quickly and we will need a lot of help from all of our members.

Read the draft legislation for yourself. Does it look like SB 5 to you?

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