Accusations of Incompetence, Secrecy, Racism, Negativity in Lorain Schools Oversight

David Hardy Jr., CEO of Lorain's schools.
David Hardy Jr., CEO of Lorain's schools. [Kristen Bauer / The Chronicle-Telegram]
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In Lorain, the state-mandated reform of the city’s struggling schools has erupted into accusations of racism, incompetence, and negativity. A new member of the Academic Distress Commission has called school CEO, David Hardy insubordinate for failing to get information to her in a timely manner.  Hardy said she was spreading negativity.  Local leaders of the NAACP told the Lorain School Board criticisms of Hardy, who’s black, is driven by racism. The Chronicle-Telegram has been covering the story and its editorial page editor Brad Dicken described the escalating war of words between Hardy, members of the commission, the school board and the public.

Power struggle with school board

CEO David Hardy Jr. was hired in 2017 to revitalize the district following a state takeover.  Tell me about his relationship with the school board and with parents.

His relationship with the school board is fairly fraught.  He has refused to meet with them.  He's sent staff members to meet with them but he himself hasn't met with them.  One of the few things left that the school board has in terms of authority in the district is the ability to place levies on the ballot.  They have refused to do so until they meet with Hardy.  There's a 3.1 mil renewal levy that's going to expire at the end of 2019.  There had been some talk of putting it on [the ballot ] last year but it didn't go on because the board said Hardy wouldn't meet with them and they wouldn't put it on.  There are a couple of chances to do it this year, but thus far, that has not yet happened.

Parents have mixed views of Hardy

There wasn't a lot of support for this state takeover among local leaders.  But what about parents?  How do they view Hardy?

Certainly there are some parents out there that [sic] support Hardy.  There are also parents that [sic] have been upset with how the district has gone.  There have been a few controversies.  There was a change in grading.  There was a last-minute uniform change that has been reversed. THere's been conflicting information that has come out sometimes from the district.   A lot of people feel they aren't getting answers to some of their questions.

A recent town hall meeting between Hardy and parents got heated and emotional.  What happened?

There were some allegations, primarily by E. Jean Wrice, president of the Lorain NAACP, in which she called school board members “The Three Musketeers,”  and she blamed them for the problems.  She also suggested that a lot of the criticisms of Hardy is because he is an African-American.  Some people of the school board and the community didn't agree with that.   The school board itself is comprised of three African-Americans and three folks who are white.  So, the board has rejected that.  They say the problem is a lack of transparency, a lack of communication that has nothing to do with race.

New commissioner claims Hardy is insubordinate

Then there's the accusation of insubordination by new Academic Distriss Commission member Diane Conibear-Xander, who was just appointed Jan. 10.  She fired off a three-page memo to fellow commissioners on Jan. 21 alleging insubordination and detailing dysfunction at the schools.  

She had put out a request for information from Hardy shortly after she came on board.  She felt like he wasn't giving her answers.  A lot of this stuff, she argued, was public record and should be readily accessible to him and should have been easily provided.  Her follow-up memo on Jan. 21 laid out a whole bunch of concerns, everything from low staff morale to fear of retaliation if caught speaking to her, to issues on how report cards were calculated and errors there, to how funds were being used.  She had given Hardy until last Friday to make a response and that deadline came and went without her hearing from him.

Hardy defends his work

What was Hardy’s response to Conibear-Xander's memo?

He put out an e-mail in which he described [the Conibear-Xander memo] as an attempt to spread “extremely negative and inaccurate narrative that doesn’t come from a place of purity."  He's defended the work he's doing there and the work his team is doing there.

And his response to allegations that he hasn't been transparent? 

Hardy holds a lot of town hall meetings in which he answers some questions, although he left one earlier this month while people were still trying to ask him questions.  (The Chronicle-Telegram reported Hardy answered three written questions from a stack of notecards.  He was escorted out of the meeting space by school security guards at the meeting's conclusion, as parents, teachers and local officials peppered him with additional questions.)  He does have a lot of public meetings.  Now, whether or not he's putting out information that people wants depends on the person who's asking the question. 

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