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At Statehouse, Sentiment Builds Against Ohio's School Takeover Process

Ohio State Superintendent Paolo DiMaria discusses concerns with the state law governing the state takeover of failing schools at the Ohio Department of Education meeting, March 11, 2019. [The Ohio Channel]
Ohio State Superintendent Paolo DiMaria discusses concerns with the state law governing the state takeover of failing schools at the Ohio Department of Education meeting, March 11, 2019. [The Ohio Channel]

There’s movement at the Statehouse to re-think Ohio's process of taking over failing schools.  House Bill 70 was pushed through in one day in 2015, and local school officials have been pushing back ever since, saying state-run Academic Distress Commissions and the CEOs they hire are undemocratic, circumventing elected school boards.   Now, there are signs at the state level that politicians and education leaders are hearing, and acting upon, these concerns.  Ideastream’s Darrielle Snipes joins me.

At the State Board of Education meeting on March 11 , the head of the Ohio Board of Education, Superintendent Paolo DiMaria, said the state takeover process creates too much hostility.  Provide me with the context for DiMaria’s comment.  What’s been happening in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland, the school districts that currently have academic distress commissions overseeing reforms?

A lot of bickering and a lot of mistrust.  Let's start with Lorain. There, the CEO, David Hardy, and the school board, they're not working together.  The mayor [Chase Ritenauer], trying to be the middle person in all this, asked for a meeting.  Well, Hardy declined that meeting, saying he'd rather work with the school board's president, Mark Ballard, in trying to get things done.  In Youngstown, the CEO there is leaving.  His last day is in July.  He says his home has been vandalized because of result of this.  East Cleveland went under state control late last year.  The CEO there just got on the job a month ago.  There's a lot of angst, but they don'e know what's happening there just yet.  At the state school board meeting last week, the superintendent talked about how he feels about [HB70], saying he doesn't believe that anyone who is a part of these state takeovers is doing anything malicious to destroy education, "but I think the sheer effort required to try to overcome the natural acrimony and dissension by House Bill 70 has created the condition that even the best-intentioned individuals are challenged to try to make progress."  DiMaria is working on a report evaulating HBl 70 and that is due in May.

At that meeting the head of the State Senate Education Committee, Sen. Peggy Lehner(R–Kettering), expressed regret for her role in passing HB 70.

She did. 

"I will confess I was the chair of the committee when we were asked to pass it.  However, at the time, the impression was very much that the city of Youngstown, the community of Youngstown was asking us to do this," said Lehner.  "They said, 'we need this to turn our schools around.' And that was very much the thought of the legislature when they allowed this to be rushed through. Since that time I think we have all come to realize how very much the local community was shut out of the process.  There were some voices supporting it, but overall it was not a plan that was being asked for by the community as a whole and without that support, the process is doomed to failure."

And that is exactly what they're seeing, it isn't working.

Earlier this month, two Northeast Ohio lawmakers, Rep. Kent Smith of Euclid, a Democrat, and Rep. Steve Hambley of Brunswick, a Republican, presented a bill that would place a moratorium on more state takeovers.  So it's a bipartison effort.  House Bill 70 was a Republican-backed initiative.  How is it being received by Hambley's fellow Republicans?

There's growing frustration on both sides of the aisle to the point that, just yesterday, Sen. Don Jones (R–Freeport) and Rep. Joe Miller (D–Amherst)  introduced a bipartisan bill to repeal portions of HB 70. Their hope with this bill is to dissolve the Academic Distress Commissions.  Now, that's a big deal, because the commissions are really the driving force behind HB 70, along with the CEOs.  They want to restore control to the local districts so they can provide wraparound services to the children, so they don't have to worry about the problems happening outside the school.   It also helps the entire family, not just the kids, so if parents are struggling and they can't keep the lights on, they can find services to help pay them pay the bills so kids don't have to worry about their parents worrying.  They want the children while they're in school to learn and just focus on learning. 

So we're hearing lots of reasons to change or repeal HB 70.  Is anybody supporting it?  After all, it did become law. Somebody thought it was a good idea!

And probably, on paper, it sounded like a good idea.  But now people are seeing what's happening in these communities (or what's not happening). And what's not happening is, these children aren't getting the education they need.  They're not passing the tests to get the state needle moved to a C.  There's just a lot of bickering by the adults.  I reached out to all three CEOs to see if they wanted to comment. They did not return my phone call for comment.  I reached out to the Youngstown State University president, Jim Tressel, who was instrumental in HB 70.  he also did not return my phone call.  So, you can see that a lot of people are either angry about it, dislike it or they're not commenting.


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