By Harold Gwin
The commission has broad powers, including authority to fire administrators.
YOUNGSTOWN — The state superintendent of public instruction delivered a somber message to the city school board Tuesday.
“This is a sobering time for the Youngstown School District,” Deborah Delisle told the board as she announced that a state Academic Distress Commission soon will be in place to guide the district’s efforts to improve student achievement.
The commission has broad powers, including the authority to terminate administrators.
Delisle said the five appointments to the commission — three by her and two by the school board president — must be made within 30 days, and the commission will have 120 days after its first meeting to come up with an acceptable academic- recovery plan.
The school board had been awaiting Delisle’s visit for months, as the Ohio Department of Education ranked Youngstown in academic emergency, the lowest possible rating, on its 2009 state local report card in August.
Delisle said then that Youngstown would be the first district to get the services of a distress commission under a 2007 law that requires a commission appointment in a district that has been declared to be in academic emergency and has failed to make adequate yearly academic progress for four or more years.
She said Tuesday that the delay was due to this being the first commission in the state, and state officials wanted the intent of the law to be clear and the system ready to go before the commission was activated.
“You are facing a difficult future as a board,” she told the school board.
Students are relying on the adults to do the right thing in addressing academic needs, she said, warning that “window-dressing” changes won’t provide the systemic changes needed for Youngstown to improve academically.
The city school district will have to pick up the tab for the commission’s work, Delisle said.
That’s bad news for a school district that also is in fiscal emergency and struggling to return to fiscal solvency. Just what it will cost is unknown, but the commission will hire a secretary, and there will be travel and other expenses to be paid.
Delisle said Youngstown might have gotten some help with that bill if it had submitted an acceptable application for funding under the federal Race To the Top program, a grant program channeled through the states and funded with federal recovery funds with a goal to improve academic achievement.
Superintendent Wendy Webb said Youngstown will lose out on a minimum of between $2 million and $2.5 million in Race To the Top Funds because its application was rejected by the state.
The application required the signatures of the superintendent, the school board president and the president of the teachers’ union. Webb said she and the board president signed, but the union wouldn’t.
William Bagnola, teachers’ union president, said several of the conditions of the application as required by the state would violate the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement.
Specifically, the union objects to a requirement that higher- performing teachers be assigned to work in schools with lower- performing students. Youngstown staffing now is done by seniority under the union contract, Bagnola said.
The union also has concerns with a plan to tie teacher evaluations to student performance in a district with high-poverty, high-minority enrollments, he said.
The union further objects to a plan to phase out schools ranked in the lowest 5 percent of academic performance, either by closing them, replacing them with charter schools or creating gender or special science or technology schools, he said.