By HAROLD GWIN
A Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge has ruled that Coitsville Township can break away from the Youngstown City School District.
Judge Patrick Sheeran overturned a February 2009 Ohio State Board of Education ruling that had rejected the petitions of a group calling itself Concerned Citizens for Quality Education. The group was asking for permission for the northern half of the township to become part of the Hubbard schools system and the southern half to become part of the Lowellville school district.
An Ohio Department of Education spokesman said the state board will meet next week to discuss a possible appeal of the ruling.
Anthony Catale, president of the Youngstown Board of Education, said the school board will appeal the case if the state doesn’t. He said he has urged the state to file an appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Ultimately, this court must do what is best for all the students involved,” Judge Sheeran wrote in his May 21 ruling. “The evidence demonstrates that the benefits supporting the transfers far outweigh the reasons for denying the transfers.”
Nowhere in the state’s list of reasons for denying the property transfers does it show that Youngstown can provide a superior or even an equal educational experience to that already being experienced by the majority of students living in Coitsville, the judge said.
His ruling reflects that the record shows 53 of the 63 school-age children were already attending either Hubbard or Lowellville, and two others were attending Struthers schools. Only eight were enrolled in Youngstown schools.
The ruling points out that Hubbard and Lowellville are rated as “excellent” by the Ohio Department of Education on their local report cards. At the time of the petition filing, Youngstown was rated in “academic watch.” (It has since dropped to academic emergency.)
Judge Sheeran was critical of the recommendation of an ODE referee who found in December 2008 that the Concerned Citizens petitions should be denied. The state board of education acted on that recommendation.
The Youngstown Board of Education also opposed the petitions, arguing that the district would lose $607,000 in real-estate-tax revenue now being received from Coitsville Township annually and an additional $145,000 in state-foundation funds for students.
The court pointed out that the $607,000 in real-estate taxes won’t be lost. Youngstown school officials have confirmed that is true because that revenue will now have to be made up by the remaining taxpayers in Youngstown.
The court said Youngs-town’s actual financial loss will be about $140,000 a year in state and local funds, less than 1 percent of its total $116 million budget and not large enough to be a significant factor standing in the way of the property transfers.
Judge Sheeran also discredited the referee’s finding that allowing Coitsville to leave the Youngstown system would further add racial isolation to Youngstown schools, which have a predominantly black enrollment.
The court pointed out that 55 of the students in question already were attending other schools through open-enrollment provisions, and the eight students still in Youngstown schools would have little impact on the district’s racial makeup.
Edmond Raines, a spokesman for the Concerned Citizens group, said the group was confident in pursing its appeal of the state board of education ruling.
“We had a lot of merit going forward,” he said, noting this is the fourth time the township has asked to be removed from the Youngstown school district.
The court ruling offered no timetable for the property transfers, but Raines said he is hopeful it can happen before the start of school this fall.