City schools deserve a chance to prove the detractors wrong

When Superintendent Connie Hathorn talks about “right-sizing” the Youngstown City School District, he means exactly that: Shrinking the urban system to match the decline in student enrollment and revenue.

In the two years Dr. Hathorn has led the academically challenged and financially shaky district, spending has been cut by $5 million, largely through the elimination of jobs. In 2011, 41 positions were shaved for a savings of $1.2 million; this school year, an additional 75 jobs have been slashed, thereby reducing expenditures by another $4 million.

It should be noted that the down-sizing began before Hathorn was hired as superintendent. In 2006, the state declared the Youngstown district to be in fiscal emergency, which triggered the creation of a fiscal oversight commission. Its statutory responsibility was to take control of the finances, eliminate the red ink and oversee the development of a five-year balanced budget.

The emergency status was lifted last year, but by then, 1,000 jobs had been eliminated. Today, the 5,600-student system has about 1,000 employees.

But getting its fiscal house in order was half the battle. The other half was the state-declared academic emergency that put the district in a class all its own in 2010. There was a slight improvement to academic watch last year, but the state academic distress commission that has been overseeing the recovery is still in place — and will be until there is major improvement in state test scores.

This is where the voters of the Youngstown City School District come in.

On Nov. 6, they will be asked to approve the renewal of an operating levy that was enacted in 2008. The 10.4 mills will not result in increased taxes for property owners, but will give Hathorn, the board of education, the commission, the faculty and staff the chance to fully implement a recovery plan that has been approved by the Ohio Department of Education. The levy, which will be in effect for four years, is expected to generate about $5.2 million a year, the same amount as in the past.

A defeat of the levy could well spell the end of the district as we know it. State education officials have made it clear that the clock is ticking and they expect to see the system attain at least a continuous improvement rating on the state report card, or else there could be intervention from Columbus.

Superintendent Hathorn has publicly pledged that he will not allow it happen — but he needs the backing of the community.

This isn’t about propping up a failed system that has thrown in the towel. And it certainly isn’t about flushing money down the drain.

Only the facts

The facts are clear: Major changes have been made, both in reducing the size of the district through budget cuts and implementing an entirely new system of teaching in the classroom.

Earlier this week, we hailed the excellence award given to the Chaney STEM by the Ohio Academy of Science. Who would have thought that Youngstown would be able to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula that would attract statewide attention?

Such creativity and forward-thinking are new in the urban school system. They deserve to be rewarded.

We urge passage of the 10.4-mill renewal — because, when all is said and done, this is about the community’s children.

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