Youngstown schools officials should accept Kasich’s invite

With the Youngstown City School District sporting five F’s, two D’s and two C’s in the latest state report card, we would have expected officials to jump at the chance to meet with Gov. John Kasich and detail for him the challenges the urban school district is confronting.

Unfortunately, no one is making a beeline to Columbus, even though the governor publicly issued an invitation to school district officials to meet with him.

“I want to make an offer,” Kasich said last week during a visit to New Middletown for the dedication of the Hickory Bend gathering system and processing plant. “We want to help to fix the Youngstown City Schools. If you bring us a plan and a program we will help you — just as we did in Cleveland with the mayor, the school board and union and city officials. We will help you to design a program and make things better.”

It is noteworthy that the governor used the word help three times in that four-sentence statement. Not take over, but help.

Nonetheless, the reaction of the two most important individuals leading the academic revival of one of the worst performing school districts in the state was noncommittal.

From where we sit, that’s a major mistake. The school system, with its declining enrollment, its financial challenges and the significant number of students who come from broken homes, needs all the support it can get.

Superintendent Connie Hathorn, who has enjoyed strong backing from this news- paper, but who also is on notice that the clock is ticking on the system’s academic improvement, seemed uncharacteristically defensive in his comments about the governor’s reaching out to Youngstown.

“We have a plan in place here.” Hathorn said. “The ADC [state academic distress commission] was appointed by the state superintendent. We’re going to keep moving forward implementing the plan we have.”

No one is suggesting that the recovery plan developed by the superintendent and the distress commission be abandoned. Nor is anyone saying that the progress made since Hathorn and the commission have been on the job should be summarily dismissed.

However, a meeting with the governor could make the state a partner in the Youngstown district’s struggle to climb out of the cellar.

Money is always an issue in the troubled school system — it was in state-declared fiscal emergency for many years — and state government has money. There’s a rainy day fund that’s overflowing — and it’s “raining” in Youngstown.

Special financing

If Hathorn and the chairwoman of the distress commission, Adrienne O’Neill, can show the governor what they have developed and the support they’ve received from the school board, the case for special financial support from the state is strengthened all the more.

There is nothing to suggest that the governor is leaning toward implementing the kind of sweeping changes made in Cleveland and Columbus.

But the fact that he, without prompting or questioning by reporters, talked about the Youngstown school district should not be taken lightly.

Kasich has opened the door to a meeting that, if nothing else, would allow Hathorn, O’Neill and others to show what has been done to overcome seemingly long odds of providing a good education for children most in need.

That’s a good story to tell the state’s chief executive.

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