Gov. Kasich will not dictate the future of Y’town schools

We don’t know what was said when Gov. John Kasich and state Rep.-elect Michele Lepore-Hagan had a brief private conversation about the academically challenged Youngstown

Governor Kasich Discusses Youngstown Schools

Audio Clip

Governor Kasich discusses Youngstown city schools during an editorial interview at The Vindicator.

City School District, but we do know this: The Republican governor will not push for a state takeover of the failing urban system unless the local community asks him to do so.

Thus, we put little stock in the ongoing political flap triggered by Democrat Hagan’s contention that Kasich told her he was ready to turn the public schools into charters.

As Youngstown schools Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn, who has talked to the governor and to Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, about the district’s problems, correctly observed, if Kasich had any plans for a state takeover, he would undoubtedly alert local officials. He hasn’t done so.

Indeed, Kasich, who won re-election Nov. 4 by a landslide and led a sweep of the GOP in the statewide races, has been consistent in his opinion of what should be done to pull the system out of the academic cellar.

The governor expounded on that opinion in September during his endorsement meeting with members of The Vindicator’s editorial board and other editors and reporters.

We have posted an audio recording of a portion of that interview on our website, The segment relates to Kasich’s discussion about the Youngstown schools. It can be found linked to the online version of this editorial.

No great revelation

If he were planning a major overhaul of the district (with the supposed goal of creating charter schools), he certainly would have share the information with this newspaper. After all, the governor sought our endorsement because he recognizes the important role we play in formulating public opinion.

“My great concern is the schools here,” the governor told us, as he articulated his dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in the district.

He let it be known that he had asked state Rep. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-63rd, to engage the region’s business and community leaders in a discussion about the future of the city schools.

The governor wants the stakeholders to come up with options that would be discussed with state Superintendent Ross, a former chairman of the Youngstown School District Academic Distress Commission. Under state law, the commission is responsible for developing an academic recovery plan.

“Whatever that thing looks like, if it’s going to reform the schools we’ll do everything we can to help,” the governor said he told O’Brien.

Kasich, who was actively involved in the transformation of the troubled Cleveland schools, pointed out that change in Youngstown won’t occur overnight. “[Cleveland was] years in the making,” he said.

Likewise, Youngstown’s recovery will take a long time and will require the involvement of just about every segment of the community.

There was a discussion about charter schools during the 90-minute editorial board meeting, but it dealt with the fact that state oversight of the operators of charters is minimal, at best.

We urged the governor to use his influence with the Republican-controlled Legislature to bring the charters under the laws that govern public school systems.

Kasich conceded that many charter schools have failed to live up to expectations, but he also pointed out that there are a number of charters in the state showing real progress in educating at-risk children.

‘All kids deserve a chance’

“I think it’s wrong,” Kasich said of the Youngstown district’s failure to improve its academic standing. “We’re selling our kids short. ... All kids deserve a chance.”

There was nothing in the governor’s presentation that would lead anyone to conclude that a state takeover is imminent.

So how did the idea of charter schools become part of the conversation relating to the Youngstown district?

If the governor did mention Youngstown and charters in the same breath during his brief chat with state Rep.-elect Lepore Hagan, it’s because the seed was planted by The Vindicator’s Editorial Page Editor Bertram de Souza.

After the 90-minute interview with the editorial board, Kasich and de Souza were walking out of the building when the Editorial Page editor asked about the possibility of the state taking over the failing schools in the district and turning them into charters under the governance of the Ohio Department of Education.

Kasich’s immediate reply was this: “I don’t think we can do that.”

Nonetheless, he called Ross, the state superintendent of education, and asked if state-sponsored charters were possible under Ohio law. Ross replied that the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission had the authority to take over failing schools.

The governor told Ross that the issue was worth exploring.

But Kasich remains adamant that the decision about the future of the troubled city school district rests with the stakeholders in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

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