By Denise Dick
They came with signs, chants and songs – all voicing their opposition to a plan that would allow appointment of a chief executive officer to manage and operate the city schools.
Both houses of the state Legislature passed the Youngs-town Plan last month.
But opponents object to the way the legislation was devised behind closed doors and involved no involvement from school board members, teachers or community leaders.
“It’s a vital time now,” state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, told the crowd. “All of us need to come together.”
He, state Rep. Michele-Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, and Mayor John A. McNally will host a meeting at noon Monday at William Holmes McGuffey Elementary School to discuss the plan.
He said it’s a first step to coming up with an alternative plan for the schools. The meeting is public.
“We need to develop a plan that is workable for us, not the Chamber [of Commerce], not the governor,” Schiavoni said.
The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative organized Tuesday’s rally, which drew about 200 people to the corner of Market and Federal streets. Attendees then walked up Wick Avenue to the city school board administration building on West Wood Street.
James Hayes of Cleveland, a member of the Ohio Student Association, yelled “SOS” into the crowd through a megaphone. “Save Our Schools,” they shouted back.
Members of the crowd, which included teachers from the city, Warren, Austintown, Boardman, Poland and Akron, carried signs reading, “No CEO,” “Take Back Our Schools” and “Keep Public Schools Public.”
Paula Valentini, a teacher at Harding Elementary School in the city, thanked the crowd for coming out and showing their support of teachers.
“It feels as though they are under attack right now,” she said.
What’s happening with the state and the city schools can happen to other schools, she said.
Teachers are the ones most acquainted with the children’s needs in school, and teachers weren’t consulted regarding the plan, she said.
“Each and every day we put our heart and soul into creating an environment where learning can take place,” Valentini said.
Teachers have embraced the new curriculum and improvements are happening, she said. She pointed to the high poverty rate among children in the city, saying that should be addressed by the state.
Brenda Kimble, school board president, said those at the rally need to get the message out throughout the state and the country.
Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign the Youngstown Plan legislation this week, is running for president, she noted.
“CEOs run corporations,” Kimble said. “Our children don’t come off an assembly line.”
The plan is also a strategy to break the schools unions, she added.
Jaladah Aslam, president of the Youngstown Warren Black Caucus, said the Youngstown City Schools and the district’s children are not for sale.
She said the legislation is an attempt to privatize public education in Ohio.
Aslam said her child just graduated from Austintown schools, “but I will be with you all the way.”