UPDATE | Senate bill would dissolve distress commission, create city schools CEO

H.B. 70 and Amendment

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Academic distress commissions and education partnerships

COLUMBUS — An amendment to be introduced in the Ohio Senate this morning would dissolve the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission and create a new commission that will appoint a chief executive officer to manage and operate the school district.

The Senate Education Committee planned to review the amendment during its morning session.

The changes would affect the Youngstown school district, and a delegation from that city, including Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, Most. Rev. George Murry and former city schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn, submitted testimony in support of the move.

“By adopting the amendment proposed today, it is my belief that you will be empowering the Youngstown City school district, and any other district in Ohio that might find itself in an academic emergency in the future, to truly transform themselves into a system in which children have a chance at success," Hathorn said in his written testimony. "These reforms, like so many that you consider, are not about buildings and systems, but rather about the young people they are meant to serve."

Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) planned to offer comments in opposition, saying through a spokesman that he "has deep concerns about the plan as presented to him yesterday."

The Youngstown school board president also has issues with the proposed legislation.

“I’m very concerned about it if it takes any type of local control away from our school district,” Brenda Kimble said. “I’m upset that the state and the governor continue to bring people into our district who know nothing about our district.”

She pointed to the Cleveland Plan which created a board appointed by that city’s mayor. That board then appointed a school district CEO.

“Cleveland is still failing under the plans [the state] gave them,” Kimble said.

Youngstown, on the other hand, is making progress, she pointed out.

A draft of the amendment obtained by The Vindicator calls for the state superintendent of public instruction to establish an academic distress commission for failing school districts.

The panel would include three members appointed by the state superintendent, a teacher selected by the president of the district school board and a member picked by the mayor of the community where the school is located.

The commission, in turn, would appoint a chief executive officer for the district, who would have authority to replace school administrators and central office staff, hire new employees and set teacher class loads and compensation rates, among other administrative decisions.

The amendment would be added to HB 70, which passed the House last month and awaits final action in the Senate. The legislation would create a mechanism for transitioning poor-performing schools into "community learning centers."

The process would require public hearings and a vote of affected parents, teachers and school staff.

New community learning centers would be subject to reviews of their operations and improvement plans, with regular checks on students' academic progress, attendance and other issues.

The CEO would have full managerial and operational control of the school district, including management rights. The elected local school board would remain in place although it would be up to the CEO to determine whether and how much to involve those members in the operation of the school district.

Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, said he’s been concerned about the lack of academic progress made in the Youngstown City Schools.

“This is a long-standing issue of not meeting the needs of the boys and girls of Youngstown,” he said. “It’s been a concern to me as well as [to] the governor.”

But local people pay taxes here and know the issues, Kimble said.

“I’m sick and tired of Superintendent Ross and the governor sending people into our district and deciding how it should be run,” she said. “They sent the commission. Are you saying that the people you sent are ineffective? That they did something that didn’t move district forward? What in the world does a CEO have to do with moving the district forward?”

Kimble said that Stephen Stohla, who becomes interim city schools superintendent July 1, met with Thomas Humphries, president and CEO Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, who informed him about the proposed legislation.

“He said that Dr. Connie Hathorn was part of planning this with Tom Humphries,” she said. “If Dr. Hathorn had a hand in this, he went behind the backs of the community and the taxpayers while we were paying him top dollar — he probably made more than anyone else [public officials] in the community. I’m going to see if there are any legal ramifications that we can take.”

Kimble views that as unethical.

“I’m very disappointed that he would do that," she said.

Youngstown was the first district in Ohio to have an academic distress commission appointed. The commission’s charge was to develop an academic recovery plan to guide the district out of academic difficulty.

Youngstown’s commission was established in 2010. A commission remains in place and while there have been improvements academically, they’ve been slow and small.

“I look at it as a whole generation of students we haven’t met the needs of,” Ross said.

The new system sets up a year-by-year process toward school district improvement.

If the district begins to improve by earning an overall “C” on the state report card, a two-year transition out out of academic distress and back to normal district management and control begins.

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