By Denise Dick
News that control of the city school district would move to a state-paid chief executive officer went over like a bad report card with school board members.
“I just think it’s their plan to do away with city schools in Youngstown,” said Michael Murphy, board vice president. “It’s their ultimate plan to get rid of them. I’m not happy about it. I think we were elected to do a job, and they’re not letting us do it.”
The legislation passed Wednesday by the Ohio Legislature abolishes the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission, in place since 2010. In its place, a new five-member commission will be created.
Brenda Kimble, school board president, said those opposed will do whatever they can to fight the plan.
“We’re going to band together as a community,” she said. “We’re not going to just let this happen. They didn’t consult anybody in the city, any of the elected officials including, as far as I know, any of city council, or the unions,” Kimble said.
Outgoing Superintendent Connie Hathorn sent a letter to legislators that supported the plan.
When Hathorn asked to retire and be rehired for his Youngstown job, he said the district was improving under his leadership, she said. Now that he’s gone, he says the state needs to take over, Kimble said.
The new ADC panel will appoint a state-paid CEO to run the school district.
“I’m sick and tired of Superintendent [Richard] Ross and the governor sending people into our district and deciding how it should be run,” Kimble added. “They sent the commission. Are you saying that the people you sent are ineffective? That they did something that didn’t move 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 – and Hathorn’s support.
“I’m very disappointed that he would do this,” she said. Kimble pointed to Cleveland schools, where a similar plan was enacted a few years ago.
“Cleveland is still failing under the plan [the state] gave them,” she said.
Youngstown, on the other hand, is making progress, she pointed out.
She plans to write a letter to state officials pointing out that no elected officials from the city were part of the new plan’s development.
Murphy pointed to portions of the legislation that allows failing city schools to be turned over to charter operators. Once that happens, even if the district improves academically, those schools remain under outside control, he said.
Mayor John A. McNally issued a news release saying the legislation needed changes.
The legislation, he said, was “read by only a few, drafted behind closed doors and without meaningful opportunity for comment by the public, by school districts or by elected representatives” and was rushed through.
“Amended HB 70 represents the continuing push to turn places of education and growth into for-profit institutions where individuals and companies will look to profit on the backs of students and will continue to eviscerate collective-bargaining agreements with teachers and other staff,” he said.
McNally said he’s unsure of how the changes will benefit students.
“One thing I hear consistently from students, teachers and parents is that the district needs a period of stability where new programs are not continuously created,” buildings reconfigured and teachers, principals and students moved among buildings, the mayor said.
“Nothing in what I saw says that stability is going to be present right away,” he said.
If the legislation outlining the new commission is signed by the governor, McNally said he would appoint himself.
“I feel like we were left out of the loop on this, in fact the entire community was,” said Marcia Haire-Ellis, a school board member.
Board member Jackie Adair said she’s torn about the changes.
“My concern is about the welfare of the students in Youngstown City Schools,” she said.
On an intellectual level, Adair said she’s pleased a CEO is going to be appointed to help the school district.
“These people [in the school district] don’t know what the devil they’re doing,” she said. “From a personal perspective, as an elected board member, oh heck no. I don’t see at the rate we’re going with the commission – that ought to tell you something about them being here all this time and us not moving. At the pace we’re going, I don’t see us moving out of this dilemma for many years to come.”
Joffrey Jones, chairman of the current ADC, said the commission likely isn’t doing the job of advancing city school students quickly enough.
“The school district needs more immediate improvements than we’ve been able to generate,” he said. “The state needs to improve the way it helps the struggling schools, and this is a good effort in that respect.”
Board member Ronald Shadd said he has a lot of questions before he knows where he stands on the changes.
“I don’t see how restructuring the state commission benefits what we’re doing,” Shadd said.
Board member Jerome Williams sees the change as taking away the voice of the citizens.
“If you’ve got elected officials who are on the school board, that’s the voice of the people,” he said.