Krish Mohip, chief executive officer of the Youngstown City School District, insists there was no conflict of interest when he hired Curriculum Associates to provide specialized educational services.
Nonetheless, an independent review of the $261,914 contract is warranted because of the business relationship Mohip had with a company that’s a partner of Curriculum Associates.
A front-page story Sunday in The Vindicator by Education Writer Amanda Tonoli identified the partner as Education Research and Development Institute, and pointed out that Mohip was a paid consultant as recently as August.
The CEO received $4,000 from ERDI. He ended his relationship with the company three months ago after The Vindicator questioned him about his work with ERDI.
The company’s owners, Joseph Wise and David Sundstrom, had done work for the Youngstown school district when they were involved with another firm, Atlantic Research Partners.
It should be noted that Youngstown isn’t the only school district in Ohio and the nation that utilizes the educational expertise offered by private companies. Indeed, veteran educators and other top people in public education are principals in such companies. They offer services schools districts generally lack.
For instance, Curriculum Associates provides an after-school program for students called i-Ready. It’s a program used around the country, especially in academically challenged districts.
The Youngstown school system has been in academic emergency/watch for several years because of its consistently poor performance in state proficiency tests.
The district’s academic collapse was a statewide story and prompted Republican Gov. John R. Kasich to say “Enough!” Kasich persuaded business and community leaders in the Mahoning Valley to come up with recommendations for changing the way public education is managed in Youngstown.
They did, and House Bill 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, was passed by the Republican- controlled General Assembly. Gov. Kasich signed HB 70 into law, much to the chagrin of area Democrats in the state House and Senate.
The two major provisions in the law call for the appointment of a special Academic Distress Commission and the hiring of a chief executive officer with full management authority over the school system.
The elected school board has been marginalized. Members have lost almost all their powers and now are viewed as an advisory panel.
The commission appointed Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago who had dealings with various consulting companies, as chief executive officer.
CRITICS WON’T GIVE UP
The critics of HB 70, especially school board members and the teachers union, aren’t giving up on their goal to dismantle HB 70.
Should they succeed – which they won’t – the Youngstown City School District will return to the bad old days of academic failure, high dropout and truancy rates, disengaged parents and guardians and high turnover rates of teachers and administrators. And a dysfunctional school board will once again be in charge,
That’s what Mohip inherited when he took over the job of CEO.
With the support of the academic distress commission, he has charted a new course and is making drastic changes in the way children learn and teachers teach. His full-speed-ahead attitude has angered some in the school system and the community.
The teachers union, along with the school board, has tried – and failed – to get HB 70 declared unconstitutional.
The union also has filed a number of grievances.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that The Vindicator’s story Sunday prompted state legislators from the area to ask the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate Mohip’s involvement with Curriculum Associates and Economic Research and Development Institute.
We believe that such an investigation is justified – but not for the reasons voiced by the legislators.
Mohip insists he did not know the two companies were partners, and there’s nothing to suggest that he’s lying.
However, an ethics review of the school district’s contract with Curriculum Associates and the CEO’s paid consultancy should provide the needed clarity.
We would also urge the state commission to answer this overarching question: Does Ohio’s ethics laws apply to the district’s chief executive officer?
It’s inconceivable that House Bill 70 exempted the CEO, who is a public employee, from the applicable ethical standards. But, an unambiguous opinion from the ethics commission will reassure the public.