Friday, February 9, 2018
By Amanda Tonoli
An Ohio gubernatorial candidate said he intends to give those trying to privatize public education “the fight of their lives.”
Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, said Thursday that appointed officials of Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission are covertly considering action that could remove control from local voters and privatize the entire public school system.
House Bill 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in July 2015, enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire a CEO – Krish Mohip – to lead the Youngstown School District. The bill gives Mohip complete operational, managerial and instructional control.
Youngstown is the first school district in Ohio that has fallen under the auspices of HB 70.
“There are people inside the process not happy about recent turn of events where the privatization of the Youngstown City School District is being seriously considered,” Kucinich said. “I was contacted by someone inside [with this information], and I am quite satisfied the information I have is accurate and needs to be made public. We are talking about lives of thousands of Youngstown city schoolchildren being set at odds to profit motives.”
Kucinich, 71, said there are attempts being made to further weaken the city schools so public education in the city is seen as a failure.
One attempt Kucinich named specifically was weakening the teachers’ union.
The Youngstown Education Association has filed several unfair labor practices charges with the State Employment Relations Board against Mohip over the past year, asserting the district engaged in “direct dealing” and “public bargaining,” according to SERB records.
Mohip and the YEA are currently gridlocked over a number of teacher grievances that have yet to be resolved.
“This is a very real attempt to try to blame the teachers who are actually the victims,” Kucinich said.
But Brian Benyo, chairman of the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission, said the commission has expressed the desire to see public education in the city schools succeed.
“HB 70 does provide ... the commission and state superintendent to look at alternatives, [but] that is dramatically different from the privatization of city schools,” he said.
Benyo maintains the idea of privatizing the city schools is nothing he’s discussed or heard others on the commission discuss.
“I am a little more disappointed that there wasn’t any effort put into validating this,” he said. “I think this is a continued politicalization of HB 70.”
Kucinich said the commission should be put on notice that any attempts to pursue privatizing education will be met with a challenge.
Kucinich also issued the following statement Thursday:
“A private takeover of public education ... will deprive the citizens of Youngstown and their children of their Ohio Constitutional right to the establishment of ‘a thorough and efficient system of common schools.’ Those are the words in the order issued by the Ohio Supreme Court in the 1997 DeRolph decision, a decision which has been ignored by the state officials who have enabled, promoted and provided billions of dollars in funding to private, for-profit charter schools in the state.
“To stop this usurpation of the rights of children, parents, and taxpayers in Youngstown, it is imperative that HB 70 be repealed; and honest legislators should immediately step forward and introduce legislation to repeal that law.”
Fellow gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, agrees.
“There are serious legal issues at stake here, including the right of Ohioans to testify in public hearings on important pieces of legislation,” Schiavoni said during a prior interview with The Vindicator.
“The citizens of this state were denied that opportunity when the so-called Youngstown Plan was drawn up behind closed doors and added to House Bill 70 at the last minute.”