The only way the re- engineered Youngstown City School District will return to the bad old days of systemic academic failure is if Democrats win the governor’s office and take over the Ohio Senate and House.
Fortunately, such a political coup is not in the cards. Even so, Democratic candidates for governor are determined to make the district’s new approach to education an issue in this year’s race.
While it’s not surprising they would pander to the labor unions, thoughtful residents of Youngstown (the silent majority) aren’t going to be swayed by the argument that returning power to an elected school board is good for the district.
The children of Youngs-town deserve a chance to succeed academically, which is why the so-called Youngstown Plan is promising.
The plan is a creature of House Bill 70, which was enacted by the Republican- controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. John R. Kasich.
It took effect in Youngs-town in July 2015, and since then a special Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission has served as the governing body in place of the elected school board.
HB 70 authorizes the commission to appoint a chief executive officer with sweeping powers in the day-to-day management of the schools.
Academic recovery plan
Krish Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, began his tenure in June 2016 and since then has worked tirelessly to implement the academic recovery plan he developed in conjunction with commission. The state superintendent of public instruction approved the blueprint.
CEO Mohip has absolute operational, managerial and instructional control of the district, and the results of this year’s state tests will show whether the various academic and social programs he has implemented are working.
The school board has been stripped of its traditional powers and now serves in an advisory capacity, while the Youngstown Education Association – the teachers union – is no longer calling the shots the way it did prior to House Bill 70 becoming law.
The school board, the union and the Ohio Education Association have been unrelenting in their opposition to Mohip and the distress commission and have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law and unfair labor practice complaints with the State Employment Relations Board.
The courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Youngstown Plan, while SERB has ruled that the law gives Mohip “carte blanche” in his management of the school district.
In an obvious attempt to undermine Mohip’s management of the district, school board members and union officials have claimed that the Youngstown Plan is nothing more than a ruse by Republicans to privatize public education, first in the city and then statewide.
Dennis Kucinich, one of eight candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor this year, latched on to that canard last week. He said he had inside information that the Youngstown City School District Distress Commission was working on a privatization plan.
Kucinich, a former congressman and mayor of Cleveland, did not identify the informant.
Brian Benyo, chairman of the commission, dismissed the Democrat’s ludricrous claim.
Benyo made it clear the goal is to bring about academic success in the district, which has been under state-mandated academic emergency and academic watch since 2010.
Nonetheless, Kucinich, who ran for president in 2004 and 2008, pledged to do everything in his power to fight any attempt to privatize public education.
The front-page coverage of his claim did not sit well with another Democratic candidate for governor, area state Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, took Kucinich and other Democrats to task for only now weighing in on the Youngstown Plan and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) scandal.
“This is how politicians work,” Schiavoni said in a news release issued Friday. “They figure out which issues get you upset, then they promise to fix everything. Everyone’s telling you what they’ll do. You should look for the candidate who’s already doing it.”
To be sure, Schiavoni has long voiced his opposition to HB 70 and to charter schools, but his criticism of what’s taking place in Youngstown is shortsighted.
He is aware the law is based on a recommendation from Mahoning Valley business and community leaders – politicians were banned – who were asked by Gov. Kasich to propose a new way of providing quality public education in Youngstown.
Kasich has long voiced concern about the children in the urban district being deprived of the best education possible because of the dysfunctional school system.
The Youngstown Plan not only addresses the deeply rooted academic problems, but also focuses on the social challenges confronting the city’s children who come from broken homes.
While Democrats have been quick to criticize Republicans for pushing through HB 70, they have failed to come up with their own version of a creative, nontraditional solution to failing school systems like Youngstown’s.
Just baying at the moon won’t give the city’s children the opportunities they deserve for a good life.