Ever since the Youngstown City School District was placed in state-mandated academic emergency in 2010, the following question has loomed large: How much time does the system have before the state steps in to take over the failing schools?
After seven years, it’s clear that the day of reckoning is fast approaching.
Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, and the State Superintendent for Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria have been unwavering in their contention that substantive progress in student test scores must be made in order to fend off any drastic action.
That was the message Youngstown schools Chief Executive Officer Krish Mohip recently conveyed to principals during a private meeting.
Mohip, the first CEO of a public school system in Ohio, may have used dramatic language to get his point across, but he isn’t wrong that charter schools could well be in Youngstown’s future if students continue to fail the statewide proficiency tests.
Indeed, the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly envisioned such drastic action when it passed House Bill 70, which was designed to reconstitute failing public school systems.
The legislation was triggered by Youngstown’s academic-emergency and academic-watch designations. Two main provisions in HB 70 have turned the district inside out: First, it called for creation of a special academic distress commission to serve as the governing body; second, it created the position of chief executive officer to be filled by the commission and for the individual to have sweeping powers in the day-to-day operation of the district.
Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, was appointed in June 2016 with full operational, managerial and instructional control of the urban school system.
Since that time, he has used the authority granted to him by the state law to put the system on the road to academic recovery.
CHALLENGES HAVE ABOUNDED
It has not been easy because the elected school board, which has been stripped of its traditional powers and now serves in an advisory capacity, has been fighting Mohip every step of the way. In addition, the teachers union, with the support of the Ohio Education Association, has filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of HB 70 and unfair labor-practice complaints with the State Employment Relations Board.
Thus, Mohip’s dire warnings about the future of the district if progress isn’t made in students’ academic performance should be viewed as a call to arms.
“I tried to hammer home the reality that could exist if we fail,” he said last week during the CEO Update Meeting. “I was painting a picture of the reality of what failure looks like.”
While we find no fault with what Mohip said during the public session and in his private meeting with the principals, we are puzzled by his contention that his comments behind closed doors should not have been shared publicly.
Does he really believe that anything he says or does, regardless of the setting, will be treated as confidential? Too many special interests are working to make sure he and the academic distress commission fail.
To those individuals we say, be careful what you wish for because the alternative will be a much more bitter pill to swallow.
The courts have ruled that HB 70 is constitutional, and SERB has already dismissed one complaint against Mohip. There’s another one pending.
An analysis of the provisions of HB 70 shows the CEO now has the power to close existing schools and reopen them as community (charter) or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) schools. In the extreme, he can permanently close a school.
Mohip’s comment reportedly made to the principals that is now another point of contention for some school board members is this:
“There is a 60 percent chance I won’t be here next year and 90 percent chance Youngstown [schools] will be turned into a charter school district by then.”
Mohip isn’t sure those were his exact words, but he stands by the underlying message.
The CEO has a three-year contract and his future would be in the hands of the distress commission. Mohip has been unwavering in his commitment to public education, which means he would not want to be a part of any move to turn Youngstown into a charter school district.
His detractors should disabuse themselves of the belief that the city school system will return to the pre-HB 70 days if the academic failure rate remains high.
The district’s future could be even more drastic than what has taken place with the implementation of the so-called Youngstown Plan.