By Amanda Tonoli
Jim Tressel, who helped develop the Youngstown Plan, said the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to hear its appeal is part of the beauty of living in the United States.
“We have a system of governance and laws being made, but also the freedom to appeal and to further discuss,” said Tressel, Youngstown State University president. “If it’s the right thing to do, it will withstand the test of time and appeals.”
The court on Wednesday accepted the appeal of the Youngstown Board of Education and other parties in their case against House Bill 70, the Youngstown Plan.
Gov. John Kasich signed HB 70 into law in July 2015. It enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire a CEO to lead the district. The commission selected Krish Mohip for the job. The bill gives Mohip complete operational, managerial and instructional control.
City schools spokeswoman Denise Dick said the district is simply not a party in the lawsuit.
“We’re just going to keep focusing on what’s best for students and what’s happening in classrooms,” she said.
But school board member Dario Hunter said in a Wednesday statement: “The Ohio Supreme Court has done the right thing by deciding ... to accept the appeal of the Youngstown Board of Education and other parties in their case against HB 70 (‘the Youngstown Plan’). While in the past I have expressed skepticism of the board’s approach of endless legal appeals, I have been convinced of the need to fight by any means necessary the mercenary way in which CEO Mohip and his administration have used and abused HB 70 to fritter away our district’s finances without getting academic results.”
HB 70 is “anti-democratic,” Hunter maintained, and unconstitutional.
“For those who don’t care about its blatant disregard for the voters, it is perhaps most important to note that it simply doesn’t work,” he said in the statement. “We’ve seen that first hand.”
Youngstown earned an overall F grade on the Ohio Department of Education State Report Card, made up of two D’s and four F’s. Last year, Youngstown earned one B, one D and four F’s.
Brenda Kimble, school board president, said she’s happy the high court is taking the matter seriously.
“It affects public systems across the state of Ohio,” she said. “We really need to look at how this was created: with no input from the community. Students need [to be] helped but this is not the way.”
Kimble said she hopes HB 70 is repealed.
“I hope they research what’s happened in Youngstown and Lorain and soon in East Cleveland and consider repeal,” she said.
Youngstown and Lorain schools, and soon East Cleveland City Schools, are under the auspices of HB 70.
Tony Dimacchia, Lorain school board president, said the news about the court hearing the appeal is the best he’s heard in a long time.
“The irreparable harm that HB 70 has created for Lorain will be extremely difficult to ever recover from,” he said. “This bill is not about creating a better education system. It is a political agenda designed to drive our public schools into the ground. I am extremely happy to hear the Supreme Court will hear the appeal. I hope throughout that process the court will realize the harm this has caused our students and families. Maybe someone in Ohio will finally start putting students first.”
John Richard, Youngstown Academic Distress Commission chairman, said it’s business as usual for the commission.
“Our work as a commission continues as per the statute, and is not currently affected by this update,” he said.
State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, and John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, issued a joint statement responding to the announcement.
“I have always said that it was unconstitutional to take away the voice of local elected officials,” Lepore-Hagan said. “The Ohio Supreme Court’s acceptance of this appeal is a testament to the merit of the board’s concerns for the district. I am delighted that the checks and balances of government are working for the citizens of Youngstown.”
“The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Youngstown Plan’s case confirms that the process under which it passed didn’t allow for local input,” Boccieri said. “The unconventional model of an unchecked CEO and a heavy-handed state takeover reflect the arrogance of one party-rule in Columbus.”