HB 154 would stop state takeover of schools

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Getting rid of academic distress commissions and chief executive officers and restoring local control of school districts are among the list of things House Bill 154 will do if it is passed.

And it has bipartisan support.

State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, Don Manning of New Middletown, R-59th, and Joe Miller of Amherst, D-56th, came together Monday during a meeting of the Community Leadership Coalition on Education to discuss dissolving all state takeovers of public school districts.

The coalition is composed of local community activists.

HB 154 addresses HB 70, the state law also referred to as the Youngstown Plan. Former Gov. John Kasich signed it in July 2015.

In Youngstown, it enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire CEO Krish Mohip to lead the district. The bill gives Mohip complete operational, managerial and instructional control. Mohip refers to the elected board of education as an advisory panel.

Lorain and East Cleveland city schools also are under the auspices of HB 70 with academic distress commissions and CEOs.

Also in attendance was Vince Shivers, Youngstown Academic Distress Commission member.

Despite the fact HB 154 would abolish his position on the commission, Shivers said he thinks it’s best to get rid of HB 70.

“It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for the children and the district,” he said. “This is my school; this is my town. I’m down for anything to make it better.”

Miller introduced HB 154, and Lepore-Hagan and Manning are co-sponsors.

The change in governor, a “damning” ADC report and high-profile districts entering the HB 70 model resulted in a lot of anger, screaming and push back across the state, Lepore-Hagan said.

The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and coalition chairman, said HB 70 “took the rights away from the citizens of this community to govern and gave one individual all the power.”

The Rev. Mr. Simon said there have been no sustained positive results from a CEO-led school district.

He referenced the failing state report card, which showed the district earned an overall F grade, made up of two D’s and four F’s.

“It was evil from the beginning, crafted in darkness,” he said. “It devastated our community.”

Miller experienced HB 70 in Lorain.

“In 2015, I was an educator in a high school who watched the reform. The CEO who came in and said, ‘I am CEO,’ and we knew from there it was probably going to go downhill,” he said. “I watched the disaster unfold in Lorain, and I thought, ‘I wish we would’ve heard from Youngstown – [that] it would’ve been a little louder. Then I realized the politics of it – you get run over by a school bus called [former Ohio Gov. John] Kasich.”

But HB 154 would change HB 70.

“We were trying to create ... a repeal of 67 pages [of HB 70] and allow wraparound services to stay,” Miller said. “Our bill is going to get that train off that track with the ADC-CEO model. We need a fix, and HB 154 will be that. We will provide support systems through collaboration of you [the community], a board locally chosen and an agreed-upon superintendent.”

Manning said he’s a local control type of person.

“That’s why I’m 100 percent on board, without question,” he said. “The way I see this is it’s at least a two-pronged effort. It has to be done so we can get control back, and the rest falls on us.”

“This legislation can pass if it’s thrust from the ground up,” Lepore-Hagan said. “Get out and scream about it and go down [to Columbus] and fight. Fight for what’s right.”

If the bill passes, it takes 90 days to become a law unless an emergency clause is added, in which it will take effect immediately. “I believe something is going to get done before June,” Miller said.

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