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Y’town school board lacks credibility in its criticism

Sunday, February 24, 2019

To set the record straight: It wasn’t the members of the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission and the chief executive officer who mismanaged the urban system’s finances, resulting in state-declared fiscal emergency.

It was the elected school board.

And, it wasn’t the commission members and the CEO who drove the district off the academic cliff, resulting in state-declared emergency.

It was the elected school board.

And it certainly wasn’t the commission and CEO who chased away one of the most qualified, experienced and talented superintendents in the history of the Youngstown school system.

It was school board members’ micromanagement and constant interference in the hiring of administrators, teachers and other staff that triggered the resignation of Dr. Connie Hathorn.

To put it bluntly, had Youngstown residents not elected incompetent, inept, clueless individuals to serve on the board of education, House Bill 70 would not exist today.

Former Gov. John Kasich had closely monitored the Youngstown school system’s academic decline and concluded – correctly, it turns out – that the status quo was depriving the city’s children of a quality education.

Kasich asked a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the district and to make recommendations for change. The leaders urged a complete overhaul of the system.

Thus was born HB 70, which was passed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. Kasich.

The measure applies to all districts in academic emergency, but the rollout occurred in Youngstown.

The law has two key features: It establishes an academic distress commission to replace the school board as the policy-making entity; it creates the position of chief executive officer with greater authority than the traditional superintendent of schools.

Veteran educator

HB 70 was launched in Youngstown in 2015, and in 2016 the distress commission hired Krish Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, to serve as the first CEO.

Not surprisingly, the board of education has refused to accept its diminished role, while Democratic legislators and teachers union at the local and state levels have launched a campaign to revoke the law. The constitutionality of the bill is being challenged in the Ohio Supreme Court,

Meanwhile, members of the school board charge that Mohip and the distress commission have failed to improve the academic performance of the district. They also contend the CEO has been on an unjustified spending spree, thus placing the district in financial jeopardy.

Mohip disputes the claim and points out that under the school board’s five-year budget forecast, the district would have had an $8 million surplus. By contrast, the forecast prepared by Mohip and the commission shows a $20 million surplus after five years.

Given that Mohip will be leaving his CEO position this summer, we believe a comprehensive audit of the district’s books is in order so taxpayers have an objective analysis of the finances.

The distress commission could seek guidance from the Ohio Auditor’s Office, which performs routine audits of public entities.

We also believe the Ohio Department of Education should review the district’s spending on educational programs and initiatives that Mohip and the commission contend have resulted in an improvement in students’ academic performance.

The independent reviews would go a long way toward reassuring taxpayers that the 10.7-mill levy that has been on the books since 2008 should be renewed, as it was in 2012 and 2015.

The levy expires at the end of the year and the school board, which has authority over tax issues, did not meet a filing deadline for placing it on the May primary ballot.

Thus, the levy will have to appear on the November general election ballot if the school district is to continue receiving the $5.2 million it generates annually.

In light of the progress made by the district to turn students’ academic fortunes around, renewal is essential.

The board of education’s obstruction comes as no surprise, given its unrelenting opposition to Mohip and the distress commission.

As we have insisted on many occasions in this space, our support for the CEO and the commission is unwavering. We also remain committed to HB 70 because the children of Youngstown deserve better than the elected school board can deliver.