Youngstown schools can’t return to the bad old days

It’s ludicrous for anyone to expect the academically troubled Youngstown City School District to suddenly begin scoring A’s in statewide proficiency tests after years of failing grades.

But that’s the argument being proffered by critics of House Bill 70, which has turned the governance of failing school districts on its head. The measure, commonly known as the Youngstown Plan because it was launched in the city, has only been in full effect for two years.

Yet, there’s a move afoot in the Ohio General Assembly to rollback HB 70, which was passed in 2015 by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by then Republican Gov. John Kasich.

The rollback would return Youngstown to the bad old days of academic failure. That would be legislative malpractice.

We urge Republican Gov. Mike De-Wine to oppose any change in HB 70 until there’s a full-blown hearing on what has taken place and is now occurring in Youngstown.

DeWine’s predecessor, Kasich, had long voiced concern about the Youngstown school district being in state-mandated academic distress. He made it clear that the elected school board members had failed in their duty to the city’s children.

The governor asked a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the district and to make recommendations for change.

The group urged a complete overhaul of the system, including how it is managed.

HB 70, which applies to all failing school districts, has two main features: It establishes an academic distress commission to replace the elected 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

In Youngstown, the commission hired veteran Chicago educator Krish Mohip in 2016 as the CEO. Mohip spent the first nine months developing an academic recovery plan that was approved by the commission and the state superintendent of public instruction.

While we are as impatient as any thoughtful Youngstown residents to see an academic turnaround, we find it laughable that school board members who oversaw the district’s academic failure are now critical of Mohip and the commission for the lack of A’s in the state tests.

These members, along with the local and state teachers unions and Democratic legislators, have conducted an unprecedented political campaign against HB 70. If only they had shown such interest when Youngstown’s children were failing year after year.

The attack in Youngstown against HB 70 isn’t about what’s best for the urban school district. It’s about power and control.

As CEO, Mohip does not have to seek the approval of the school board on the hiring and firing of principals, teachers and staff. Neither does he need the approval of the board when it comes to developing the budget.

In other words, the board of education is marginalized – as it should be.

It is important for lawmakers – and DeWine – to understand why school districts fail, especially those in urban areas.

In Youngstown, for example, the lack of parental involvement in the academic life of the children has been a major contributor to the failing grades.

HB 70 is designed not only to address the shortcomings in the classrooms, but to provide services outside the schools that contribute to a quality of life essential for mental and physical development.

Such an expansion of the traditional role of public education cannot occur overnight, which is why the push to overturn HB 70 is so myopic.

Here’s a reality check for state lawmakers who believe that local control of academic failing schools is the answer:

There are 10,000 or so school-age children in the Youngstown system, but only about 5,000 are enrolled in city schools. The rest are either in charter or open-enrollment neighboring schools or are being home schooled.

This exodus is not the result of HB 70. The losses occurred over several years as the district deteriorated academically, and the schools gained a reputation of being unsafe and lacking in discipline.

Indeed, since the change in the governance and the hiring of Mohip as CEO, the system has added 224 students because of the numerous programs and initiatives that have been launched.

The governor must not let the children of Youngstown become pawns in the political games in Columbus.

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