Youngstown school board argues against eliminating elected members

YOUNGSTOWN — City school board members argue they should not be penalized for the district’s fourth overall Ohio School Report Card failing grade, because all power was stripped from them and given to the district’s chief executive officers with the passage of House Bill 70 in 2015.

Now, under HB 70, also known as the Youngstown Plan, the Youngstown Board of Education may be eliminated because the city school district in four years has not improved its overall grade to at least a C.

Because of the district’s newest overall F grade, the state superintendent is now allowed to dissolve the existing school board and, by Jan. 1, 2020, establish a new board.

Brenda Kimble, board president, said she is not surprised the district received the F grade on the state report card. Kimble is seeking re-election this fall.

“In the last three years, they’ve put $13 million less into the classrooms, removed programs that were working and the (former) CEO (Krish Mohip) appointed ineffective people,” Kimble said. “How can you improve performance while spending less on educating students?”

Kimble emphasized that state academic distress commissions have been in the district since 2010.

“The school board has not been running the district,” she said. “We did not have the authority.”

Board member Ronald Shadd agreed, saying the prior progress made by elected school boards was pushed back, if not eliminated, in the last three years.

“The school board has no responsibility to this year’s report card grade because the CEO has had complete operational and managerial control of the district,” he said.

Youngstown schools’ new CEO, Justin Jennings, said last week that the district is placing a lot of emphasis on literacy, and that he believes it is moving in the right direction. His predecessor also had defended the hirings and spending needed to make changes in a system that had not served its students in the past, also maintaining the district’s new direction has been positive.

“The failures of the school district prior to the commission are what led to the commission,” noted Denise Dick, school district director of communications and public relations. “The board was in control in those prior years.”

The school board filed suit to challenge HB 70, shortly after it was approved, arguing it is unconstitutional to remove the control of the district from an elected board accountable to the city’s electorate.

School board members have argued the state takeover of the district has failed.

The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist church, has been critical of taking local control away from the school board. He said even if the current board is eliminated and replaced, the new board will not be elected by city residents

“The CEO still has all the power and authority, even if a new board is appointed, because the new board will be selected by a panel organized by the state superintendent,” Simon said.

The panel will choose 10 candidates for the board and provide those names to Youngstown Mayor Jamael “Tito” Brown, who will select the five board members from those names.

“Youngstown residents will not have any say on who is appointed to the board,” Simon said. “There is no accountability, and no checks and balances.”

“They need to return the district to local control, where board members represent Youngstown residents who pay the taxes,” he continued. “Citizens have the right to remove board members if they are doing a bad job.”

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the case Oct. 23.

In the meantime, HB 154 was introduced to the Ohio House in March by state Rep. Joseph A. Miller, D-Lorain, and Don Jones, R-Freeport. If approved by both the House and Senate, it will dissolve all current academic distress commissions in the state and repeal the law; CEO positions would be eliminated.

School districts will have to establish improvement teams for each of the schools that received F grades in the previous year.

The Ohio House passed the legislation with a vote of 83-12 in May.

State Rep. Michelle Lepore-Hagan this week said the Ohio Constitution guarantees that every child in state public schools are to be given the tools and skills they need to reach their full potential.

“It’s about time we began making good on that guarantee by scrapping what doesn’t work and embracing what does,” she said. “To do that we must repeal HB 70. Republicans, including Gov. (Mike) DeWine, and Democrats alike agree it’s the right thing to do. The Senate should take up and pass HB 154 as quickly as possible.”

The Ohio Senate Education Committee currently is having hearings on the revised legislation. A third hearing is scheduled to take place Tuesday.

The public is invited to provide testimony during that hearings, said Heather Plahuta, a legislative aide to Sen. Nathan Manning, a Republican who represents Lorain, where city schools also are under state control.

A final vote by the Senate’s education committee will take place after the education committee hearings. If the committee votes to move the legislation forward, it will be sent to the full Senate for consideration.

No date has been set for a full Senate vote.



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