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Leaders criticize canceled schools meeting at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — Critics of the 2015 legislation that established a CEO in Youngstown City Schools and weakened its board of education said a canceled meeting at Youngstown State University would have looked at ways to save the controversial law.

A plan to protest what had been labeled a secret meeting with area legislators, YSU officials and others — that was to take place at 8 a.m. today in Pollock House, residence of university President Jim Tressel — was canceled Friday afternoon.

The Rev. Kenneth Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church, and a vocal critic of House Bill 70, sent emails and notices to supporters of the elected city school board, asking them to attend the meeting at the university to rally against it.

“This is the same tactic by some of the same people that were involved in changing the original HB 70 legislation at the last minute in 2015,” Simon said. “They came together, had more than 80 secret meetings, developed a plan, without getting any input from the people that would be most affected by their actions.”

Several of the critics expressing concern about the proposed meeting at YSU pointed to the fact that Tressel was among the leaders who worked on the version of HB 70 that passed in 2015.

An attempt to reach him was not successful. A YSU spokesman said he was not on campus on Friday.

“We are not going to allow it to happen again,” Simon said. “They were doing this in the dark, because they knew they were doing something wrong.”

HB 70, being challenged by the school board at the Ohio Supreme Court, has Youngstown schools under the supervision of an academic distress commission, and is on its second CEO running the district. The state legislation was in response to years of poor academic performance.

Jacqueline Adair, a school board member, expressed concern because the meeting for today appeared to have been organized by Tressel.

“I just don’t trust him,” she said. “He has a very poor history with HB 70.”

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said she planned to attend so she could get the information presented and then report back to the community what had transpired.

“HB 70 needs to be repealed, ” Lepore-Hagan said.

Lepore-Hagan has been a vocal opponent of HB 70. She has actively supported HB 154, which is designed to replace the 2015 legislation by, in part, eliminating the CEO position and re-establishing district control to the Youngstown Board of Education.

State Rep. Don Manning, R- New Middletown, a co-sponsor of HB 154, denied allegations that the meeting was being kept from the public.

“It is part of the normal legislative process,” Manning said. “We often have meetings at which we talk to people on all sides of an issue in order to make better laws.”

State Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, agreed the meeting was never intended to be secret.

“We scheduled this meeting several times, but each time had to reschedule because one or more of the representatives could not attend,” O’Brien said.

Today’s scheduled meeting, in fact, was canceled due to O’Brien having to attend a funeral and state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, could not change the schedule at his business.

O’Brien added that discussion about the schools was only going to be a portion of the meeting.

“The likelihood is Tressel was going to push for increase money from the state two-year budget,” he said. “As I understand it, there was going to be a presentation about a program that Ball State University in Indiana established with one of its local school districts.”

O’Brien emphasized he would not have participated in secret meetings.

“That was one of the problems of HB 70, because they did not seek input or buy-in from the local community,” O’Brien said.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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