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Youngstown Plan upheld | City schools can keep CEO, distress commission

YOUNGSTOWN — School district leaders already are looking past the Ohio Supreme Court decision that House Bill 70, the 2015 legislation that allowed the state to take control of the Youngstown City Schools, is constitutional.

The Youngstown Board of Education filed a lawsuit that made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that the law now commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan was not constitutional in its creation.

The court disagreed.

“We are going to continue to do the work to educate our scholars,” Youngstown Schools CEO Justin Jennings said. The chief executive officer position in the city schools was established by the legislation.

“We will continue to work with the community, members of the school board and our parents to provide what is needed for our scholars to grow and thrive,” he said.

Brenda Kimble, board of education president, said she plans to continue her work to remove the effects of the Youngstown Plan through the Ohio General Assembly’s consideration of Senate Bill 154. This legislation would eliminate the academic distress commissions and the CEO positions in Youngstown and a handful of other Ohio school districts.

“Had this COVID-19 pandemic had not happened, I believe the work that already was being done in the Ohio House and Senate would be completed and the CEO and academic distress commission would have been eliminated,” Kimble said. “Hopefully when the Legislature returns, they will continue the progress.”

Ronald Shadd, also a member of the school board, argued that since the state has taken over the school district, it has gotten worse academically.

“We will continue to challenge his system,” he said. “What we hope is Gov. (Mike) DeWine and the state Senate understand the the future of state education is based on the passage of the original language of SB 154.”

THE RULING

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, in the Ohio Supreme Court’s majority opinion, wrote the court was “sympathetic” to the battle against the district’s takeover through the last-minute addition of an amendment to the bill designed to improve underperforming schools. There is nothing, however, that indicates the level of deliberation that needed to occur, so long as the original bill was not significantly altered.

She argued the timetable of the amendment’s addition did not violate the state’s three-consideration rule, as was argued by the school board’s lawyers.

Justices Patrick F. Fischer, Sharon L Kennedy, Judith French and Patrick DeWine agreed with O’Connor’s opinion.

Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Melody J. Stewart dissented.

Donnelly stated that the amendments added by the Senate did not receive the required three considerations. He referred to the court’s majority decision as a “travesty of justice.”

HB 70 was introduced as a 10-page bill in February 2015 to authorize school districts to create community learning centers at schools where academic performance is low.

It was considered by the Ohio House of Representatives on the day it was introduced, considered by its education committee a week later and approved on May 15, 2015.

The Senate read the bill a day later, referring it to its education committee the next week. That committee added an amendment pertaining to community learning centers, and a 67-page amendment modifying the structure of academic distress commissions on June 24.

It was that amendment that required an academic distress commission to appoint a CEO, with complete control, for any school district that received an overall “F” grade on its state report card for three consecutive years.

The full Senate considered HB 70 for the third time that day, and approved the bill. The House received the Senate’s version on the same day. Then Gov. John Kasich signed it into law, which took effect in October 2015.

While the school board argued HB 70 unconstitutionally strips city school boards of all power, the court found it reserves some power for local school boards, including the right to choose the members in its organization.

The state did not violate the constitution by making substantial changes to the operations of public schools by transferring power to a CEO, according to the court’s ruling.

WORK TOGETHER

Jennings said over the last two months his administration has been working more closely with the school board and he has agreed to do 10-minute updates at board meetings.

“Hopefully, we will continue efforts to work together,” Jennings said.

Kimble, while emphasizing that the board has not met since the Supreme Court’s decision, said she’s confident the majority will work with the CEO and his administrators when given the opportunity.

Shadd, however, said with HB 70 remaining in place, it will continue to damage public education in Ohio

“Its effect on the Youngstown school district should be seen as a failure that has been worsened by the use of a CEO and academic distress model,” Shadd said. “They have spent money on things that have not aligned with improving the education of children.”

Shadd said it is up to DeWine to understand that the future of public education in Ohio is in the signing of HB 154, in its original language, which eliminates the academic distress commissions and CEOs in public schools.

He hopes that state legislators will work to find compromises that will enable local communities to vote in members of their school board, give them the power to improve educational standards and place the needs of the local communities first.

DISAPPOINTED

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, expressed disappointment about the court’s decision.

“The majority’s decision, like everything about the legislation that created the Youngstown Plan, is ill-considered and runs counter to our state’s constitution,” Lepore-Hagan said. ” I would like to thank Justices Donnelly and Stewart for their thoughtful and well-reasoned dissenting opinions. They’re right. This is a ‘travesty of justice.'”

Lepore-Hagan emphasized her belief that HB 70 was contrived behind closed doors without any input from residents of the city, teachers, parents, students, or community leaders.

“If the Youngstown Plan isn’t good for Columbus, or Dayton, or Toledo, or the other school systems that were about to be placed under the control of unelected autocratic academic distress commissions and an unaccountable CEO, why do the Republicans think it’s acceptable to leave students in Youngstown marooned in Kasich’s scheme?”

She questions why East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown residents are the only Ohioans stripped of their right to choose who will manage their schools and educate their kids.

The Rev. Kenneth Simon, an opponent of HB 70, said he is disappointed, but not surprised by the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling.

“There is a political agenda that some of our courts have aligned with,” Simon said. “A shame that some in the court system cannot see the wickedness of this legislation. It’s an attempt to destroy public education.”

“We are going to continue the fight against this,” Simon continued. “We can’t let wickedness prevail and not do anything.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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