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Opponents of state school takeovers plan letter flood

YOUNGSTOWN — More than 160 critics of the state takeover of the East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown schools repeated their opposition to House Bill 70, which allowed academic distress commissions to take control of local school districts.

During a Zoom meeting Monday, the Rev. Kenneth Simon and state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, asked residents to work together to inundate the leaders of the Ohio House and Senate — as well as Gov. Mike DeWine — with letters, emails, and phone calls.

These correspondences will be asking for the elimination of the legislation that has allowed for the state takeover of the three school districts.

Hagan emphasized that legislators will respond when they are swamped with calls and letters from people across the state expressing concerns about an issue, especially when these concerns are from a variety of areas of the state.

“We need to blow up the email,” he said.

Youngstown schools are under the supervision of a chief executive officer who reports to the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission. The arrangement came about after years of inadequate academic performance in Youngstown and the other districts and other state action to try and solve the problem.

An Ohio Supreme Court decision found that the 2015 legislation that allowed the state to take control of the Youngstown schools is constitutional.

CHARTER EFFORT

Attorney Martin Hume said Youngstown schools may have a long-shot effort to get local control in the district by seeking passage of a city charter amendment that the local duly elected school board should have control of the school district.

“We have legal options, but it is better if the changes are made legislatively,” Hume said. “We have legal options, but they all are difficult.”

Hume said getting a charter amendment approved would take a referendum by voters to get it on the ballot or getting two-thirds majority of the city council to place it on the ballot.

“It takes an aggressive action to pursue a charter amendment,” Hume said.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, said he has had several meetings with DeWine about this issue.

“He understands our position,” Rulli said. “He wants to know what Youngstown would look like if HB-70 is removed and local control is restored.”

State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Lorain, said getting rid of HB 70 will not be enough. There must be an effort to establish a support system to help the three districts under state control.

Scott DiMauro of the Ohio Education Association said state control has taken away the collective bargaining rights of educators. “It has taken away the ability of educators, parents and students to have impact on the affected school districts,” he said.

Annette McCoy, president of the Trumbull County NAACP and a representative of the national NAACP, said the state takeovers have not proven positive for the brown and black community in any of the affected school districts.

“It takes away the ability of taxpayers to impact the school district,” she said.

Youngstown School Board President Brenda Kimble said when the state took over the district, it had a $23 million surplus and that money was lost by the decisions of chief executive officers brought in by the academic distress commission.

Larry Ellis, president of the Youngstown Education Association, said money that had been used for education programs was moved to pay for the salaries of administrators.

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