Voters must retain ability to elect board

When we, as Americans, begin wondering whether our duly elected local officials will be permitted to serve the constituency that elected them, we know something has gone terribly awry.

Still, that is exactly what could happen if the state law that eliminates the existing Youngstown City Schools board of education takes effect. The board takeover is to be triggered by the fact that in four consecutive years, the academically distressed Youngstown City School District has received an F on its school report card. The most recent F was announced Thursday when the state Department of Education released its annual ratings of Ohio public school performance.

Still, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains says, regardless of the fourth failing grade, the Nov. 5 election will not be halted.

“It will go forward. But whether those individuals elected can serve, that’s another issue. Whether the board can serve is an entirely different question to be determined post-election,” Gains said.

Under 2015 House Bill 70, referred to as the Youngstown Plan, academically failing school districts were taken over by the state. Youngstown was the first, followed later by East Cleveland and Lorain.

HB 70 also requires the state superintendent to convene a nominating panel within 30 days if a school district under state control doesn’t receive an overall grade of C or higher in its fourth year. The panel has up to 30 days after its formation to nominate 10 candidates for appointment to the school board.

After that, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown will have up to 30 days to select five members from among the 10 finalists and those five will replace the existing school board effective Jan. 1.

The law states that during the general election held in November of the first even-numbered year at least three years after the new board is chosen, voters will decide on a referendum to allow the mayor to continue to appoint members.

If a majority of voters agree, the mayor would appoint a new board the following July 1 with three members having four-year terms and two having two-year terms. After that, all terms would be four years.

If a majority rejects the referendum, a new board would be elected by voters during the next odd-year November election, with three serving four-year terms and two serving two-year terms.

In the school report cards released last week, East Cleveland also received an F grade this year. Lorain rated a D.

Certainly, social and educational experts should agree that this system created under HB 70 is not working. The problem in Youngstown City Schools appears to be so much deeper than any school district can fix.

And now it’s becoming increasingly clear that our state legislators may have made it impossible for an average person to be effective in the role of board of education member.

That’s a travesty because now it will call into question the results of our elections and our democracy.

To remove the ability for residents to control their local elections is a travesty.

Certainly, we all want to find answers to help all students and school districts that struggle.

Prosecutor Gains last week described it like this: “What a mess.”

He’s right. It is a mess.

And now lawmakers in Columbus must step up to correct this mess and return control to the voters and the board of education members they elect.