Leaders Push to Restore Local Control of Public Schools

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In light of the Ohio House of Representatives’ recent passage of Senate Bill 89, legislative leaders, community members, elected officials and educators led a press conference Monday to urge statehouse leaders to eliminate Academic Distress Commissions and restore local control of public schools in Youngstown, East Cleveland and Lorain.

“Being in academic distress puts harnesses and restraints on Youngstown like you can’t believe,” said state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-33 Salem. “Senate Bill 89 is a good thing. If we’re able to push this all the way through, I totally support that.”

S.B. 89 included a provision to end state takeovers, and the House passed similar legislation last year, House Bill 154, which has also stalled in the Senate. Earlier this year, members of the Ohio House, in a bipartisan fashion, passed H.B. 154 to end the takeover of Academic Distress Commissions and state takeovers in Youngstown City Schools, Lorain and East Cleveland, said state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown.

H.B. 154 has been stalled in the Senate for more than a year, Lepore-Hagan said. But the House passed the amended S.B. 89, which has language that would begin the transition of state control back to the district’s Board of Education, she said.

Since he’s been in office, Rulli has observed that Academic Distress Commissions are a major problem in not only Youngstown, East Cleveland and Lorain, but can soon be an issue in Dayton and schools in Franklin County.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, East Cleveland City Schools, Lorain City School District and Youngstown City Schools have been districts with Academic Distress Commissions as of October 2019. Youngstown City Schools have a component grade of an F overall.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-33 Salem

“Report cards flawed at the beginning and I think open enrollment is definitely a problem,” Rulli said. “If [Gov. Mike DeWine] signs Senate Bill 89 or House Bill 154, I’m 100% involved with that. We have workshops going on right now as we speak. We’re going to use turnaround wraparound services pulled out of the tool chest and we’re going to start addressing trauma that is going on with our students right now.”

There’s a pathway to make Youngstown the strongest school district in the state, Rulli said, but DeWine has to get on board. Rulli and the Rev. Kenneth Simon, senior pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, have spoken to DeWine several times, Rulli said.

The fight to end Academic Distress Commissions and to gain local control of public schools has been going on since H.B. 70 was signed in 2015, Simon said. Youngstown City Schools has been under an Academic Distress Commission since January 2010, he said, which means that the state has been in control of the district for the past 10 years. There has been no improvement in the academic performance of the district under H.B. 70, he said.

“In those 10 years, we have witnessed yearly changes and academic recovery plans that have added to the instability and failure of the district,” Simon said. “The failing F grade that the Youngstown City School District has received for the last 10 years has been under state control and management.”

Staff, teachers and students have been subjected to numerous building changes, performance standards adjustments, unsuccessful programs and personnel changes that have created an unstable environment that has not been conducive for academic achievement, Simon said.

“Our major concern in this district is the issue of accountability,” he said. “With the implementation of the Youngstown Plan and the CEO model, there has been no accountability to the taxpayers, to the parents, to the concerned citizens or the elected board that the community voted to oversee the governance of the district.”

Simon believes that the hiring of high-paid executive positions have no direct impact on classroom learning, and is one of many examples of the lack of accountability that has been created.

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown

“Passage of [Senate Bill] 89 would provide the opportunity for everyone here to work to develop a plan to strengthen public schools and ensure every child deserves and receives a world class public education,” Lepore-Hagan said. “The districts in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland have difficult challenges, but they must be addressed.”

Some people feel as if they aren’t capable of meeting challenges schools are going through because of state takeovers, but they must try, she said.

“We have to work on this and we have to get it done within a short time frame,” she said. “We want it to be done when we’re addressing the AdChoice vouchers, and that deadline is April 1. We need to give our children an opportunity to start the next school year with this in place.”

Models that can be emulated that are in the state already, such as in Cincinnati and Akron, implore and encourage people to create wraparound services, Lepore-Hagan said. In addition, under S.B. 89, any school building operated by the city is eligible to initiate community learning centers, she said.

“A child’s address should not determine their destiny,” Lepore-Hagan said. “Passing Senate Bill 89 is the first step in the journey by dissolving existing Academic Distress Commissions and placing a moratorium on the creation of any new ones, and restoring local control. Those who believe that it can’t be done, we have to tell them it will be done and we will work on it until it’s done.”

Pictured above: The Rev. Kenneth Simon, senior pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, joins elected officials and community leaders in support of Senate Bill 89. (Image: Office of State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan)

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