Kasich, Hagans at odds over Youngstown schools

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The future of Youngstown City Schools is up in the air.

A state representative-elect wants to help fix the current system, but she said Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a different idea.

Ohio 58th District Representative-Elect Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown has not even been sworn in yet. But the Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday her first term in Columbus will be baptism by fire.

She talked about a new member orientation she attended last week at the state capitol. She said Gov. Kasich unexpectedly addressed the group of about 40 and asked each incoming freshman about their concerns. When she brought up Youngstown City Schools, here is what Lepore-Hagan said the governor told her:

“He got very animated and threw his hands up and he said, ‘Youngstown City Schools are such a mess that I want to just shut them down and open a great big charter school.’ And everybody was shocked,” Lepore-Hagan, a Democrat, said.

It began as a conversation between Ohio’s top politician and newly-elected legislators behind closed doors. It became public once it hit social media after that meeting.

Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, who was elected Nov. 4 to the Ohio State Board of Education, sent out a tweet on behalf of his wife on Nov. 17. It reads: “Gov. Just told Rep. MLepore-Hagan that he wanted to shut down Yo. schools and make it a charter school.”

“Charter schools are not really the answer. They’re under performing, they’re not held accountable to the taxpayers for our money, there’s no transparency,” Lepore-Hagan said.

Kasich spokesman Robert Nichols sent this response to the tweet:

“He {Rep. Bob Hagan} spends an unusual amount of time on Twitter. We don’t comment on the Governor’s private discussions with people, except to say that he takes the Youngstown schools situation very seriously and wants to see them get fixed.”

Lepore-Hagan said she too wants to fix the current system, but isn’t getting the support from Columbus.

“And this is my job, it’s my obligation. And it’s the governor’s obligation to appoint me to a committee to help,” Lepore-Hagan said. “And he {Gov. John Kasich} said, you can’t be involved because you’ll make it too political.”

Our station checked in with Youngstown City Schools to see if district leaders had heard from Kasich.

“I’m thinking that if the governor was planning on doing something, he would at least call the school system. He has not said anything to us, to me it’s just a rumor,” said Youngstown Board of Education President Richard Atkinson.

“Well I’m pretty sure that if the governor is going to do anything, he’s going to contact the school board first or the commission. I got to give him that much credit that I think he would do that,” said Youngstown Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn.

Hathorn said if that time comes, he will worry about it then.

“You know, really I hadn’t thought about it because I have a plan in place I’m trying to work. We have a recovery plan,” Hathorn said.

He said a new K-6 reading program started last year has seen some growth. The district also plans to implement a new math program in all the schools and examine reading and math scores in all the schools in 2015.

“We just keep on doing what we’re doing, moving ahead and trying to bring our kids a quality education,” Atkinson said.

And that is exactly what Lepore-Hagan wants to focus on during her first term in the Ohio House.

“Get the community involved, we need to involve the parents, we need to support our teachers and we need to educate our children,” Lepore-Hagan said.

Lepore-Hagan said the governor is in the process of putting together a committee to review Youngstown City Schools. Superintendent Hathorn said, just like the charter schools comment, he has not yet heard of such a committee.

Lepore-Hagan will be sworn in on Jan. 5.

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