Ohio Senate passes plan to have CEO run Youngstown schools

youngstown, ohio board of education academic distress

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Senate passed a measure Wednesday evening that will allow the state of Ohio to appoint a CEO of the Youngstown City School District.

The amendment allows the state to disband the academic distress commission that currently oversees Youngstown City Schools and create a CEO of public schools. That CEO will have full control over every decision in the district, and could decide what rights, if any, would be assigned to the Board of Education.

The CEO position will be selected and paid for by the Ohio Department of Education. The state took over the Cleveland school district this way in 2013.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office sent the following statement on the bill:

“(Governor Kasich) supports efforts to re-energize the support systems for struggling schools so that we can make sure that every Ohio student gets the opportunity they need to reach their potential.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said the measure passed by a vote of 18 to 14, with five Republicans also voting against it.

“Because of the process, five Republicans also voted no. So it was a 18-14 as a final vote. And a lot of them both publicly and privately came up to me on the floor afterward and said ‘I promise that I will work with you to get some changes to this’,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this plan was rushed through so quickly that there was little time to diagnose the bill,” Schiavoni said. “When you do legislation that affects a certain area like this does for Youngstown, people on both sides should be able to testify and have their voices heard. That did not happen. To do such sweeping changes in this manner is not how you should legislate something that has such implication on the kids of Youngstown.”

He said now that the bill has passed, the community and the school district will have to make the best of it. He said he plans to meet during the senate recess with Youngstown School District officials on changes that will need made to comply with the bill.

“People in Youngstown will see changes. Let’s hope it works,” Schiavoni said.

The Academic Distress Commission itself was state mandated when Youngstown City Schools were placed in Academic Emergency in 2010. The Commission became the official governing board of the district.

“Not totally shocked, but more so disheartened,” Rev. Kenneth Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church and member of the Academic Distress Commission, said.

Simon said there are a lot of problems with the new plan for Youngstown City Schools.

“It is not about the kids. It is about control. And it is not fair to our community. It is not fair for our kids,” Simon said.

He worries the students, who will be affected most, won’t be represented under the CEO format.

“Because you can’t control what is going on on the school board that right now is predominately African American. Now you are going to control it from another arena,” Simon said.

And he does not like the idea of one person having that much power.

“To give one person control over the district, that is insane,” Simon said.

However, he said the straw that breaks the camel’s back is the fact that community members were not consulted about the plan.

“What I am angered about is that this has been in the works for some time. And no one from the community whose children go to these schools has been included in the planning or informed that this is something we are considering,” Simon said.

A new five-member academic distress commission will be created, with three members appointed by the state superintendent, one appointed by the Youngstown Board of Education president and one by Youngstown Mayor John McNally.

“That is a major concern. I mean, you are talking about the state superintendent making an appointment of three members to a distress commission, then we get one from the mayor and one from the actual school board. But that is a 3-2 advantage, Columbus vs. Youngstown initially, and then those five have to pick a CEO,” Schiavoni said.

Some highlights of the bill provided by Schiavoni are as follows:

  • Builds upon the existing five-member Academic Distress Commission but modifies the membership to include three appointees by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, one teacher appointee by the local district board, and one appointee by the Mayor. The language as its drafted is specific to Youngstown currently, but districts that could be subject to the Commission in coming years include Lorain, Lima, Dayton and Trotwood-Madison.
  • The Academic Distress Commission then hires a “CEO” of the district. The only prerequisite is that this person have significant managerial experience in the public or private sectors.
  • The CEO then assumes total control of the district and implements the steps necessary to “improve” the district. This includes hiring and firing staff, determining curriculum, class size, school calendar, etc. The CEO would assume the role as management in any collective bargaining negotiations with labor. The CEO has several options for the schools within the district, including privatization and complete closure.
  • After three years (if no improvement has been made), the CEO may reopen and modify any existing collective bargaining agreement.
  • Every student would be eligible for a voucher, and monetary bonuses will be made to nearby districts, private schools and charter schools who take Youngstown students and meet certain “academic standards” (not defined in the bill).
  • There’s language in the bill that alludes to complete dissolution of the district, which caused some concern over potential intent.

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