YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Claiming the just-enacted law covering operations of the Youngstown City Schools created too much uncertainty, Valley lawmakers Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Rep. Michelle Lepore-Hagan have come up with a new measure.
Schiavoni of Boardman and Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown discussed their proposal at a news conference Friday morning in Youngstown.
The current law — House Bill 70 — turns over control of the academically distressed district to an appointed chief executive officer with sweeping management, operational and educational powers. Schiavoni and Lepore-Hagan said the plan was kept secret from the public until it was pushed through both chambers of the state Legislature on a single day. It drew immediate criticism from many in Youngstown, including the two lawmakers who are sponsoring the legislation.
“We understand that the bill became law yesterday. The injunction was denied in court, in Franklin County Court, and so we’re taking the approach of sensible, realistic, common sense changes, so that we can get some legislation moving now, because time is off the essence,” Sen. Joe Schiavoni said.
Schiavoni and Lepore-Hagan said more than 20 meetings were held over the summer to gather opinions from a variety of community members who will be affected by the new law.
“We want to find the best CEO for the school. We want to clear up the ambiguities in the bill and want to make sure that we mandate community involvement,” Schiavoni said.
“What we’re proposing will strengthen the ability for teachers and the community to be engaged and a part of it,” Lepore-Hagan said.
Schiavoni said his bill addressed many of the most “controversial aspects” of House Bill 70. Some highlights include:
- Involves the community in the CEO’s improvement plan
- Changes the makeup of the academic distress commission from five to seven members to create greater balance between the community and Columbus. There would be three Superintendent appointees, two teachers, one parent and one Mayoral appointee under the new plan.
- Replaces the new law’s “Community Stakeholder Groups” with 11-member “School Action Teams” for each school building in the district. These will be made up of the building principal, teachers, non-teaching employees and parents. School Action Teams must be engaged in the CEO’s actions and have a long list of specified duties, including developing a written parental-involvement policy.
- Adjusts academic expectations for the district, defines performance standards and delays CEO actions by one year to allow for adjustment time
- Revises the criteria required for a district to transition out of academic distress to “a grade of C or higher on performance index or value added,” rather than an overall C.
- Defines “high-quality school” as it relates to the school accelerator and academic performance bonuses as having an “A” on either performance index or value added.
- Delays CEO actions by one year, giving schools and teachers time to adjust and prepare.
- Embraces the original intent of H.B. 70 – Community Learning Centers (CLCs)
- The CEO must implement a CLC model in at least one of the buildings in the district.
- Directs a portion of academic distress commission funds to hire a district resource coordinator to help facilitate services to students and families.
- Ensures transparency and accountability with the CEO and district improvement plans
- Meetings of the academic distress commission and CEO are subject to open meetings and public records, and the CEO has to present the improvement plan in a public hearing before the community and annually thereafter.
- The CEO has to have 10 years of educational experience and experience working in impoverished communities.
- If the CEO decides to close a school, there has to be a detailed “Closure Plan” that is also presented in a public hearing.
- Supports educators and staff
- Removes the ability for the CEO to modify or alter collective bargaining contracts.
- Eliminates provision that would dissolve the elected school board.
Schiavoni said he would like to have the Youngstown Plan completely repealed, but he said that is unlikely.
One retired teacher who attended this summer’s public meetings said the community cannot simply have faith that the new commission will do what is best for the district.
“That’s what laws are for. We have faith. We treat each person as if they’ll do the right thing, then when for some reason they don’t, we go back to the law and say, ‘Here’s what was expected of you,'” said L.K. Williams.
But one member of the newly-created pro-H.B. 70 group, Youngstown Educational Solutions,”believes the so-called Youngstown Plan will save the district — not dismantle it as some critics of the plan have said.
“What they did was they reformed the distress commission because of academic emergency, and when you come out of academic emergency, then the distress commission dissolves automatically,” said Tracey Winbush.
Winbush argued that the real question needs to be how to change Youngstown from a failing district to one that is ranked excellent.
Schiavoni and Lepore-Hagan will introduce companion versions of the bill in the House and Senate next week.