Future of Y’town schools takes a turn for the worse

The Youngstown Board of Education’s failure to meet a 4:30 p.m. Wednesday deadline for placing the 10.7-mill renewal levy on the November general election ballot is myopic and irresponsible.

Of the seven elected board members, only four showed up for a special meeting. Two of them, Jackie Adair and Dario Hunter, voted against putting the issue on the ballot this year. The two voting in favor were President Brenda Kimble and Michael Murphy.

As a result, the renewal issue will have to wait until next year, which could jeopardize its passage. Because 2020 is a presidential year, voters could be preoccupied with the primary and general elections. In addition, the presidential contests could bring out a slew of new voters who may not care about the troubled school system.

That’s why we urged members of the board of education to set their sights on November.

By voting no, Adair and Hunter have clearly shown where their priorities lie. We also question the commitment of the three members who did not attend yesterday’s meeting: Tina Cvetkovich, Corrine Sanderson and Ronald Shadd

Here’s the bottom line: This extension of the 10.7-mill levy would not have cost property owners any more than they’re paying now.

Indeed, the tax was first approved in 2008, when the district was under state-mandated fiscal emergency, and renewed in 2012 and 2015.

It generates $5.3 million a year, which is absolutely essential to continue the programs that have been initiated since the system was placed under state- declared academic emergency.

The emergency resulted in an academic distress commission overseeing the district.

Subsequently, a special state law – House Bill 70 – was enacted. It established a new and improved commission, created the position of chief executive officer to replace the traditional superintendent, and relegated the elected school board to an advisory role.

Virulent opposition

Hence, virulent opposition to HB 70 – commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan – erupted from the board of education and other groups.

The first CEO appointed by the commission, Krish Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, was cast as Enemy No. 1 by the board and the teachers union because he refused to kowtow to them.

It is important to note that Mohip was merely using the sweeping powers granted the CEO by state law to bring about necessary changes in the way Youngstown’s children are educated.

For years prior to the enactment of HB 70, the district received an overall F grade in the state proficiency tests because the academic needs of the children weren’t being met.

Boards of education over the years, which selected the superintendents, were singularly to blame.

Yet today, some members have the temerity to demand a return to the bad old days of the district’s governance because the grades in the state report cards haven’t improved substantially in the past two years.

HB 70 went into effect in 2015 and the distress commission hired Mohip in 2016 on a three-year contract.

To be sure, progress has been slow, but it’s ridiculous for anyone to expect a quick turnaround after more than a decade of academic failure.

The unrelenting attack on Mohip by board members prompted him not to seek an extension of his contract.

The distress panel has appointed Justin Jennings, former superintendent of the Muskegon School District, as Mohip’s successor.

While Jennings has said he intends to work with all individuals and groups interested in the academic wellbeing of the children, he recognizes that the CEO is ultimately in charge of the day-to-day operation of the district.

In a letter to the school board urging support for the 10.7-mill levy renewal, Jennings wrote:

“As the Chief Executive Officer of the Youngstown City School District, I request that the Youngstown Board of Education place the emergency tax levy renewal for voters of the City of Youngstown to decide.

“The renewal levy will generate approximately $5 million in annual revenue, all of which was placed on the ballot for renewal by the Board in the years 2012 and 2015.

“As you recognized in both 2012 and 2015 the continuation of the tax levy is necessary for the proper operation of the Youngstown City School District.”