General Assembly doesn’t change the system providing state oversight of Youngstown schools

By David Skolnick


The state budget includes a moratorium on state oversight of school districts but doesn’t change the system in place at Youngstown and two other districts.

The House and Senate approved the two-year, $69 billion budget Wednesday, after extending the June 30 deadline. The House initially approved the budget with a repeal of the Youngstown Plan while it wasn’t part of the Senate package. A conference committee of members of both chambers came to the compromise.

The moratorium on House Bill 70, also known as the Youngstown Plan, will be in place through Oct. 1, 2020, stopping the state from taking control over other academically troubled school districts.

“I’m glad they’re going to keep the three [districts] that are in place intact for now,” said Denise Dick, Youngstown schools spokeswoman. “It takes five to seven years for turnaround transformation to net results. That’s what the research shows. We hope we’ll continue intact after October 2020.”

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, voted against the budget for a variety of reasons, including not repealing the Youngstown Plan. She was among only 17 no votes in the House.

Lepore-Hagan called the budget “a slap in the face to the thousands of students in Youngstown” and the two other districts under state control – Lorain and East Cleveland – “who are trapped in schools controlled by autocratic, unaccountable CEOs and academic distress commissions that have been established under the provisions of HB 70. The Republicans know the Youngstown Plan is a farce and a failure. That’s why the budget contains a moratorium.”

The Youngstown Plan was signed into law by then-Gov. John Kasich in July 2015 after a quick state Senate committee hearing with some Youngstown leaders concerned about the long-failing city school system testifying in favor of it.

The law enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire a CEO to lead the district. The bill gives the CEO complete operational, managerial and instructional control.

Krish Mohip started as CEO in June 2016.

He’s being replaced Aug. 1 by Justin Jennings, former superintendent for Muskegon schools in Michigan.

“We’ll continue to challenge the law until it’s changed,” said Brenda Kimble, Youngstown school board president.

Regarding the Youngstown Plan, she said: “There is something wrong with this. Something needs to be done because our children are missing out.”

She said she “expected” the Senate to push to keep the three districts under state control.

There are two options, however, that can take away state control of the Youngstown district as well as Lorain and East Cleveland.

One is the Senate will consider in the coming months a bipartisan bill approved in April by the House to repeal the Youngstown Plan.

It would dissolve academic distress commissions, restore local control over public schools and move toward a building-based, bottom-up reform model. Low-performing schools would provide coordinated support services such as after-school enrichment and social/health services.

The other is a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court. Oral arguments in that case will be heard Oct. 23.

The Youngstown school board filed an injunction to stop the bill from taking effect, saying it would do irreparable damage. The state’s high court agreed in October 2018 that it would hear the appeal, and in July of this year set the date for oral arguments.

“We’ll have our case heard in October,” Kimble said.

Without the moratorium, several other school districts – including Columbus, Dayton, Canton, Toledo, Euclid and Lima – were on their way to a state takeover.

State Sen. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd and a member of the budget conference committee, said: “While no budget is ever perfect, I worked hard with the leaders of both parties in my chamber to ensure that this bill is beneficial to all Ohioans, but especially to my constituents.”