Youngstown school board can't walk away from its duty

Renewal of the 10.7-mill property tax levy for the Youngstown City School District is an

entirely separate issue from the ongoing battle over control of the academically troubled urban system.

We would be urging voters to approve the renewal in the November general election even if the district were still in the hands of the board of education.

The $5.3 million generated annually by the levy is absolutely necessary for the academic well-being of the city’s school children. The tax was first approved in 2008 and renewed in 2012 and 2015.

We would hope the school board

refrains from cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to place the levy on the general election ballot.

Board members, who are elected by the people, must pass a resolution of

necessity and submit it to the Mahoning County auditor by Friday for certification. The certified resolution must then be sent to the county board of elections by Aug. 7 to appear on the ballot.

There’s no scenario in which we would applaud inaction by the board. The school district’s future depends on its financial stability.

It should be recalled that the district was under state-mandated fiscal emergency from 2006 to 2011. A statutorily authorized fiscal oversight commission took control of the budget and

determined that additional revenue was needed. Hence, the property tax levy.

It’s also noteworthy that around the time fiscal emergency was lifted, the school district was placed under a state academic emergency because of several years of failing grades in the statewide proficiency tests.

Academic emergency resulted in the appointment of an academic distress commission that wrested control of the school district from the elected school board.

However, continued academic failure prompted former Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to intervene. Kasich asked a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to find out why Youngstown’s children were not receiving a quality education despite the fact that per-student spending is more than double the state average.

The group recommended a top-to-bottom restructuring of the operation and management of the district.

House Bill 70

The recommendation gave birth to a law – House Bill 70 – that provides for a special academic distress commission with policy-making authority, and places the day-to-day management of the district in the hands of a chief executive officer appointed by the commission.

The CEO, with sweeping powers,

replaces the superintendent, while the elected school board is relegated to an advisory role.

HB 70 was launched in Youngstown in 2015, which is why it is commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan. Enactment of the law has become a major point of contention for the school board, which has joined the local and state teachers unions in challenging the constitutionality of the law. A lawsuit is now before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal HB 70, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to go along.

The Senate will revisit the issue in October 2020.

Thus, the academic distress commission and the district’s new CEO, Justin Jennings, have a year to show that things are moving in the right direction academically.

Jennings replaces the district’s first CEO, Krish Mohip, who had a very contentious relationship with the school board and decided not to extend his three-year contract.

Last year, after the state report cards were released, we published an editorial with the headline “Y’town schools CEO has a year to deliver results.” Here’s what we said, in part:

“There’s cause for concern but no reason to panic – yet – over the Youngstown City School District’s continuing academic turmoil. Eight years have passed since the urban district was placed in academic emergency by the state, and while there have been some improvements, the overall grade of “F” remains a stark reminder of the deeply rooted problems undermining progress in the Youngstown schools.”

Gov. Kasich’s office responded to the editorial by pointing out that progress was being made. Of the 21 test-based indicators, proficiency rates in Youngstown increased on 13 of them, a high-ranking staffer said.

The 2019 report cards are due sometime in September, and the results will again trigger intense debate over HB 70.

But as we have argued for the past four years, it took more than a decade for the Youngstown City School District to implode academically and it’s ridiculous to expect a complete turnaround in just a couple of years.