Mohip’s parting words a blast

Krish Mohip, out-going chief executive officer of the academically challenged Youngstown City School District, had nothing to lose when he appeared before the Ohio Senate Education Committee.

Thus, Mohip unleashed a verbal barrage against the dysfunctional school board and the myopic Youngstown Education Association.

Indeed, some of what the CEO said may warrant a criminal investigation. He has decided to call it quits after just three years at the helm. His contract expires at the end of July.

Here’s what the veteran educator from Chicago told Republican and Democratic senators on the committee:

“In June 2016, I accepted the offer to lead the Youngstown city schools, Ohio’s first district to function under the governance of HB 70. At that time, I did not realize just how contentious this newly minted law was, or the fierce opposition that did not want to see the changes occur that were needed to unlock the children of Youngstown from the shackles of failure, placed on them by dysfunctional adults seeking to hold tight to the status quo.

“The failures to appropriately educate children were entrenched in the city schools. Upon my arrival, I learned of the illegal and unethical practices taking place and affecting our students receiving individualized educational services. These actions by the adults affecting our students receiving special education services, governed by the Youngstown Board of Education and superintendent, were so egregious that a Corrective Action Plan was put in place by the state of Ohio’s Education Department. [Neither] the local board of education, nor the local union took the needed steps to legally educate our children as required by state and federal laws. What transpired during the 28 months it took to successfully fix all areas of the Corrective Action Plan was grievances by the union on matters that are inherently management rights, and criticism by the board of education.”

It’s a good thing there’s a transcript of Mohip’s testimony posted on the Senate Education Committee’s website. State officials have no choice but to go over it word-by-word and then meet with Mohip to determine what laws were broken by members of the school board and the administration prior to his being hired as chief executive officer by the state-mandated Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission.

There’s a sentence in his testimony that’s worth repeating: “I learned of the illegal and unethical practices taking place and affecting our students receiving individualized educational services.” Illegal? Unethical? Those are words that should trigger a state criminal investigation.

There’s another sentence that cannot be ignored: “[Neither] the local board of education, nor the local union took the needed steps to legally educate our children as required by state and federal laws.”

And people wonder why the Youngstown school district was the worst-performing in the state.

The academic distress commission is the main pillar of House Bill 70, which was passed in 2015 by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed into law by then Republican Gov. John Kasich.

The law is designed to change the governance of the Youngstown school system, which for years had suffered the indignity of being in the state’s academic cellar.

The elected school board was singularly to blame for Youngstown’s children being deprived of a quality education.

The law went into effect in 2015 and immediately drew opposition from board members and the teachers union.

The commission’s hiring of Mohip, who under HB 70 had sweeping powers over all aspects of the district’s operation, became a flashpoint for advocates of the status quo – namely the failure, inability or refusal to meet the challenges of an urban school system.

Unfortunately, as a result of Democratic legislators joining with the Ohio Education Association in opposing HB 70, the Republican leadership in the House has brought into the ludicrous argument that governance of failing school districts in Ohio should remain in the hands of the elected school boards and their appointed superintendents.

The House has passed a bill to repeal HB 70. The measure is now before the Ohio Senate.

The education committee is not only considering the House measure, but also has been presented with a plan that replaces HB 70 with a less drastic response.

The proposal from state Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, creates a statewide “School Transformation Board” to oversee efforts to help all struggling schools across the state.

As The Vindicator has warned in numerous editorials and this writer has argued in numerous columns, any direct involvement by the school board in the operation of the Youngstown district will undo the progress made since 2016.

The state placed the system in academic emergency after several years of Fs on the report cards from the annual state proficiency tests.

But there’s more to the story of the Youngstown district than just academic failure.

Over the years, the upheaval in the district as a result of school board members micromanaging and undermining the superintendents triggered an exodus of school-age children.

There are about 10,000 children who live in the school district but only about 5,000 attend city schools. The rest are in schools in adjacent districts, are being home schooled or are in charter schools.

As the Republican-controlled Senate decides whether to go along with the House and repeal HB 70, or adopt Sen. Lehner’s “School Transformation Board” concept, leadership should contemplate this question: Is two years sufficient time to turn around a district that has been failing for more than a decade?

The answer is an obvious no. In addition, the Youngstown academic distress commission has hired a replacement for Mohip who comes with extensive experience in urban education.

Justin Jennings, the new CEO, should be given a chance to build on the foundation that has been laid by Mohip and the distress commission – with the involvement of the state department of education.