Officials from the Ohio Department of Education have begun replacing the locally elected school board in Youngstown with a mayoral appointed school board.
This week we learned about one more extension of autocratic state power backloaded in 2015 into the HB 70’s school district takeover of Youngstown. Because at the end of four years of state takeover, the Youngstown school district earned another “F” on the state report card, the state is now imposing a previously unknown provision of the 2015, HB 70, which established state takeover in the first place.
The replacement of the elected school board in Youngstown with a state-approved, mayoral-appointed school board is designed to punish Youngstown for not raising its grade to “C” during four years of state takeover. What is particularly shocking about the new development is that the locally elected school board has had no role to play in the operation of Youngstown’s schools since the time of the state takeover in 2015. The state has been running the district through a state appointed Academic Distress Commission which appointed a CEO to lead the school district.
Krish Mohip, the state-appointed CEO whose term ended on July 31, was never happy in his position, and last spring, several months prior to the end of his term, Mohip took family medical leave. At the time The Youngstown Vindicator‘s Amanda Tonoli reported that Mohip explained: “I’m going to take care of some issues that have accumulated at home, and I’m going to focus my attention there… I don’t see my absence as being a hindrance to all the great work that’s happened and will continue to happen over the next few years.” Mohip left, but he did not resign. Instead he collected the rest of his $170,000 salary. Tonoli added: “A longevity provision in Mohip’s contract allows him a $10,000 payout if he completes his full contract.”
Nobody was sorry to see Mohip go. The chair of the Academic Distress Commission explained: “We have to uphold what the contract says… We are following the law and following the contract that was agreed upon with Krish Mohip.” The blatant arrogance of Mohip’s mode of departure was merely the latest example of his abuse of the public trust. He did not ever move his family to Youngstown, for example.
A new CEO, Justin Jennings, formerly the school superintendent in Saginaw, Michigan, was recently appointed by the state-appointed, Youngstown Academic Distress Commission.
Under HB 70, the residents of the school district have been permitted by the state to elect a local board of education, but its only power has been to decide whether and when to put a property tax levy on the ballot.
The imposition of an appointed board of education is happening even as the Ohio Supreme Court will hear a case on October 23rd brought by Youngstown’s school board and school employees’ unions to challenge the state’s now four-year takeover of the school district. And the Ohio Department of Education is moving forward to establish a mayoral-appointed school board in Youngstown despite that, embedded into the state budget signed into law in July, is a one year moratorium on state school district takeovers.
Currently several candidates are running for Youngstown’s local school board in the November, 2019 election. WKBN Youngstown‘s reporter, Stan Boney explains that current board members are barred from consideration for the soon-to-be-appointed board of education, but candidates running for office may be considered if they are not incumbents: “On Thursday, Ohio Superintendent of Schools Paolo DeMaria made his first appearance in Youngstown since HB 70 became law to announce the process of selecting a new school board… DeMaria was clear that no person currently holding elected office is eligible, but people running in November who are not currently on the board are eligible even if they win….”
For WFMJ 21 Youngstown, Michelle Nicks reports on the process the state is imposing on Youngstown: “There will be eight members on the nominating panel, but only seven will vote. The chairperson of the group from the State Board of Education is a non-voting member… The panel will vote on at least ten names that will be presented to Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown on November 8th. Mayor Brown will have at least 30 days to pick five people as the ‘newly’ appointed Youngstown Board of Education. Out of the five selected, one person will be chosen as the Chairperson. The new board will begin serving on January first.”
Last week, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, Bill Phillis challenged the state’s recent move to replace the elected school board in Youngstown: “Never thought this would happen in America: The state is in the process of replacing elected school board members in Youngstown. The electors in Youngstown elected board members. These board members will be replaced via the HB 70 process. The Youngstown Board of Education has not been in control of the district for several years. State control of the district has not resulted in improvement. Therefore, elected board members are being removed from office because the state’s improvement process has failed… How can Ohio legislators and the Governor allow this despicable process to come to fruition?”
Ironically HB 154, a bill to repeal HB 70, was passed last spring by an overwhelming, bipartisan 83-12 margin in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill has stalled in the Ohio Senate, however, because key senators strongly favor autocratic rule of Ohio’s poorest school districts by the state. Ignoring massive evidence that the test scores, which are the primary measure used as an indicator of school quality in the state report cards, are a much stronger indicator of a school district’s aggregate family income and a poor measure of the quality of a school or school district (see here, here and here), members of the Ohio Senate have doubled down to endorse a plan intensifying the state’s control of Ohio school districts posting low scores. Ohio’s senators blame local educators and the voters who elect local school board members. At a recent legislative hearing, one member of the Ohio Senate expressed disdain for local control of schools, an attitude that prevails among many in his chamber: “How much time should we give those who drove the bus into the ditch to get it out?”
At the end of September, the Columbus Dispatch editorialized against the 2015 law which set up state takeover of local school districts: “While it’s easy to find fault with local school boards, teachers’ unions and state bureaucrats, the task that urban school districts face—helping kids learn despite… poverty… is immense. Conservatives and other skeptics of public schools like the idea of taking the reins away from education bureaucrats who have failed and giving outsiders a crack. That’s what House Bill 70, written in secret and rushed into law four years ago, did. Schools in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland are living with the results and they’re not good. The districts have seen little improvement but lots of controversy… The elected school board is stripped of all powers except putting levies on the ballot. The CEOs in Lorain and Youngstown seemingly have made little effort to win the confidence or support of those communities. In Youngstown, three of the five appointed commission members quit and Krish Mohip, the CEO, was actively looking for a new job by last December.”