LORAIN — The Lorain school board president wants to get his hands on some of the documents related to the hiring of a district CEO.
According to a public records request Tony Dimacchia filed, he has “reason to believe that the Academic Distress Commission’s private hiring process for the new CEO violated Ohio Sunshine Laws and therefore may be void as a matter of law.”
“I am very disappointed in the process that has got us to where we are today with state House Bill 70,” Dimacchia said. “I think it is critical that we find out as to why the commission and state of Ohio elected to treat this extremely important decision with such irresponsibility. There are a lot of questions that have not been answered and other than a 20-minute meeting with the newly appointed CEO, there has been no communication with the local school district and the state.”
Dimacchia has been vocal about his disapproval of the CEO selection process in which five finalists were selected from a pool of 37 applicants by Atlantic Research Partners, a Chicago-based search firm hired by the Academic Distress Commission for $25,000.
Four of the five finalists, including David Hardy, who was named CEO last month, had ties to Atlantic Research Partners.
District Superintendent Jeff Graham was an applicant for the position but was not selected as a finalist, drawing ire from members of the community, including Dimacchia.
Atlantic Research Partners President Jim Hager said the company could not release the other applicants’ names because as a private firm, it is entrusted with confidentiality.
A CEO was placed at Lorain Schools after failing test scores and poor state report card grades caused the district to be classified by the state as under academic distress in 2013.
State House Bill 70, passed in 2015, says that if a district is in academic distress and under the supervision of an academic distress commission for four years, the old commission will be disbanded and a new one will be appointed to hire a CEO.
As CEO, Hardy, who currently is the deputy superintendent for academics with St. Louis Schools, will have the complete powers of a superintendent and most of the power of a school board. After two years at the helm of the district, Hardy also will be able to take “failing” buildings and make them charter schools, an idea he has said he won’t rule out.
Former City Councilman Tony Richardson is the chairman of the Academic Distress Commission, while Dimacchia is the recently elected president of the school board — a move former president Tim Williams described as strategic.
In the records request, which was sent to Graham, Hager, Richardson, school board attorney Anthony Giardini and state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, Dimacchia said because the CEO was selected in such a short amount of time — there was only a week between the application period closing and the finalists being named — he wants to understand how the process followed Ohio’s public records laws.
“Simply put — there seems to have been discussions and/or negotiations outside of the proper process and in violation of Sunshine Laws and the Open Meetings Act,” the request said. “We believe that the above chain of events is but one violation of the law, and that review of the documents provided in response to this public records request may uncover more violations.”
Dimacchia cited court cases Plain Dealer Publishing Co. v. Cleveland (1996) and Gannett Satellite Info. Network v. Shirey (1997), the Attorney General Sunshine Law Handbook and the Ohio County Commissioners Handbook published by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, which says, in part, “there is no public records exception which generally protects resumes and application materials obtained by public offices in the hiring process. The Ohio Supreme Court has found that the public has ‘an unquestioned public interest in the qualifications of potential applicants for positions of authority in public employment.’”
“I believe our children deserve better. And since the commission, CEO and the state of Ohio continuously talk about collaboration, partnership and transparency with the community and district, then now would be a good time to start displaying that since no part of this process had been any of those,” Dimacchia said.
Richardson could not be reached for comment.
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