LORAIN — The Lorain school board president filed his third public records request in a month Tuesday in relation to the hiring process of the district’s new CEO, and in it, he also alleged that the hiring may have violated the state’s open-meeting laws.
According to the most recent documents filed, board President Tony Dimacchia is requesting:
- A copy of any consulting agreement between CEO David Hardy and Atlantic Research Partners, the firm hired by the Academic Distress Commission to conduct a search for CEO candidates and take the 37-person applicant pool and determine the five finalists for the position.
- Any and all documentation submitted to Atlantic Research Partners as part of the application process.
- Any and all expenses, expense requests, documentation and/or reimbursement payments or requests for publicly funded reimbursements stemming from traveling to Lorain or other locations in pursuit of the CEO position.
- Copies of all emails sent or received from July 1 to Aug. 10 regarding the Lorain CEO position, search or any other public education topic to or from any of Hardy’s email accounts.
- A copy of Hardy’s employment contract with St. Louis Schools, where he works as a deputy superintendent, and any requests for reimbursements through publicly funded means.
- A statement indicating the amount of income reported to the IRS at the end of the year by St. Louis Schools for Hardy in 2015 and 2016.
In the request, which was sent to Hardy, state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, Mayor Chase Ritenauer, school board attorney Tony Giardini, Superintendent Jeff Graham, Academic Distress Commission President Tony Richardson and Ohio Department of Education attorney Paul Kulwinski, Dimacchia said he also believes the Academic Distress Commission violated open-meeting laws.
“In this case, we understand that there was a public meeting of the Academic Distress Commission on July 17 in which there was an executive session held,” the request said. “Subsequent to that executive session, interviews were held on July 18 and 19. The next public action was to hire Mr. David Hardy on July 24.”
The request said no additional meetings were posted between July 19 and July 24, no agendas were shared and there was no opportunity for deliberation or discussion that meets the requirements of Ohio’s open-meeting 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,” it 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.”
The request also notes that if a citizen believes a public body has violated the open-meeting laws, he or she may file an injunctive action in common pleas court that would compel the public body to adhere to the law.
Dimacchia said an injunctive action isn’t being ruled out, but a deeper conversation is warranted.
Members of the community, including Dimacchia, have called the search process for hiring Hardy into question after it was discovered four of the five finalists had direct professional ties to Atlantic Research Partners, including Hardy. In 2016, Hardy completed the National Superintendents Academy, a program for school leaders owned and operated by Atlantic Research Partners.
Atlantic Research Partners refused to release the names of the 32 candidates who were not named finalists. Those names are among the things Dimacchia is seeking with his public records requests along with communications related to the search.
Lorain Schools has a CEO because failing test scores and poor state report card grades caused it 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.
The CEO is expected to have all of the power of a superintendent as well as most of the power given to a school board with the exception of the right to put levies or bond issues on the ballot.
After two years in power, the CEO also can take “failing” buildings and turn them into charter schools.
At a school board meeting Monday night, residents called Dimacchia’s requests into question, calling them “a witch hunt” and saying the board was going after Hardy because he’s African-American, which Dimacchia said was untrue.
“The commission and Atlantic Research Partners could be in violation of open meetings, but we don’t know because we weren’t told anything,” he said, noting he hasn’t received anything from his first two records requests from Aug. 4 and 10. “This wasn’t a thorough operation. If they have nothing to hide, why haven’t I received anything? They’re clearly hiding something.”
Hardy sent a response to Dimacchia’s records request, acknowledging it like the Academic Distress Commission and Ohio Department of Education has with previous requests but saying he needed “clarity” before proceeding.
“I think my only other comment would be that I can’t wait until this conversation is about the kids,” he said.
Dimacchia said he has not heard from Atlantic Research Partners since filing his requests, which he coined “troublesome.”
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