LORAIN — A Lorain school board member said he had “no confidence in the direction” of the district in a letter he issued to the community Friday.
In the letter, Mark Ballard said since David Hardy came to the district as CEO last summer, numerous consultants have come to the district, often from out of state, to make “critical decisions about our children’s education and our finances that they, quite frankly, don’t have to live with because they don’t live here.”
“Where is the accountability?” Ballard’s letter said. “The all-powerful CEO, with the full authority of a superintendent and board of education, decides what he wants to do and who he wants to give our tax dollars to. Through the newspaper, we get reports on our district with no supporting data. We’re waiting on public records requests for simple documents that were made many months ago. What’s with all the secrets?”
Hardy was put in charge of the Lorain school district last summer after years of poor state report card scores placed the district in academic distress. The process for this state takeover is outlined in state House Bill 70, which was passed in 2015.
House Bill 70 gives Hardy complete managerial and instructional control of the district and in the second year of his appointment, he can take any “failing” building in the district and turn it into a charter school.
Ballard said he hears Hardy talk about transparency but he can’t find anyone who actually knows what’s going on in the district and with the way Hardy is spending money — including $50,000 on a financial audit of the district and $40,000 on public relations services while the district attempts to hire a director of communications — “it’s clear he doesn’t understand school funding in Ohio.”
“To sustain this rate of secret spending, in addition to the renewal levy, we’ll need to ask community members for new money, too,” Ballard said. “Our taxpayers cannot afford to support his drunken sailor approach to spending. Instead, it’s time to call on the Ohio Department of Education to pick up his annual multimillion-dollar tab.
“When the money runs out, the CEO can leave. But when the money runs out, what happens to our families and our community after he has turned all of our schools into charter schools?”
Tensions flared between board members and Hardy this week after the board invited him to its Tuesday night meeting to discuss the district’s financial picture in order to discern whether or not they should place a renewal levy on the ballot.
Asking voters to approve levies and bond issues is the only remaining governing power of the elected school board.
Hardy didn’t come to the meeting Tuesday night and said later in the week that he wouldn’t be attending future meetings either because he “doesn’t answer to the school board.”
While Hardy said Friday he had not seen Ballard’s letter to the community, school board president Tony Dimacchia said he “completely agrees” with his fellow board member.
“Mr. Ballard is correct in saying that our community needs to send a strong message to this CEO, the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. John Kasich that they are not going to come into Lorain, devastate our school system and run it broke with no accountability,” Dimacchia said. “It has been made clear what the mission is here, and it is not the betterment of our academic system.”
Ballard said if he sounds outraged, it’s because he is and “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. House Bill 70 is an attack on urban education and has set up us to fail. We as a community have been duped and we need to fight.”
“Lorain is my home,” he said. “I’m done being patient. Those of you who know me know that I’m not one to sit on my hands. I’ve seen more than I need to see. This isn’t working. We need to take back our schools before it’s too late. The state is banking on the fact that we won’t care enough to fight. They obviously have no idea who we are.”
In his letter, Ballard encouraged members of the Lorain community who are just as angry as him to come to the school board meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to show their support. The meeting will take place in the Media Center of Lorain High School, 2600 Ashland Ave.
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