COLUMBUS — Representatives from Lorain Schools joined their Youngstown and East Cleveland counterparts at the Statehouse on Wednesday to lobby against House Bill 70 and in favor of a bill to block new academic distress commissions.
Before community members met with representatives for Lorain, Youngstown, East Cleveland, Akron and others, members of the House Democratic Caucus held a news conference Wednesday morning, decrying House Bill 70.
“I can assure you one thing, this law has been a failure and an absolute disaster,” state Rep. Michelle Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown said.
After speeches from other legislators and community members from East Cleveland and Youngstown, Lorain School Board president Tony Dimacchia spoke, citing House Bill 70 as an effort to privatize public education.
“This is an attack on urban, minority and poverty-inflicted school districts. I cannot imagine that — not to offend anybody — if we were a predominantly white, wealthy school district, that was struggling academically, that they would produce this bill,” he said.
He told attendees the board hadn’t spoken to Lorain CEO David Hardy in almost a year and a half —causing murmurs among attendees. While Lorain originally embraced the bill, he said, the district “got punched right in our face by the Ohio Department of Education.”
Mary Millar, one of the founders of Lorain’s It Takes A Village parent group, said what she had seen in the past couple years under state takeover was “alarming.”
“There has been lies, lack of transparency, lack of accountability, incompetence, sometimes which makes me wonder the level of incompetence can’t actually be that great because it must be sabotage.”
She added, “It’s hurt our parents, it’s hurting our kids — this year especially they’ve been acting out. I live across from a school, I’ve been there nine years, and this last year you can see the kids just lose their confidence.”
Lorain Education Association president Jay Pickering said Miller wasn’t exaggerating. Citing continued fighting throughout the district, he said behavior is worse than it’s ever been under Hardy’s administration.
“We’ve only been in this, this is the first year the CEO is really implementing his plans, we’re three months into the year — we now have two fights a day at the high school, that’s the norm,” Pickering said. “I was there yesterday, high school teacher said, ‘Two fights we don’t even blink an eye anymore,’ that’s way more than what we’ve ever had.”
House Bill 626
In an effort to halt takeovers of other districts, state Reps. Kent Smith, D-East Cleveland, and Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, co-sponsored House Bill 626. The bill would suspend the creation of new academic distress commissions, keeping other failing school districts out of state takeover starting next school year.
“Our children’s future, their hopes and dreams are at stake, as well as the economic future and potential of this great state,” Fedor said. “We can do better, Ohio.”
Despite bipartisan support, Smith said, the bill has yet to get a hearing from this General Assembly.
The bill has less than a month to make it through three hearings in the House and over to the Senate before this legislative session ends. Failing that, representatives in the 133rd General Assembly would need to introduce a new bill come January.
After the problems academic distress has caused Lorain, Dimacchia said, the moratorium was “critical.”
“We have two, maybe three (districts) coming down the pipeline, it’s got to stop,” he said.
State Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said she didn’t have an opportunity to attend or watch the news conference, but said she wants to have a discussion with Gov.-elect Mike DeWine on some of the issues Lorain is having. Voting against HB70, she said she could see the problems coming, and had tried to offer an amendment to get Lorain under safe harbor, but was told to back off the issue.
As for House Bill 626, she doubts it will make it to the Senate this session.
“Obviously there’s no way it’s going to have three hearings and be able to pass and come over (to the Senate), so sometimes those things that they offer is something that they’re going to be able to the offer in January and have more hearings on and more discussion on,” she said.
In an interview after the news conference, state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, called HB 626 a “good start.”
“I do hope that the sponsors and my successor fight to stop this,” Ramos said. “I hope that newly elected Senator (Nathan) Manning … will fight this too in the Senate, because it isn’t working and objectively by our state’s educational standards, it doesn’t work. This isn’t a Lorain thing, we don’t like this, this is the State of Ohio saying this doesn’t work.
He said the lobbying Wednesday can make a difference, and the public attention was “long overdue.”
“We’re going to need to get some support from other areas, and I think things like today, where I think this is the beginning of it becoming a statewide movement as opposed to just a Youngstown movement or a Youngstown-Lorain movement,” he said. “The districts where the writings on the wall, where it’s going to be ‘us next’ need to get involved as well — they need to start talking to their legislators because the Youngstown delegation voted no on this, the Lorain delegation voted no on this — Democrat and Republican. It wasn’t enough.”
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