LORAIN — Some are calling for Mayor Chase Ritenauer to be the chairman of the Academic Distress Commission.
The position, left vacant after Tony Richardson’s resignation Jan. 21, is state-appointed. A petition, backed by state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and School Board President Mark Ballard, calls for State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to appoint Ritenauer to the position.
“I ran to be mayor of Lorain, we’re not a city where the mayor runs the schools,” Ritenauer said. “There are some cities across the country where that’s the case, but at the same time I think it’s unfair in House Bill 70 to give the mayor the schools five years later. If there’s going to be mayoral control it ought to be at the onset, not five years after this thing has been put into place.”
Under House Bill 70, if the district’s report card fails to improve sufficiently for its fourth year under academic distress — issued during the fifth school year — the mayor then will appoint a new school board from a slate of candidates.
Ritenauer said whether or not he is appointed to the commission, there is a precedent for local control set by the Cleveland Plan. House Bill 525, passed in 2012, allowed Cleveland Schools to avoid a takeover under House Bill 70. Its school district is controlled in part by Mayor Frank Jackson, who confirms the district CEO. While the plan provides the district CEO similar powers to Lorain’s, including taking action to improve the district’s lowest-performing buildings without being bound by collective bargaining agreements, it still allows for local control via a school board and Jackson’s needed approval.
Ritenauer admits the Cleveland Plan is not without its flaws. The metropolitan district has continued to see F’s on its state report cards, even with the legislation in place. But Ritenauer points to the stability it provides compared to what residents in the Lorain district have under state mandate.
“Is the Cleveland Plan a panacea? Is it a savior? No,” he said. “But you don’t have the volatility going on there, you don’t have the issues that are happening here that are going on there. There are large, long-scale issues that have been issues for as long as I’ve been alive, if not longer. Yes, we have to work on those, but I think it needs a larger audience other than just the city. It needs the state to weigh in, and it looks like the governor wants to do that.”
The petition began circulating online Wednesday, something Ritenauer said he didn’t expect, but wasn’t wholly surprised with, as he and other city leaders have been speaking out more against the legislation and its effect on Lorain.
Ballard started the petition, citing the importance of the position and Ritenauer’s leadership in the city.
“The city doesn’t work if the schools don’t work and if he’s got to take responsibility for it, he ought to have a seat at the table,” Ballard said of Ritenauer. “I couldn’t think of (anyone) better to call it in the middle of the road than the mayor, who has to make the city run.”
Ballard said he’s attempted to set up a meeting with DeMaria to discuss the problems he’s seen in the district, but he said hasn’t received a call back. He’s hoping the petition will get a response.
“They took us over, and then they abandoned us — they haven’t been back,” he said.
Ballard and Ritenauer both said they are encouraged by Gov. Mike DeWine’s comments Tuesday about being open to reviewing the controversial legislation. Both have reached out to legislators, including Miller, who is promoting the petition on his website and Facebook page.
“Right now morale in every facet of Lorain is low … these students and these teachers and these community leaders and parents deserve better and whatever I can do, I will,” Miller said.
The state is working on a review of the effect of House Bill 70 in Lorain, set to come out in May. But Miller said something needs to be done in the meantime. The petition does not carry any legal authority, but does put an amount of public pressure on the Ohio Department of Education to consider the appointment.
“My office is currently working on a solution as well, with other representatives and (Nathan and Gayle) Manning trying to see if we can get some kind of solution here,” he said. “So all representation that has Lorain in its district and surrounding (areas) are interested in finding a successful answer to this disaster that HB70 has created in Lorain.”
It is unclear how many signatures the online petition has garnered.
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