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County Commissioners Board urges state to leave House Bill 70 (UPDATED)

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ELYRIA — Lorain County Commissioner Sharon Sweda said watching House Bill 70 affect the Lorain school district over the last year and a half is like “watching a train wreck.”

“The damage that it’s doing to the environment within the classroom is what concerns me most, aside from the economic disaster it poses,” she said.

On Wednesday, the county commissioners urged Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state legislators to abandon what they called the “failed school takeover policy” that is House Bill 70.

In a resolution, the board said HB 70 is eroding the district.

“For the past 18 months, House Bill 70 has disrupted the learning environment for students, has created a loss of confidence in the education system by parents and educators and has failed to provide transparency and accountability to taxpayers and voters in Lorain,” the resolution said.

The commissioners also want the state to return the district to local control to restore local accountability and transparency in order for students to reach educational success and greater opportunities in life. The bill, they said, will pose a threat to vital funding levies for Lorain Schools in the future.

“It’s hard for the public to feel good about making an investment when there’s not local control,” said Commissioner Matt Lundy.

The school levy renewal is something Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said is financially vital for the district at his state of the city address Feb. 28. The school levy generates more than $3 million a year and expires at the end of 2019 — but it is up to the school board to put the measure on the ballot and the school board has not committed to do so.

If the levy doesn’t pass, Ritenauer said, the district will be in financial distress as well as academic.

Public opinion

The resolution follows a public outcry against Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy, who has been criticized for some of his recent actions concerning the district.

Hardy recently faced backlash from the community after announcing in late February that Lorain High School faculty would have to reapply for their positions. He suspended the policy Feb. 26, just hours before a joint meeting of the Lorain school board, Academic Distress Commission and Ritenauer that was filled with disgruntled district staff, students, parents and community members and less than a day after he touted the plan on a Cleveland television station.

Hardy also had been invited to that meeting by Ritenauer, but declined to attend. During a recent Senate Education Committee meeting, state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, pointed out to state schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria that Hardy has been refusing to meet with local leaders and officials.

Hardy was selected to be the CEO of the Lorain district in July 2017 in accordance with House Bill 70, which allows the state takeover of failing districts. Lorain was the second district to fall under state control; Youngstown was the first. East Cleveland is just starting the process.

At the Feb. 26 meeting, the school board declared a state of emergency for the district.

Although the commissioners have no say in the schools’ governance, Commissioner Matt Lundy said the board still wants to send the resolution to legislators and other state officials urging them to abandon House Bill 70.

When questioned by Andy Young, editor emeritus of The Chronicle-Telegram, at an annual Associated Press-

sponsored forum Feb. 19, DeWine confirmed he was open to reviewing House Bill 70 and possibly making changes to the legislation.

Lundy said at the end of the day, the real focus should be on the students who will be affected by the state policy.

“I think whether you live in the city of Lorain or don’t live in the city of Lorain, you’ve been able to see how disruptive the initiative has been,” he said.

Contact Bruce Walton at (440) 329-7123 or bwalton@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Facebook @BWalton440 or Twitter @BruceWalton.

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