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Sen. Nathan Manning announces bill to help Lorain Schools (UPDATED)

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    Nathan Manning

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State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, introduced legislation Wednesday to remedy some of the problems caused in Lorain under House Bill 70.

His goal is to return some local control to the district while the state continues to provide support, he said.

“I was debating a lot about what we should do,” Manning said. “Obviously we heard from a lot of constituents, whether it’s teachers, parents, students, administrators, school board. … It seems like there’s an article every day about House Bill 70. It’s even made some national news, so we’ve been talking and what’s the best process to fix this.”

Senate Bill 110, which would only affect Lorain Schools, changes the structure of the district’s Academic Distress Commission. Under current legislation, the five-member board consists of three state appointees, one local school board appointee and one mayoral appointee. Manning’s legislation would reduce the state appointments by one, giving that seat to another appointee by the district’s mayor.

The state superintendent would still appoint the commission’s chairperson, who is tasked with setting the meeting schedule, agenda and acting as a liaison between the commission and the CEO. SB110 currently does not affect the district CEO and his or her outlined powers.

“I’m not introducing this bill as an anti-CEO, its more anti-House Bill 70 in my opinion,” Manning said. “I want whatever’s best for the kids, we need to get everything on track. … The community’s rejecting House Bill 70, which many of us predicted would happen, and I think if we give them a seat at the table there will be more community input and community involvement.”

The bill also states the Academic Distress Commission will perform an annual performance evaluation of the district’s CEO and submit it to the local school board. The school board may request the commission conduct up to three additional evaluations of the CEO per year.

“Any board or anything out there — you do a fairly regular evaluation of the CEO or the director or whatever it is, and I think that’s a good thing. It helps with transparency, it helps with accountability, it helps with improvement,” he said.

It also tasks the CEO with making quarterly appearances before the local school board to provide reports on progress made toward meeting goals to release the district from state control. The school board may also ask the CEO to appear at any of its regularly scheduled meetings.

The state auditor will conduct a performance audit of the district each year and the Ohio Department of Education will initiate site evaluations annually. Manning said a financial audit will be done annually to keep the district out of financial distress.

Manning said legislators attempted to provide Lorain its own plan or safe harbor provision, but weren’t able to get anything passed in time. A state representative at the time, he said he was working on legislation, and his predecessor and mother, former Sen. Gayle Manning — now a state representative, also was working on a provision, but expected it would not pass under former Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich was strongly in support of House Bill 70, signing it into law in 2015.

Local support

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the plan will bring much-needed accountability to the district and hopefully repair some of the damage wrought under the current legislation.

“This would allow Lorain to be able to restore some of that local control and restore accountability and I think that this is definitely a step in the right direction, knowing full well that (HB) 70 as a whole is being viewed across the state in the budgetary context,” he said. “But in Lorain’s case, Cleveland has the Cleveland Plan that they were able to carve out; I think this is a nod that local control matters and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

House Bill 525, also known as The Cleveland Plan, was passed in 2012 and has kept the Cleveland Schools from coming under the purview of House Bill 70. The Cleveland Plan, which only applies to the metropolitan district as it’s the only school district under mayoral control, changes the relationship teachers have with the district by limiting what tenure can be used for and allowing tax money to pass to charter schools.

Ritenauer said he supports Manning’s measure, whether or not it’s absolutely perfect. He said a full repeal — like Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, proposed — could fix Lorain’s problems, so could SB 110, or any number of other approaches to struggling districts.

“As a realist, I look and say what can get support and pass (in) bipartisan fashion in Columbus,” he said. “This seems to be something that’s got attention, it’s something that has gotten some people to support, so, yeah, I’m going to sign on.”

Local school board President Mark Ballard agreed.

“We will be happy when HB 70 is abolished,” he said. “We will continue to work toward that goal. We will accept all additional efforts to make the bill better until it is repealed.”

He thanked Manning for helping return some local control, and noted how vocal Lorain residents have been to get legislators to pay attention.

“This is real political action at work and it’s a powerful thing,” he said. “I hope everyone remembers what happened here in Lorain, and that it was real people, one by one, who stepped up to make a change.”

School Board Vice President Tony Dimacchia said he is inspired by the efforts legislators are making on Lorain’s behalf, but noted the district can’t start rebuilding under its current leadership.

“We need this incompetent CEO and the circus he has brought to Lorain gone,” Dimacchia said. “For us to start rallying our community around our children again and not around this political agenda we need them all gone. We have to continue to add pressure to the state superintendent, state board of education and our elected legislators. This is progress and we have to build on it and hope that it gets the support it needs.”

Manning hopes to have legislation passed before the start of next school year, but said it could become part of the state budget or be amended during committee.

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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