Districts under state takeover could see a shift toward local control, but not a full repeal of the current governing model under an amendment discussed at Thursday’s Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, described the amendment to the budget bill, which would replace academic distress commissions with School Improvement Commissions, or SICs, and establish a state-level board to oversee struggling districts.
“We are well aware of the problems created by the current academic distress commissions,” Lehner said during Thursday’s committee meeting. “The Amendment 3117-7 being heard today is the Senate’s effort to address those problems.”
Under Lehner’s plan, the SIC would comprise six members, all of which would live in the county or adjacent to the district they are tasked to turn around. Of those members, three are appointed by the state superintendent including one with a background in education or education policy; a teacher is appointed by the teacher’s union but is a nonvoting member; the mayor appoints a member of the business community; and the local school board president rounds out the commission.
The SICs are overseen by the school transformation board, a state-level board consisting of the state superintendent, chancellor of higher education and three appointments from the governor with experience in school improvement. The school transformation board members appointed by the governor will be paid $500 for each meeting they attend, plus reimbursement for travel expenses.
“While the school district will retain its local control and leadership structure, it is envisioned that they will partner with the school transformation board to identify the resources they most need to address that district’s (challenges),” Lehner said.
Those districts already under ADCs — Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland — would move to the SIC model.
SICs have similar responsibilities to the current ADCs, though they are more accountable to the local school board by being required to report quarterly on the district’s process. Under the new plan, the auditor of the state will conduct a performance audit of the district the first year it is subject to an SIC, and building and district-level improvement plans are required to be developed by the SIC and approved by the school transformation board.
The SIC must hire a school improvement director, not a CEO, within 60 days of its chairperson’s appointment. The school improvement director is granted all of the powers House Bill 70 gave to a CEO in its first year, rather than the progressive implementation process. An annual performance evaluation of the improvement director is required to be completed by the SIC and submitted to the local school board.
Stating July 1, 2020, districts not currently under an ADC will have six years from their first overall F on the state report card to work with the transformation board under an improvement plan to move the district forward. The first failing grade will trigger a “root cause review,” paid for by the state, to determine what roadblocks districts face to student success.
On top of the improvement plan, districts can enter into a contract with a transformation-board-approved school improvement organization after their first F grade. They will be evaluated on short-term goals, like lowering chronic absenteeism, and long term goals under the state report card.
The state will pay 100 percent of the costs of the improvement organization if the district enters into a contract after its first overall F; 50 percent after its second F; and 25 percent after its third F.
When asked during Thursday’s committee what happens if a district opts not to enter into an improvement plan or organization contract and continues to fail, Lehner said it would be subject to an SIC.
To transition out of the new model, a district must receive an overall grade of D or higher and an overall value-added score of C or higher for two consecutive years. Currently, a failing district must receive an overall grade of a C and a value added and performance index scores of C or higher for two consecutive years to exit the Academic Distress model.
State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, expressed concerns with the Lehner’s plan after the meeting, and said he wouldn’t support the amendment as it stands.
He said he disagrees with districts currently under Academic Distress starting out in the middle of the new model, rather than at the beginning with the rest of the districts in the state. He said in the updated version there is talk of current academic distress districts petitioning the school transformation board to create an improvement plan and enter into a contract with an improvement organization, rather than continue under a commission, but there is no clear exit strategy.
“I really think that all the school districts should start this new process in Phase I, not half-way through it,” he said.
He added later, “Everybody’s telling me, ‘Lorain will certainly be OK and they’ll be removed, but there’s no guarantee there. Without a clear path, I can’t accept it and there’s no way I could expect Lorain city to accept it either.”
Manning said an updated version of the sub bill with input from Thursday’s committee already is making its rounds, and he suspects further updates; but he said the Education Committee meeting was probably the last public hearing it will have on its own. Sub bill amendments are due 5 p.m. today to be considered for the final Senate version of the budget, slated to come out next week.
The amendment, once finalized, could be folded into the Senate’s omnibus substitute bill this weekend — which combines all of the Senate’s amendments to the budget into one bill.
If Lehner’s version passes in the Senate, it will go back to the House of Representatives, where members have the option to concur with the changes made to the budget as a whole. If it does not pass there, it will move to a conference committee, allowing select members from the House and Senate to further change the budget language.
House Bill 166, the state budget, must be signed by the governor by June 30.
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