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State takeover of East Cleveland schools: Editorial Board Roundtable

October 5, 2018

State takeover of East Cleveland schools: Editorial Board Roundtable

East Cleveland schools have filed suit to head off an impending state takeover, arguing the district can’t be considered to have had three straight years of “F’s” on its school report card since overall grades weren’t awarded for the prior two years. But Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell notes a combination of “F’s” on other measures is considered the equivalent of an overall F grade per a 2015 law.

Those school-takeover amendments to House Bill 70, adopted without public input in what our editorial board called a “stealth heist,” have now resulted in a state takeover of the Youngstown and Lorain schools, the impending takeover in East Cleveland and threatened takeovers of the Maple Heights and Warrensville Heights schools, along with the Dayton schools. 

The Youngstown schools want the Ohio Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of this state grab of local school control. Critics say failing grades for a school district correlates more with local poverty than with school management. 

Last spring, Democrats in the Ohio legislature unsuccessfully pressed for a three-year moratorium on more school takeovers until the state could review whether the Youngstown and Lorain takeovers have done any good. In Youngstown, the schools appear to be in a state of turmoil with three of the five state distress commission members resigning earlier this year, academic scores still in the doldrums and the school superintendent looking to move on.

So what does our editorial board roundtable think of the state takeover of East Cleveland schools? 

Ted Diadiun, editorial board member:

We are arguing over minutiae while students continue to roll through demonstrably substandard schools without the education they are promised and our society owes them. How many straight “F” grades East Cleveland got is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the leadership East Cleveland has provided for its students is abysmal and the sooner the state steps in to try to right the ship, the better. The state could hardly do worse.

Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: 

Ultimately, a board of education is the steward of an Ohio school district. If a district fails, it needs a new steward. When all is said and done, the procedural to-and-fro about House Bill 70 is irrelevant. (Full disclosure: I am a Youngstown native.)

Victor Ruiz, editorial board member: 

As an advocate for educational equity and opportunities,  I agree that adults and school districts that continuously fail our children need to be held accountable. However, the state of Ohio has no business taking over any school district, especially since it plays a critical role in our schools’ failures by grossly underfunding them and mandating an assessment process that is inconsistent and unfair. The state should provide the funding that all school districts that serve disadvantaged children need to bring in the leadership and expertise that will help turn them around. Our children deserve nothing less. 

Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:

How can East Cleveland schools ever hope to improve when the state keeps moving the goalposts? A hastily passed 2015 law, plus the absence of data on the effectiveness of school takeovers, add up to a looming boondoggle. While they certainly need help, an ill-conceived state takeover isn’t it. Good on East Cleveland for fighting back. 

Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:

Dithering about the number of F’s on East Cleveland’s school report card won’t solve their problems, and neither will political bickering. In HB 70, Republicans created a vehicle to reduce the power of teachers’ unions and promote school choice, and Democrats are fighting back to protect the unions and their contributions to Democratic coffers. Amid the dithering and bickering, children in failing schools continue to suffer. Fixing these schools is a herculean social, political, and economic task. A tug of war doesn’t solve the problems; compromises from all the players at local and state levels might.  

Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, cleveland.com:

Without a comprehensive plan that involves extra state money, innovative ideas and a clear, transparent and well-considered turnaround approach subject to review and oversight, these state takeovers will do little more than churn personnel and hurt kids, as appears to have happened in Youngstown. At the root of the problem is an ill-considered law so flawed that its backers weren’t willing to risk public debate. 

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* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments on this editorial board roundtable to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at esullivan@cleveland.com. 

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