The state’s top education official was in Northeast Ohio today to announce the fate of two local school districts: Cleveland and Lorain. Both were slated for state takeovers following years of poor academic performance, but the state will only take over only one district.
After years of getting Fs on its state report cards and failing to make progress, the Cleveland school district was due for a state takeover. That means forming an Academic Distress Commission of people appointed by the state schools’ chief and the local school board to oversee the district’s progress. That commission gets to hire and fire some district employees and establish the district’s budget, among other things.
But Cleveland school officials applied for a waiver exempting the district from a takeover, arguing that the passage of the Cleveland Plan last year would make a state takeover unnecessary and redundant.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross agreed.
“An Academic Distress Commission makes sense in some places,” Ross says. “But an Academic Distress Commission is not the right choice here.”
Ross says that’s because Cleveland already has a plan in place: the Cleveland Plan legislation passed last year that includes reforms aimed at improving the district.
“I do not grant this exception lightly but I do so based upon the unique circumstances of this situation,” Ross says. “The goals of the Cleveland Plan and the Academic Distress Commission are one and the same.”
Ross says adding another layer of involvement “would only hinder the momentum for change” in Cleveland.
Cleveland school district CEO Eric Gordon says there are already enough people overseeing the district.
“It’s a whole bunch of taxpayers that made a big commitment to this community and it’s our job to get that done,” Gordon says.
But Ross says an Academic Distress Commission does make sense in Lorain, forty minutes west of Cleveland.
“I’m glad they’re here,” says Lorain superintendent Tom Tucker. “We can do better, we have to do better and we need to change. And that isn’t always easy.”
The district passed a levy last fall for the first time in two decades, but only after laying off more than 180 staff members to deal with a $12 million budget hole last spring. Many of the teachers who were laid off have since been rehired to replace retired teachers or those who left the district.
Lorain is only the second Ohio district to undergo a state takeover for poor academic performance. Youngstown was the first in 2010.