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Are Ohio school takeovers effective? If we don't know, why are they continuing?

Posted at 6:45 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-17 19:28:44-04

East Cleveland is the third district in the state to face control by the state after three consecutive failed report cards, but the two districts, already controlled by the state, failed on their recent report cards too

This begs the question: Are these state school 'takeovers' effective? Are they working? It turns out that News 5 isn't the only one asking.

"Based on the results we've seen? They're not effective," said State Rep. Kent Smith (D) of Euclid.

Youngstown and Lorain are the two Ohio districts under state control right now. Both failed again this year. 

RELATED: Find out how your school district performed here.

"Lorain actually went from a D to an F, so they got worse," Rep. Smith said. 

News 5 found the state is studying whether or not the school "takeovers," or as the state calls them, "academic distress commissions" even work while continuing to take over struggling districts. 

RELATED: View more details on the Department of Education's district evaluations here.

For background, this is all relatively new.

House Bill 70 passed in 2015, was controversial from the start. It allowed a state takeover of a district with three consecutive failed report cards or failures to meet state standards.

What does that entail? 

An academic distress commission is appointed - selected, for the most part, by the state superintendent. That group hires a CEO to run and control the district. That CEO answers to the academic distress commission, not the community's elected school board.

A recent review by the Ohio Department of Education in Youngstown found the district, under state control, is still not in line with state standards.

In Lorain, the CEO refused a review at all. That was before this year's failed state report cards. 

"I've taken the leadership on this, at least in the house," Rep. Smith said. He introduced legislation, HB 626, that would have pressed pause on the state takeovers while they determine what does and doesn't work.

Rep. Smith said it was blocked four times in the House by suddenly ending a committee meeting before a vote could take place and by giving priority to other amendments. 

Instead, the back and forth led to a study commissioned in SB216 on the effectiveness of the "takeovers" by the Superintendent's office. 

The study is due in May 2019, and it will be the first real review since 2015 of whether the state takeovers are working. 

In the meantime, before the State Superintendent's office determines if they're effective, Rep. Smith said, "We're continuing to take over public school districts."

If it's not clear that the plans are working, why is the state expanding upon them? 

News 5 took that question to the Ohio Department of Education and the State Superintendent's Office and asked: "If the state is just now (officially) studying whether these interventions are making a difference, why intervene in another district before the study is complete in May? Before the state knows whether or not they're working?"

The response, from the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Communication and Outreach: "The law requires the department to create an ADC when a district meets the conditions laid out in the law."

When News 5 asked for clarification, the department responded:

"Ohio law lays out the conditions that trigger an ADC. East Cleveland met those conditions, and therefore, the Department will create the academic distress commission according to the law.

"At the same time, SB 216 (which becomes effective November 2), requires the Department to review the policies and procedures regarding academic distress commissions and report its findings. That report is due to the legislature May 1, 2019."

"Until the Ohio legislature stops these state takeovers, they're going to continue. So, East Cleveland isn't going to be the last district to be taken over," Rep. Smith said.

When asked what the point of the study is then, Rep. Smith responded: "You raise an excellent question."

Despite issues in both state-controlled districts, Youngstown and Lorain, Governor Kasich has publicly announced continued support for this plan.

In an interview with a Youngstown-based newspaper, The Vindicator, Governor Kasich said he would veto anything that eliminated the "takeover" or  "academic distress commission" plan.