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Cleveland, Lorain schools may join Youngstown under state oversight -- or not
The law lays out the requirements for academic distress commissions, but the state education department says there may be wiggle room

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
In The Region:

Schools in Cleveland and Lorain may join Youngstown as the first three districts in Ohio to operate under the scrutiny of special academic distress commissions. But, as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, Cleveland’s own transformation plan may exempt it from the special oversight.

SCHULTZE: Academic distress update

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State law says the academic performance of Cleveland and Lorain is lousy enough  -- the equivalent of an F -- to put each district under the oversight of a special state commission. The state would appoint three members of each commission and the local school boards two. And the commissions would develop plans to improve academics, could reassign administrators and would have to sign off on budgets.

But Cleveland has issued a statement that says its transformation plan, passed with the state’s support, may pre-empt the commission.  And a statement from acting Ohio school Superintendent Michael Sawyers calls the plan “an extraordinary step forward” that would influence him on whether to set up a commission.

There was no such wiggle room for Youngstown, which two years ago became the first district in the state to submit to the state oversight. Adrienne O’Neill of the Stark Education Partnership chairs the commission and says the goal is far from taking away local control.

“The underlying goal in terms of the academic distress commission should be to create a situation where the school district can carry on in the same manner by itself. So whatever it is that’d done in Youngstown, my hope is that it becomes a part of the usual functioning of the district.”

To be removed from the state’s watch, a district must reach the equivalent of a C for two of three academic years. Right now, Youngstown has a D. But O’Neill says the district is making great progress and could be done with the oversight in three years.


To ensure the people of Cleveland have accurate information on the process by which state oversight is assigned to public schools that qualify for assistance, CEO Eric Gordon and representatives of the Ohio Department of Education have issued separate, official statements to clarify information in the press today.
Prior to the release of the official state report cards for Ohio Schools this week, CMSD officials had been aware that the school district would be assigned the rating of Academic Emergency, based on the District’s test score performance in the school year prior to passage of the Cleveland Pan and the Issue 107 school levy.  We also knew that CMSD would qualify for assistance from an Academic Distress Commission, if that option, is deemed appropriate by ODE.
Contrary to an early report that CMSD had been assigned to state oversight, that process of determination, for CMSD and other schools that qualify, has not yet begun.  CMSD has been assured by representatives at ODE that the first step in the process--a letter to the qualifying districts--has not yet been sent and that, once sent, will not necessarily mean that a Commission will be assigned.
CMSD remains optimistic that the district has the “Right Plan, Right Now” for reforming its schools, a point made clear by CEO Eric Gordon, in a letter sent to staff and supporters today to clarify the state oversight process.
“Because of our community’s broad support for system-wide reform, courageous, bipartisan support of Ohio’s legislators in passing House Bill 525, the overwhelming passage of Issue 107, and the clearly articulated accountability measures outlined in the Cleveland Plan, we have in place the right plan for Cleveland,” said Gordon.  “I also expect that we will continue to be supported by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio General Assembly.”
In a separate statement released today, Acting Superintendent Michael Sawyers called the Cleveland Plan “an extraordinary step forward” in getting Cleveland’s schools back on track and said its potential impact would weight heavily on ODE’s final determination of whether or not to appoint an Academic Distress Commission for Cleveland.

Acting Superintendent Michael Sawyers
Under Ohio law, because of its overall report card rating of "Academic Emergency" and because it has not met Ohio's "adequate yearly progress" requirements for four or more consecutive years, the Cleveland Municipal School District is eligible for the potential creation of an Academic Distress Commission.
The first step in that process, a notification letter from the Ohio Department of Education to the District, has not yet been taken and, if it were, it doesn't automatically result in the creation of a Commission or define a role for the Commission.
The Cleveland Plan is an extraordinary step forward in getting the schools back on track and its potential impact will weigh heavily as the Department and the District discuss the next steps.  The Department is open to exploring alternative options in lieu of an Academic Distress Commission to find the best way forward for the children of Cleveland.
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