YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – About 100 people gathered Thursday afternoon at Rayen Early College, demanding for House Bill 70 to be repealed and for control to be returned to the elected school board.
But will those demands be heard in Columbus, where the state government — in one form or another — has overseen the Youngstown school system for nine years?
“There has been no improvement in the academic performance of the district under House Bill 70 and the Youngstown Plan,” said Rev. Ken Simon.
Simon led the so-called news conference.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan talked about House Bill 154, which would eliminate academic distress commissions and CEOs. HB 154 has passed in the House but has stalled in the Senate.
“We want to restore local control. We want to protect collective bargaining. We want to protect public education,” Lepore-Hagan said.
They want to be able to maintain a locally elected school board, which will be eliminated and replaced by a board chosen by Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown because the Youngstown City School District received four consecutive F grades.
“This is not the board’s fault even though the board is being penalized,” said Youngstown School Board President Brenda Kimble.
Teachers union Vice President Paula Valentini said that in the four years before HB 70, Youngstown’s third grade reading score had risen to a B. Now, it’s back to an F.
“When House Bill 70 came, all of our programs that were so successful were pulled. I can’t tell you why, I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you there was nothing put in place,” Valentini said.
Nicolette Boyd is the mother of five children in the Youngstown City Schools.
“I would like to see our school board that we elect, as well as our great teachers, have the tools and resources that they need to educate and help our children,” Boyd said.
Denise Dick, the spokesperson for the Youngstown City Schools, said supporters of HB 70 recognize it needs to be fixed and want to make changes.
But she added, “The thing they’re proposing with the repeal, what does that accomplish? You’re going backwards.”
Dick said the school system had serious problems before the state took control.
As far as the school board being the will of the people, Dick said, “There are seven board members. Of them, in the recent elections, only one had any opposition on the ballot. So it’s not exactly the will of the people. It’s more like default.”