July 25, 2014

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State to oversee Lorain Schools

LORAIN — A state academic takeover of Lorain Schools is scheduled to occur in April.

The district was officially placed in academic emergency this week after the delayed release of the complete annual state report card. The district met just one of 26 standards on the card in the 2011-12 school year.

Because the district failed to make adequate yearly progress for four straight years before being placed on academic emergency, it triggered a takeover. John Charlton, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman, said a letter will inform the district in the next week or two about the takeover.

The takeover means an Academic Distress Commission will control the district. The commission, which must be formed within 30 days of receipt of the letter, will consist of three members appointed by Michael Sawyers, the department’s acting superintendent, and two appointed by Tim Williams, Lorain Board of Education president.

Among the commission’s powers are the ability to hire and fire, privatize services, approve spending and establish budgets, according to the takeover law. The takeover ends when the district receives a continuous improvement rating or better twice in a three-year period or if the state superintendent determines the district can function adequately without the commission.

On Feb. 6, Charlton told The Chronicle-Telegram that he was uncertain whether Lorain’s academic emergency triggered a takeover. Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker told The Chronicle the district would have to be in academic emergency for three or four years to trigger a takeover. During a Feb. 12 State of the Schools speech to board members, Tucker, who started after-school tutoring to improve state math and reading scores after being hired in August, said the district had a few years to get out of academic emergency before a takeover could occur.

On Thursday, Tucker said he was unaware that the takeover would occur.

“When I get the letter, we’ll deal with that,” he said.

Youngstown Schools in 2010 became the first Ohio district in academic takeover. Cleveland Schools is also being taken over this year.

Charlton said the goal of the takeover in Lorain, where about 85 percent of students live in poverty and 87 percent don’t meet minimum state standards when they enter kindergarten, is to ensure students get a good education.

“How that gets accomplished will be worked out as they go along,” Charlton said.

Board member Jim Smith said he doesn’t anticipate a hostile takeover. Smith said he contacted Cynthia Lemmerman, a department associate superintendent for school improvement, a few weeks ago when he suspected a takeover might occur.

Smith said Lemmerman told him that the commission would cooperate with the board.

“This has more pluses in it for our children than minuses,” he said. “It is a powerful commission, but they’re not going to shake a fist at us. They’re going to come in in a cooperative manner.”

While the takeover disenfranchises voters, Williams said he also believed it would be positive.

“If it’s help, even though it might be a bitter taste, you take the help,” he said. “You learn from the help, and you make the best progress going forward.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.