LORAIN — The needs of Lorain’s children trump the rights of voters, Ohio Superintendent of Instruction Richard Ross said Monday in announcing an unelected Academic Distress Commission will control Lorain Schools’ academics.
“These are hard times for Lorain Schools and sometimes the needs of boys and girls over weigh everything else,” said Ross, adding that Ohio is a “local control state.”
While the Board of Education members they elected will have to answer to the commission, Ross said academic improvement would not occur without greater involvement from residents. He said the five-member commission would work closely with board members. The commission has the right to hire and fire, terminate union contracts and privatize, but Ross said the commission is unlikely to do that.
The district will have to receive a C-grade on a future state report card to exit the takeover, although Ross has the option of disbanding the commission if he believes the district makes sufficient progress.
Ross urged commission members to be “bold” and “courageous,” make data-driven decisions and be honest with the community. He asked them to “learn and grow” and not be afraid to make changes if initial strategies fail.
The takeover happened because Lorain had not met “adequate yearly progress,” a federal benchmark for four straight years. Lorain met just one of 26 standards on the annual state academic report card in the 2011-12 school year and was designated in academic emergency by the Ohio Department of Education in February. The commission has to approve an academic improvement plan to be sent to the Ohio Department of Education within 120 days.
Lorain and Youngstown are the only Ohio school districts in academic takeover.
The district has shrunk from roughly 10,000 students a decade ago to about 7,200 now.
Board members have long complained that increased support for privately run, publicly funded charter schools have siphoned money from the district forcing massive layoffs last year.
Ross is a proponent of charter schools and was the architect of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget, which critics say provides a disproportionate share of state money to wealthier school districts at the expense of poorer districts like Lorain. About 85 percent of Lorain students live in poverty.
However, Bill Zelei, commission chairman, said the commission gives Lorain a “voice in Columbus that maybe they don’t have right now.”
Zelei, who said he hopes to hold the commission’s first meeting within two weeks, said the takeover occurs at a difficult time. Ohio is changing from verbal designations on the state report cards to letter grades and adopting more rigorous academic standards.
Despite the challenges, the two commission members appointed by Tim Williams, board president, expressed enthusiasm. Raul Ramos, a board member from 1992-2009, said he wants children to have the same opportunities his two children had at Lorain Schools.
Henry Patterson, who has three children in the district, said voters won’t mind the loss of local control if the commission succeeds. He said desperate times call for desperate measures.
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Lorain Schools on Monday joined Youngstown as the only Ohio school districts taken over by an Academic Distress Commission.
Henry Patterson, 37, is a Lorain resident and one of two locally-appointed commission members. Patterson is an assistant professor of political science at Lorain County Community College. Patterson is an attorney with Giardini, Cook and Nichol, the law firm of Lorain Board of Education attorney Anthony Giardini. Patterson worked for Lorain Schools from 2000-2006 in federally and privately funded programs tutoring and preparing students for graduation. He has three daughters in Lorain Schools.
Raul Ramos, 66, is Lorain resident and the other locally-appointed commission member. Ramos is an accounting professor at LCCC. Ramos – the father of state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain – was a Lorain Board of Education member from 1992 to 2009.
Cathy Dietlin, 63, is a Lorain resident and the former executive director of Reach Higher Lorain County P-16 Council, a nonprofit group that works on improving student achievement. Dietlin worked for Lorain Schools as a teacher and administrator from 1972 to 1986 and was Rocky River Schools assistant superintendent from 1986 to 2008.
- Rosa Rivera-Hainaj, 39, is LCCC’s dean of science and mathematics and serves on the board of El Centro, a Latino community center.
Bill Zelei, 64, is the chairman of the commission and a Hinckley resident. Zelei is head of the Ohio Schools Council, a purchasing consortium for 192 Ohio school districts. He previously was superintendent of South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools from 1998-2011 and an associate superintendent for the accountability division of the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.
Sources: Lorain Academic Distress Commission, Ohio Department of Education.