TPS Board to lobby against Academic Distress CommissionsWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Anger at Ohio legislators was displayed April 23 when Toledo Public School (TPS) Board of Education (BOE) members discussed a resolution they eventually passed 5-0, which urges the state’s elected officials to reject House Bill (HB) 59.
The proposed legislation would permit the state superintendent of public instruction to establish commissions for school districts, including TPS, which the state auditor finds “to have knowingly manipulated student data with evidence to deceive.”
TPS was recently cited in a state audit for improperly “scrubbing” data reported to the state by withdrawing and then re-enrolling truant students.
Board members said they intend to travel to Columbus this weekend, some at their own expense, to lobby legislators to not create Academic Distress Commissions of unelected individuals with unrestricted power to establish school board budgets, contract with private entities to manage school districts, appoint and reassign school building administrators, and terminate administrator contracts.
The resolution, presented by BOE President Brenda Hill, was drafted by Keith Wilkowski, TPS legal counsel.
BOE member Lisa Sobecki said she is vehemently opposed to HB 59 because legislators are proposing to create a law within a substitute bill to HB 59 for situations that are currently covered in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).
“When legislators put this type of legislation in, I would have hoped that they would have done their homework before to see that there’s already measures within the ORC that calls for these types of things,” she said.
Sobecki said she spoke with Hill on April 19 to suggest that a resolution come before the board April 23.
“We need to send a message down to Columbus,” Sobecki said. “And I anticipate there’s going to be other school board members that I’ve spoken with across the state that are going to do similar things. With all these amendments added to the HB, school boards are really just trying to figure it out. I’m also incensed with the fact that our legislators aren’t even allowing the state auditor’s process to be able to finish before they’re proposing new legislation. It’s an ongoing investigation from the auditor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).”
Lack of accountability
Sobecki said she is concerned that the proposed legislation does not establish accountability standards or recommendations for the ODE.
“Look at the fact that board members belong to governing bodies and policy bodies,” Sobecki said. “We’re not the ones doing that day-to-day work of inputting information. For example … the reason they wrote this [amendment] is because of the scrubbing issue. And they’ve decided down in Columbus they need to hold us accountable, but we already have accountability measures that we can follow.
“No. 1, the two people we hire and fire are the superintendent and the treasurer, and we hold them accountable for the work underneath them. And the superintendent holds his folks accountable. It’s a chain of command.”
Sobecki said HB 59 is filled with useless language: “I really wished that they had focused more on funding public schools right in the first place versus trying to [create legislation] for things that are already in place.”
Despite the speculation surrounding legislators’ motives, Sobecki said she believes the motivation is purely political.
“The reason you’re going to hear on one side is that school districts should have been accounting for kids properly,” Sobecki said. “But I think it’s more political than getting to the root cause and understanding what was going on through the reporting mechanisms that have been called ‘scrubbing.’ I think it’s more political than looking at what’s right.”
Sobecki said it reflects a power struggle between the Republican and Democratic parties.
“My understanding from friends and colleagues in Columbus is that this is being pushed by the Republicans, and they’ve begun pushing harder now that it’s going through the Senate.
“This is the time that we speak up and board members across the State of Ohio help educate legislators when they take legislative actions.”
Although she is a registered Democrat, Sobecki insists that the BOE works as an elected nonpolitical, nonpartisan governing body.
“We make unpartisan decisions,” Sobecki said. “They’re not Republican decisions. They’re not Democrat decisions. They are decisions which are best for kids.
“But here’s a side note that maybe Republicans can understand. Overwhelmingly across the state, there are more Republican school board members than Democratic school board members. And I’ve spoken to my colleagues across the state who are Republicans, and they’re not in favor of this.”
Sobecki said TPS’ resolution can become a model for other school boards to adopt as they reach out to their legislators.
“I’m going to be sharing it with colleagues across the state and encouraging them to sign on to similar resolutions like this.
“And I do know in talking with our folks at the Ohio School Board Association, the OSBA is not supporting this either.”