Ohio lawmakers approve Mayor Jackson's Cleveland schools plan after weeks of tense negotiatons Joe Guillen, The Plain Dealer
Posted: 06/12/2012 7:20 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, after weeks of tense negotiations, finally gained the legislative approval he needed on Tuesday to carry out his plan to reform the city’s troubled schools.
The mayor’s proposal was debated at length, with several Democrats from outside Cleveland opposing the plan because it allows the city to share local tax dollars with charter schools.
But the ongoing dismal performance of Cleveland schools proved too much for the majority of lawmakers to ignore. The district’s failures were the subject of many floor speeches on Tuesday, along with the broad support for Jackson’s plan among labor, business and education groups.
“This is a victorious moment for the children of Cleveland,” said Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat who sponsored Jackson’s plan in the Senate. “Now the real work begins. It’s for all the citizens of Cleveland. Stand up and do the work that is necessary to get a levy passed.”
The Democratic mayor’s reform plan will be central to his pitch this November, when he asks Cleveland voters to support a schools tax. The money would be used to help the district patch up a projected budget deficit and avoid layoffs and other cuts.
Jackson said Tuesday that passage of his plan in the legislature will help the levy succeed.
“This gives people the opportunity to not only believe —but know — they will receive a better outcome in the education of their children,” he said.
Both the Ohio Senate and House approved Jackson’s plan, all but ensuring its delivery to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for final approval. The House voted 78-16 for the plan and the Senate voted 27-4.
Another vote, called a concurrence vote, is required because the chambers approved separate — although identical — bills. The Senate is expected to concur on the House version today, sending the plan to Kasich for his signature. The Republican governor has been a strong supporter of Jackson’s plan.
The plan lawmakers approved differed from the proposal Jackson brought to Columbus in April. The mayor had to compromise because he and his backers ran head-first into charter-school advocates with strong ties to majority Republicans.
The plan allows the mayor to establish a local panel, called a Transformation Alliance, that will help set standards for new charter schools to open in the city. The alliance will review the agencies that authorize or sponsor them.
The plan also calls for major changes in teacher layoffs and recalls by using an evaluation process instead of strict seniority.
Though the final legislation gives less local control over charter schools than Jackson had sought, he said evaluating charter sponsors using national standards will make a difference.
“That goes a long way,” he said. “We were never trying to control the charter schools. We just wanted things in place to assure a better outcome because it was too loose.”
While Jackson’s plan had GOP leaders’ support, it drew opposition from Democrats who feared long-term consequences elsewhere in the state.
The legislation would allow the Cleveland district to share a portion of levy proceeds with charter schools partners.
“This could be a moment and people look back and say we made a fundamental change here in Ohio,” said Rep. Debbie Phillips, a Democrat from Athens who voted against the legislation. “It’s a fundamental change in terms of taxing authority and taxing policy in the state of Ohio.”
Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, predicted the plan would be sought elsewhere. She said Kasich has described the Cleveland plan as a statewide model, yet the plan was molded with Cleveland’s interests in mind. “I can’t support what my district didn’t weigh in on,” Tavares said.
Supporters of the bill pointed out that the legislation was specific to Cleveland, the only school district in Ohio under mayoral control.
Rep. Kenny Yuko, a strong supporter of unions, was the only lawmaker from Cuyahoga County to vote against the plan.
Sen. Michael Skindell, a Democrat from Lakewood, asked to be excused from voting because of a perceived conflict of interest. Skindell said he is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the creation of JobsOhio, a nonprofit corporation to promote the state’s economic development. The Cleveland schools plan presents a conflict, he said, because it also involves a government-created nonprofit corporation — the Transformation Alliance.
Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, was not present for the vote. Smith, however, distributed amendments under her name that would have removed significant portions of the plan. All were rejected.
Rep. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat who sponsored Jackson’s plan in the House, said lawmakers had a responsibility to help fix Cleveland’s schools.
“When you have kids who believe there’s no hope for them, it’s up to us to make up that difference,” she said.
With reporting by Patrick O'Donnell.
Here are details of Jackson's plan, as approved by lawmakers on Tuesday. Some items have been discussed only in general terms before. Others are new:
-- The district itself will be evaluated, beyond the state’s report cards that come out every year.
The school board will suggest by December measures of achievement, student progress and the district’s attempts at teaching for college and career readiness. The state superintendent will decide on the final measures.
The district will report on its progress each year and in November 2017, the state superintendent will give a report to the governor and legislature.
--Test scores and the student population of charter schools that are sponsored by the district, along with those that partner with the district, will count toward the district’s enrollment totals and the district’s state report card. But a partnering charter can choose not to have its score included and the student count will be listed separately on the district report card.
--Parents of district students must attend at least one parent-teacher conference or other meeting at the school by Dec. 15 each year, in which they meet teachers and discuss the expectations and performance of their children. The legislation does not spell out any punishment for not complying.
--The length of the school day and year can be changed, with year-round schooling an option. The district and teachers union will negotiate pay for that extra time.
--The district’s chief executive officer can impose changes on failing schools without following the teachers’ contract. But he must first consider recommendations from a “corrective team” with four members of the union and four representatives he appoints.
--All district and partnering charter schools covering grades 9 through 12 will appoint students to a “student advisory committee” that will suggest ways to improve teaching and learning, how to use technology to better teach their classmates, ways to encourage high-performing students to help struggling ones and how to improve student behavior and prevent bullying.
--Money from the sale of district property can be used for ongoing expenses, not just long-term improvements as other districts must do.
-Teachers will be paid on a “differentiated” salary schedule based on performance, special skills and duties, as opposed to the standard one that now increases pay based on years of service and education level. Higher rated teachers will receive higher pay increases.
--Teachers will apply to transfer between district schools, rather than being able to choose based on seniority.
--Seniority will no longer be the deciding factor in teacher layoffs and recalls. Those will be based mainly on teacher evaluations, with continuing contracts (tenure) used only as a tiebreaker between similarly-rated teachers.
--The evaluation plan, already being used on a trial basis, must be in place by July 2013.
The evaluation procedures shall include formal observations and classroom walk-throughs, which may be announced or unannounced; examinations of samples of work, such as lesson plans or assessments designed by a teacher; and multiple measures of student academic growth.
--Poor teaching performance with two consecutive ratings of “ineffective” is grounds for firing.
--The mayor can appoint a panel called the Transformation Alliance to review the sponsors of charter schools in the city, help set standards for schools and sponsors and review both district and charter schools annually.
Members of the panel will come from the district, partnering charter schools, the community and business leaders. The law does not specify a number of members.
Its meetings and records will be open to the public.
The Alliance will work with the Ohio Department of Education and statewide charter sponsors to set standards for new sponsors in the city. It will review all new sponsors that want to start schools in the city and recommend to the Department of Education whether they are fit. The department will make the final decision.
The Alliance also will review those whose licenses to sponsor charter schools expire. Two charter sponsors, the Ohio Council of Community Schools and the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, have permanent licenses and would not be subject to Alliance review.
--The district can share property tax money with partnering charter schools. It will set up a fund and give the money to partnering charter schools based on the number of students from Cleveland they have. Tax requests must note on the ballot how much will go to the district and how much to charter schools.
Click here to see comments from Rep. Williams and Rep. Amstutz after the House floor votes came in.
Tags: cleveland, education, transformation plan, mayor jackson