By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
The education news in Ohio recently is so utterly unbelievable it reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment “Really?” with Seth Myers and Amy Poehler. Governor Kasich wants to abolish teachers’ “lounges”. Really? David Hansen intentionally excluded online charter school failure rates in order to make them look more successful. Really? Superintendent Ross circumnavigated the State Board of Education to override the Youngstown improvement plan to create a new one. The state legislature pushed through the legislation allowing that move in one day, giving no time for debate. Really?
We are facing an educational perfect storm, a storm that could damage if not destroy public education in Ohio.
Let’s start with the actions of State Superintendent Richard Ross, who did not tell the State School Board members that he was working to create a new plan for Youngstown schools, a plan that in part puts a CEO in charge, promotes more charter schools, takes power away from the locally elected school board, and could “possibly override parts of union contracts”. His decision shows a lack of respect for the process in place, for the teachers and community of Youngstown, and for the Board itself, since several of its members traveled to Youngstown to discuss what was working and what needed improved upon in the (then) current plan, oblivious to the fact that their boss had another plan in the works. This matters to all of us, even if we don’t teach in Youngstown, because the people who backed the CEO plan in Youngstown are the same people who can change the way schools are rated, and any one of our public schools could be deemed a failing school very easily.
Governor Kasich supports this new plan. The governor even went so far as to say of the Youngstown school board, “What do they want to do? They want kids to continue to fail? People ought to be outraged when kids are trapped in failing schools. It’s a disgrace.” Really? If he cares so much about kids attending failing schools, why has he been silent on the disgraceful state of charter schools in Ohio? Why has Kasich made no public comment about the Focus on Collective Integrity charter school in Columbus that closed at the end of August with little to no notice to parents, forcing them to scramble to enroll their children in Columbus Public Schools after the school year there had already begun? Have those students’ records been made available to their parents and new schools yet? Has the $383,000 Columbus Public Schools were forced to hand over to FCI been returned to that district? If a traditional public school had posted a sign on the door saying it was simply not opening, made it difficult to access student records, and taken money from the state only weeks before closing, I am certain our governor would have lambasted its irresponsible and damaging actions. But somehow, charter schools escape his criticism. Really?
Kasich has shown steadfast support for Superintendent Ross, despite the fact that some members of the state board of education have called for an independent investigation to look into Ross’ participation in or knowledge of the charter school evaluations debacle and the secretive Youngstown Plan, and several lawmakers have called for the Board to dismiss Ross as state superintendent. I find it very hard to believe that Ross was not involved or at least in the know about David Hansen’s actions regarding charter school rankings. Recently released records of emails and texts show that at least a half dozen ODE employees knew about Hansen’s efforts to scrub the low rankings, so Ross was either completely oblivious (and therefore not paying enough attention to what his employees were doing) or he was complicit in the coverup and has allowed David Hansen to take the fall. Since Kasich appointed the majority of the state school board, and the board appointed the state superintendent, one has to wonder not only if Ross knew about Hansen’s scheme, but if Kasich knew about it as well. And let’s not forget in the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, Hansen’s wife is Governor Kasich’s presidential campaign manager. Really?
So our cast of characters includes a governor who supports failing charter schools and a plan to put a CEO in charge of a struggling school district, a state superintendent who left the state school board in the dark about his participation in creating the takeover plan, a high-ranking Department of Education employee who intentionally scrubbed low rankings of charter schools, and a presidential campaign manager with close ties to all three. Unfortunately, this isn’t fiction; for teachers, students, and parents in Ohio, these aren’t characters, but real-life people who have a lot of power. If this were a “based on a true story” movie, the happy ending would include the corrupt leaders of our state’s education system getting ousted and a new era beginning with pro-public education leaders in place. The music would swell and the audience would leave feeling uplifted because the “good guys” had saved the day and the state of education in Ohio.
We have to be the good guys.
We have to wage the war; we have to stand up for what’s right and call out those in charge who are inept at best and corrupt at worst. We can’t sit idly by as if we are mindlessly eating popcorn while watching a movie, because this is our reality; our profession and our kids are under attack. And both are worth fighting for. Really.
 “State Supt. Ross kept Youngstown plan under cover – even …” 2015. 7 Sep. 2015 <http://cleveland.suntimes.com/cle-politics-government/7/91/254430/state-supt-ross-kept-youngstown-plan-under-cover-even-as-state-board-took-trip-there>
 “Kasich addresses controversy over the Youngstown City Schools CEO plan.” 2015. 7 Sep. 2015 <http://www.wfmj.com/story/29964853/kasich-addresses-controversy-over-the-youngstown-city-schools-ceo-plan>
 “Columbus Charter School Shutters Doors … – Cincinnati.” 2015. 8 Sep. 2015 <http://cincinnati.suntimes.com/cin-politics-government/7/102/274789/columbus-charter-school-shutters-doors-where-are-student-records-where-is-395000-in-funding>
 “Ohio school board members call for charter probe.” 2015. 8 Sep. 2015 <http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2015/08/04/ohio-school-board-members-call-charter-probe/31123513/>
 “Top Democratic Lawmakers Call On State Board Of …” 2015. 8 Sep. 2015 <http://www.ohiohouse.gov/democrats/press/top-democratic-lawmakers-call-on-state-board-of-education-to-remove-superintendent>
 “Ohio charter-school snafu: Workers – not John Kasich …” 2015. 8 Sep. 2015 <http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/09/03/john-kasich-charter-school-records-presidential-significance/71641600/>