QUOLKE’S CORNER HB 70….The Privatization of Public Education Continues….

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HB 70.The Privatization of Public Education Continues.

The Ohio biennial budget that was voted on by the House and Senate and signed this week by Governor Kasich has garnered a lot of attention (next Q Corner will cover some of the areas in the budget) while a separate bill, HB 70 was passed, leaving educators shaking their heads in disbelief.  At a time when Republicans and Democrats were tackling issues like the mess known as PARRC assessments, limiting the time students are testing, granting safe harbor to teachers, Community learning centers as a model for reform -  a last minute amendment to a good bill has once again shattered a lot of the belief that these efforts are sincere.

So…just what happened?   While the Ohio General Assembly was attempting to pass a balanced budget by June 30th, HB 70 Community Learning Centers, was also making its way through the House and Senate.     The Ohio Federation of Teachers had worked on HB 70 for the last two years, modeling a concept that has garnered national attention at Oyler School in Cincinnati. HB 70 was a chance to make real reform through Community Learning Centers and spread the success of Oyler in Cincinnati throughout the state.  This legislation had overwhelming support of both Republicans and Democrats and was up for a vote last Wednesday (6/24).  After hearing testimony in support of the bill, the Senate Education Committee inserted an amendment which had never before been discussed and again this was after testimony in support of the bill. Without allowing for public testimony, the bill was passed out of the Senate Education Committee, passed out of the Senate, and sent it back to the House where it was passed.  All of that with NO PUBLIC DEBATE! 

The HB 70 legislation is extensive and applies to Community Learning Centers and, more importantly, to Academic Distress Commissions.   Academic Distress Commission is something that we should all remember.  This is a brief reminder from a narrative I wrote in 2013:

“In 2007, the state passed a law requiring an Academic Distress Commission for a

district in Academic Emergency.  This Commission has broad authority over the

school budget, hiring and firing of administrators, and the ability to ignore the Collective

Bargaining Agreement.  When the state Report Card was released February it was

finally official that CMSD had fallen into that category.  However, on Monday, April 8th (2013),

State Superintendent Dr. Richard Ross announced that CMSD would be granted a state

waiver and that an Academic Distress Commission would not be appointed, because

HB 525 is already in place.  Dr.  Ross stated that the Cleveland Plan “represents a

coordinated effort to improve student academic performance in the district.”

So, as a result of this action in 2013, Cleveland is not impacted by HB 70 at this time.  As of today, only Youngstown (and possibly Lorain) is immediately impacted because they have had 3 years of F ratings.  If other school districts have 3 years of F ratings then this language from HB 70 would apply to that district also.

So….just what is in HB 70? 

In short, the legislation changes the authority of the Academic Distress Commission to an advisory role, and the real authority will be vested in a CEO – appointed by the Commission.  Below is a review from the Legislative Service Commission:

Academic distress commissions 

Replaces the current structure and procedures for academic distress commissions with a new, more detailed system with specific, graduated consequences for prolonged under performance, including possible replacement of a school's principal or a majority of the school's teaching staff, reorganization of a district operated school as a community or STEM school, or permanent closure of a school. 

Requires an academic distress commission to appoint a chief executive officer (CEO), who has complete operational, managerial, and instructional control of the district. 

Qualifies students of a district subject to an academic distress commission for the Ed Choice scholarship. 

Requires reorganization of the board of education of a district that has been subject to an academic distress commission for four or more years and subjects that board to mayoral appointment rather than election. 

Requires a referendum on mayoral appointment of a board of education three years after the district is no longer subject to an academic distress commission. 

Suspends parts of collective bargaining agreements to varying degrees depending on how long a district has been subject to an academic distress commission and grants the chief executive officer power to limit, suspend, or alter contracts. 

Under HB 70, this appointed CEO will have the authority to:

1.       Replace school administrators and central office staff;

2.       Assign employees to schools and approve transfers;

3.       Hire new employees;

4.       Define employee responsibilities and job descriptions;

5.       Establish employee compensation;

6.       Allocate teacher class loads;

7.       Conduct employee evaluations;

8.       Make reductions in staff;

9.       Set the school calendar;

10.   Create a budget for the district;

11.   Contract for services for the district;

12.   Modify policies and procedures established by the district board;

13.   Establish grade configurations of schools;

14.   Determine school curriculum;

15.   Select instructional materials and assessments;

16.   Set class size;

17.   Providing for staff professional development.

In other words, there will be no checks and balances on the CEO’s power and he or she will single handedly control every aspect of the school district.  In order to allow this to occur, HB 70 nullifies any part of a CBA that interferes with this authority.  As amended, this applies to CBAs entered into on or after the bill’s effective date (originally it applied to existing CBAs, but the Senate Committee at least understood that this would be unconstitutional).

The bill also gives the CEO the authority to exempt a conversion community school sponsored by the school district for which an academic distress commission has been established from future collective bargaining.  (This is similar to the language in HB 153 that applies to CMSD).

If the district has been subject to an academic distress commission for 4 or more years, the school board becomes subject to mayoral control rather than by election.  Additionally, all students automatically are qualified to receive vouchers (ED Choice Program).

This was all done in less than 12 hours with zero input or public testimony.  There will be those that say something needed to be done to help the students.  I say anything that is supposed to be good for students does not need to be hidden until the last minute and can stand up to public discussion.  Why the need to hide?

There is no doubt that the Ohio General Assembly is not on the side of educators in Ohio. 

I looked back over much of what was in the original Cleveland Plan:  Fresh Start (eliminating CBA), firing teachers in low performing schools; Board setting salary, eliminating continuing contracts, etc. I see all of that and more in HB 70.   It is clear what the Cleveland Plan was meant to be if we had not gone to the table and fought to change the original HB 525.

In Union,