Controversial amendment attached to Brenner school bill


An amendment attached to legislation sponsored by State Rep. Andy Brenner, R-Powell, could weaken local control over failing public school districts.

House Bill 70, which was signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich, contains provisions that drastically alter “academic distress commissions” that oversee failing public school districts in the state.

Under the bill, if a district is failing for three years, the “academic distress commission” will appoint a CEO to run the school system. The CEO will gain more power each year he or she is in charge of the district, including the ability to overrides portions of teacher union contracts and to convert buildings to charter schools.

According to the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, the CEO “must have high-level management experience in the public or private sector.”

By year two, the appointed CEO can close schools are convert them to charters. In the third year, he or she can void any portion of a union contract except those that address pay and benefits, including first in, last out policies that protect teachers with tenure from reduction-in-force actions.

Just one school district – Youngstown City Schools – will be immediately affected by the change. However, according to Brenner, Dayton City Schools and Lorain City Schools could be impacted in the future.

“The students in Youngstown will finally have an opportunity to improve their schools,” he said.

The hasty manner in which the amendment was added to the bill was called a “bleak episode” by the Ohio School Boards Association. The entire bill was approved the same day the amendment was introduced.

“Regardless of the merits of the amendment, such a hasty action is a disservice to the elected board members of Youngstown and the voters of the community,” the organization said in a statement. “Indeed, it is an affront to every school board member in Ohio and all locally elected officials. Legislation with such far-reaching ramifications is properly the subject of informed debate and discussion. In this case, ‘legislative process’ is a misnomer.”

While Brenner said he does support the measure, the intent of his legislation was to allow districts to set up “community learning centers” in districts with the approval of both voters and teachers.

The bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, would allow schools to provide supplemental services, such as on-site health care, dental care and mental health services.

Brenner said the legislation will most likely be utilized in urban and rural areas that are under served in those fields.

“This is a model that may have to be adopted just to keep the private-sector jobs in some areas and meet the needs of the people,” he said.

By Dustin Ensinger

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Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.

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