Cleveland school district avoids state control based on Cleveland plan already in place
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland schools will not fall under the control of a state academic distress commission. State Superintendent Richard Ross said at a Monday press conference that he granted a waiver based on the fact that the district already has the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, which was approved by the state legislature last summer.
Ross said that having an academic distress commission makes sense in some places, but "is not the right choice here."
In a letter officially granting the district's waiver request, Ross said the Cleveland Plan "represents a coordinated effort to improve student academic performance in the district." Having a separate state commission "would be duplicative and may interfere with the work already underway."
Normally, Ohio law requires oversight from an academic distress commission whenever a school district's test scores put it into the Academic Emergency rating – the state's equivalent of an F – and the district fails to meet federal guidelines for academic progress for four straight years.
The five-member commission is required to help craft an improvement plan, as well as approve the district budget and spending. It can remove or reassign administrators or hire a private firm to manage the district.
Cleveland met the criteria for a commission when report card results for last school year became official in February. But last month, then-Acting State Superintendent Michael Sawyers said in a written statement that the Ohio Department of Education would be "open to exploring alternative options."
District chief Eric Gordon has argued that the Cleveland Plan already laid the groundwork for improvements and the 15-mill levy passed by voters in November provided needed resources.
Mayor Frank Jackson thanked Ross for the exemption on Monday, saying: "Your decision today gives us an opportunity to fulfill that promise that we gave to our community and to really recognize the effort that our community made in giving us the flexibility and the tools that we need to be successful. Without this waiver, it would have been very, very difficult."
Gordon said that he's very pleased with the progress the district is making so far on the plan.
A body called the Transformation Alliance – "our academic distress commission," as Gordon described it – is at work and will issue independent evaluations of the district, he said. New teacher and principal evaluations are being implemented, and a new compensation system will be launched this fall. And a set of schools chosen for intense improvement efforts will be announced soon.
"We believe that the waiver ensures that our local plan, the Cleveland Plan, gets the chance to work, and we believe that the four-year levy commitment promised to us by the voters ensures that we will be accountable to return with those results at the end of the four years," Gordon said.
After the Cleveland press conference, Ross traveled to Lorain to name members to an academic distress commission for that district.
Youngstown has been under the control of such a commission since 2010. A district is supposed to earn a state grade of C or higher for two out of three years before it can be released, although the state superintendent has the authority to act earlier.
Ross's waiver letter to Cleveland said the exemption would be in effect through November 2017 when the state superintendent has to report to the governor and legislators on the Cleveland Plan's progress. In the meantime, annual reports will be made as required by the Cleveland Plan.
"Finally, should the Cleveland Plan be terminated for any reason, the exemption will end," Ross wrote.