Last week, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson collaborated with school district Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon to submit their plan for “transforming” the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  The report, subtitled “reinventing public education in our city and serving as a model of innovation for the state of Ohio,” was delivered to some high-ranking elected officials:

  • Ohio Governor, John R. Kasich
  • Ohio Speaker of the House, William G. Batchelder
  • Ohio Senate President, Thomas E. Niehaus
  • Ohio House of Representatives Minority Leader, Armond Budish
  • Ohio Senate Minority Leader, Eric Kearney

The full proposal is worth reading to see how it seems to alienate every education stakeholder in one way or another.  For starters, the Mayor and CEO deliberately left the Cleveland Teachers’ Union out of discussions on this latest plan.

Mayor Jackson said he did not talk to the union before coming up with his latest plan because he wanted to avoid further delay.

“We need to get something done,” he said. “We’ve been in perpetual discussion about a lot of things. Our sense of urgency is such that something has to happen in a systemic way and it has to happen now.”

(Plain Dealer, 2/7/12)

The plan also seems to acknowledge the complete lack of authority of the Ohio Department of Education over Ohio’s schools through the decision to send the plan directly to the legislature alone.  The articles published following the release of the document contain no mention of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner nor any reactions by anyone at the Ohio Department of Education.  In fact, the report contains only 3 references to ODE – a chart, an appeals process to be defined, and a criterion that failing charters not be transferred to ODE for management purposes.

Elected officials at the Statehouse, not experienced professional educators, are making the key decisions about schooling in Ohio.

But you can read the reporters’ perspectives from the Plain Dealer and StateImpact (NPR) to get the talking points.

The interesting part is on the final page where Mayor Jackson lays out his list of demands from the state with this preface:

The assistance of the Governor and General Assembly in putting in place the conditions for success described above is essential to Cleveland’s plan. Quite simply, we cannot do it without your help. As you consider our request, it is critical that this plan be viewed as a package, not as a disparate set of menu options. We have identified six priority areas where state action is vital.

The list of seventeen bullet points contains a fun variety of items, some of which have even been criticized as being too similar to Senate Bill 5 that was repealed by voters last November.  Putting the anti-union items aside, there are a couple of demands that have not been written about that really stand out to us for their potentially dramatic effect on Ohio’s schools, even if not ultimately adopted.

  • Provide CMSD the same waivers and exemptions provided to charter schools.

This is my personal favorite.  The heads of Cleveland Schools, two men who lobbied to put performance pay back in the budget last year, are specifically pointing out to Governor Kasich that in order for them to turn around the Cleveland Schools they MUST be able to tap into the same freedoms that charter schools are given as they experiment with innovative programs.  This is the very first item on the list of “critical” and “vital” options.  The mere inclusion of such an explicit request should raise red flags in all charter schools that have been claiming they have tighter restrictions than public districts.  Further, in the unlikely event that this request would be granted to Cleveland, expect that every school in Ohio demands the same waivers and exemptions that are afforded Ohio’s charter schools.

  • Close loopholes in existing law that allow bad charters to close and re-open under different sponsorship and ensure bad schools are closed permanently, including prohibiting transfer to the Ohio Department of Education for continued operation.

Loopholes?  With charter schools?  Who knew?  Another fascinating item on this list of vital demands manages to hurl insults at the legislature’s actions around Ohio’s charter school operations.  Mayor Jackson calls out the legislators for leaving loopholes (plural) that prevent them from permanently closing failing charters in Cleveland.  For good measure, he throws in the recently re-enacted process of pushing charters on to the under-resourced ODE for sponsorship.  Even though the last time ODE was put in the position of charter school sponsor it ended in disaster, this time it could be worse.  According to StateImpact’s Molly Bloom, “…the rules made by Ohio lawmakers don’t necessarily set the department up for success.”  And while many of the items directly refer to CMSD by name, this component is more generic in scope, meaning that it could have far-reaching implications for charter operations across the state.

So whether you live in the Cleveland School district or not, this is a story you should stay on top of.  The discussions and outcomes of this proposal could have a significant effect on all of Ohio’s charter school policies.

Said John Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols, “Right now our policy guys have the plan.  We’re looking at it and will ultimately discuss it with the legislature.”

What he means by “discuss” is anyone’s guess.