The Cleveland Schools plan is certainly pushing the limits of Ohio’s law surrounding the operation of public school districts, but we’ve uncovered a part of the proposed changes that would appear to violate a law specifically written for the Cleveland Schools back in 1997.

That law, originally House Bill 269, authorized the mayor of a municipal school district to appoint the members of the school board for a district under a federal court order (i.e., Cleveland) and created seven completely new sections of Ohio Revised Code that pertained specifically to the municipal school district.  One section in particular, ORC 3311.75, places some stipulations around the management of the budget of the municipal school board appointed by the mayor:

(A) A board of education appointed by the mayor pursuant to division (B) or (F) of section 3311.71 of the Revised Code shall have no right, title, or interest in the funds or property of any municipal corporation. The budgets of the municipal school district and the municipal corporation shall be estimated, planned, and financed separately. At no time shall any funds of the school district and the municipal corporation be commingled in any manner and all school district funds and accounts shall be maintained and accounted for totally independently of any funds and accounts of the municipal corporation.

A necessary clarification before going forward — the use of the word “corporation” is not meant to imply a business, but rather the city or region under the mayor’s authority.

So while we may disagree with the creation of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA) that will be created as a part of the legislation, its status as a non-profit corporation whose directors are appointed by Mayor Jackson doesn’t specifically appear to violate the law.  The way the CTA will operate, however, at the very least calls into question the commingling of budgets.

First, you need to know that this idea of a municipal school district transformation alliance is a new idea for Ohio law.

Second, you need to know that Mayor Jackson will hand-pick the board of directors and serve as the chairperson of the non-profit board (as stated in the bill):

The mayor shall appoint the initial directors of any alliance created under this section. The directors of the alliance shall include representatives of all of the following:
(1) The municipal school district;
(2) Partnering community schools;
(3) Members of the community at large, including parents and educators;
(4) The business community, including business leaders & foundation leaders.
No one group … shall comprise a majority of the directors. The mayor shall be an ex officio director, and serve as the chairperson of the board of directors, of any alliance created under this section.

So initially the mayor’s extreme authority over both the school district and this new alliance gave us pause, but what about the budgets?  The primary (stated) role of this new CTA is to have complete authority over all charter schools within the district boundaries.  Here are some excerpts from the bill:

  • Before the governing authority of a community school enters into a contract with a sponsor, the governing authority shall request and receive approval from the alliance to establish the community school.
  • Before a person, group of individuals, or entity applies to the department of education for authorization to establish a community school, the person, group, or entity shall request and receive approval from the alliance to establish the community school.
  • Each person or group of individuals that enters into a preliminary agreement for a community school that is subject to this division immediately shall file a copy of the agreement, and each amendment or supplement to the agreement, with the alliance.
  • The governing authority of each community school that is subject to this division immediately shall file a copy of the contract it enters into, and each amendment or supplement to the contract, with the alliance.
  • The alliance, in consultation with the department of education, shall establish objective criteria to be used in determining approval of community schools under this section and shall make the criteria available to community schools requesting approval under this section.

Through this legislation, Mayor Jackson has gained control over the entire Cleveland Public School district and charter schools within the district, giving him control over all of the city of Cleveland as well as all of the public schools.  His decisions about budgetary items on all fronts now have a direct impact on one another.  In fact, this bill contains one additional item that places even greater fiscal control in the Mayor’s hands – the choice to divert local property tax dollars into the coffers of the charter schools.  Again, from the bill:

The levy of a tax for the current expenses of a qualifying community school … and the distribution of proceeds from the tax by a municipal school district to qualifying community schools is hereby determined to be a proper public purpose.

And with the property tax funding affected by the city’s economy, the school district’s budget impacted by the property tax funding, the charter school funding impacted by the school board’s decisions, and all three budgets impacted by the decisions and influence of one man, Mayor Frank Jackson, how are we not to be concerned?

Maybe it’s not against the law in Ohio, but it definitely seems worth questioning as to why a single individual would be given such dominion over a city and school district (and the new CTA) that he has demonstrated no ability to turn around in his more than six years in charge.

“Here, you’ve done so poorly at managing these two massive projects that we’ve decided to give you a promotion and greater jurisdiction.”