In July, after the state legislature passed a bill to change the process for Academic Distress Commissions, leading to a state takeover of the Youngstown City School District, Dick Ross told the State Board of Education that the plan was not his, was not led by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), and that “It came from Youngstown. I provided assistance.”
Recently released emails and documents from ODE show that Ross actually did substantially more than that, collaborating with Governor Kasich’s office on a plan to overtake Youngstown and being intimately involved in the crafting of plans since (at least) September of 2014, including helping to create the Youngstown “kitchen cabinet” group that Ross says came to him.
“Ross says local leaders asked for his help and he gave it to them, without bringing it up to the board in Columbus. “I never considered this a Department of Ed initiative,” said Ross. “It was the (Youngstown City Schools Business) Cabinet led by Tom Humphries.” (September 15, 2015, WKBN)
Notes from a September 14, 2014, phone call including Ross and staff from Governor Kasich’s office show that Ross was involved in the process of forming that cabinet that supposedly then turned around and asked Ross for help. Notes from that phone call were edited and revised significantly in a span of days in order to “revise” the conversation that took place, but the first edition of those notes, and the email chain as they were passed around and edited, shows that while Youngstown Businessman Tom Humphries was involved, Dick Ross and Kasich staffers were clearly leading the initiative.
Here are the emails (attached notes to follow; click on a picture to enlarge). Note that while Humphries (Youngstown “business leader” submitted the initial notes, the revisions traveled through ODE employees and Kasich staffers before making it back to Humphries – evidence that Ross, ODE, and Kasich were leading this process:
Again, the initial notes from the call were written by Humphries, supposedly representing Youngstown leaders. Here is that first draft:
This phone call was not a part of the Youngstown “cabinet” that would be formed later, but involved only Humphries and State Rep Sean O’Brien (D) from the Youngstown Area (it was later reported that O’Brien was assigned by Kasich), three Kasich staffers, and Superintendent Ross.
Key notes from this first draft of the conversation include sections II and VII that discuss key pieces of the reform that became the revised House Bill 70 in June 2015 and signed onto law by Kasich in July. Herb Washington (referenced in the notes) later became one of the members of the Youngstown cabinet, and already was voicing his support for the “Youngstown Plan” to eliminate the school board and void union contracts.
Tom Humphries then submits heavily edited notes after an apparent phone call involving Dick Ross and Wayne Struble, the Governor’s Director of Policy (see 2nd email above):
The notes now include the notion of creating this “cabinet” that would include Ross as one of the initial members (as opposed to the cabinet coming to Ross and ODE for “help”). But even more contradictory to Ross’s claims about ODE’s superficial involvement in the plan is section IIIB, which clearly reads, “Ohio Department of Education will formulate a plan and prepare to implement it.”
Again, these notes, and that directive for ODE to formulate a plan, are before the cabinet of Youngstown leaders (including Ross) even existed.
The final two revised versions of these notes (below) that made their way back to Humphries further clarified the involvement of Ross and ODE from the outset of plan to takeover the Youngstown school district, all while Kasich was making “it clear that . . . Columbus will not dictate what should be done”.
These emails and documents, which all pre-date the creation of the Youngstown “cabinet” that supposedly drove the changes to House Bill 70 and the takeover of the Youngstown City School District make it clear that State Superintendent Dick Ross and Governor Kasich had already begun work on a plan and engaged in behind-the-scenes actions to cover up their plans. Furthermore, they then collaborated with Tom Humphries to create the “cabinet” of Youngstown leaders as a means of accomplishing their goal and shifting the “blame” for the takeover away from ODE and Kasich’s office, where the plans originated.
Will the State Board of Education take action against the outgoing Superintendent for his deceptive and dishonest reports about his role in this process or will he be allowed to quietly slip away?