Over the past two days, we’ve revealed how emails and documents released by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) directly link outgoing State Superintendent Dick Ross to the creation of a Youngstown Cabinet that worked to enact a takeover of the Youngstown City Schools via the hijacking of House Bill 70.
The Youngstown Cabinet intentionally kept their membership a secret while Ross and ODE crafted the plans. Not until after the bill was swiftly passed (in a single day) did they finally reveal their existence. Minutes from the April and May meetings were released months ago that showed the existence of the committee, but until we received the emails last week, no one knew how long that committee had been working, nor the extent to which it was a secret committee with the exception of a comment by Dick Ross in the May 21 minutes “reminding everyone that confidentiality amongst the cabinet is essential until the plan begins to take place.”
While that revelation was shocking in itself, additional documents show that the committee had been discussing their need to keep things a secret both before and after that meeting and had been asking questions about the legality of their work.
First, a reminder of what Dick Ross told the state school board:
He said he did not tell the school board because it was not his proposal. He said he was given written ideas from the group there, offered advice, but is not sure who had the legal language for the bill amendment written.
“It came from Youngstown,” Ross told the board, adding: “I provided assistance.” (Plain Dealer, July 20, 2015)
Our articles from the last two days clearly show that to be untrue, as Ross co-created the committee from the beginning in conjunction with members from John Kasich’s staff.
We’ll start at the end of the story with the minutes from the June 30, 2015 meeting, which occurred six days after House Bill 70 was passed by the Ohio General Assembly:
There are a few things about these brief minutes of interest, but first notice the very last line that we’ve highlighted for you. This, for the first time, is when the members agreed to having their names released. After working as a group for nine months secretly planning this last-minute takeover of the school district, and after the bill has already been hijacked and passed without public input, the group finally agrees to having their names recognized.
That line confirms earlier questions of whether the group intentionally kept their meetings secret or if it just “never came up”. It came up early and often, in fact, and we’ll get to that later.
These minutes also reveal some other disturbing items. Remember how Dick Ross said the committee came to him with ideas and he just helped them out? Look at the questions that were asked by the committee members after the plan was already put into place.
- Judge Douglas asked a question about the role and authority of the Board of Education Members.
- Bishop Murry asked a question about the Union contracts.
- Dr. Meeks asked a question about the role of the current Superintendent.
- Mr. Washington asked a question about the transition and inclusion of the community with moving forward.
- Bishop Murry asked about what is going to be happening within the next few weeks/months.
These are fairly important pieces of the overall plan, yet key members of this small cabinet had to ask about this? Weren’t we told that the plan was their idea?
As we mentioned earlier, the question of secrecy came up early on in the planning sessions as well as questions about the actual role of this cabinet and the legal nature of their work.
It was asked about during the cabinet’s January meeting where they decided that the cabinet would stand alone to avoid any oversight (#8 below):
Item number 9 on the minutes asked Buddy Harris, ODE Policy Analyst to “clarify” that they weren’t violating laws, implying that the question had come up before (it had).
At the December 16 meeting, though it is not listed in the minutes, a follow-up email shows that it was an open action item for Buddy Harris, from ODE, to research:
Notice also that the committee had begun discussions about when the would announce their existence to the public (item #6). This was continually put off time and time again (but that’s another article in itself). Below are the December 16, 2014 minutes:
As it turns out, and referenced in the January meeting minutes above, the cabinet decided to delay the announcement of their existence.
Also in December, the committee decided to move their meeting out of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber conference room and over to Pollock House, Jim Tressel’s university-owned residence on the Youngstown State campus:
The cabinet would plan to meet at Tressel’s university-owned residence again on February 23rd.
At that February meeting, the committee once again received guidance from Buddy Harris, and once again decided to delay any announcement of their existence.
The April meeting again (we found no evidence of a March meeting) occurred at the Tressel residence and once again included Buddy Harris from ODE addressing the state’s guidance of moving forward with the cabinet.
It was at this April meeting that the cabinet also talked about the need to ramp up their work in order to effect legislative change (highlighted below).
This meeting was also one of the first times we see the cabinet members openly talk about planning for push back and opposition to “the plan” (#12 & 13), though whatever the plan was had not yet been fully revealed. That would come at the May 21 meeting – the now infamous meeting where Dick Ross tells the committee to keep things confidential.
The fact that Ross told directed the committee in such a way has been criticized already, but considering that he also has stated that he simply provided help is further damaged by the fact that not only did Ross present his (ODE-created) plan in May, he actually convened this next meeting of the cabinet:
Again, the exact quote from the email reads [emphasis-added]:
The Superintendent wants to discuss the plan from the state and keep everyone “up-to-date” as far as what is going to be taking place in the next couple of weeks.
And yet Ross still claimed that it is neither his or ODE’s plan. If you’re still skeptical, take a look at the next two emails. First, from Nick Santucci who has by this time assumed a leadership role on the cabinet, and next from Tom Humphries, the Youngstown businessman who helped Ross form the cabinet in the first place. Both men clearly acknowledge both the power of Ross to call the cabinet together (Humphries notes that the cabinet was not going to meet for another few weeks) and the fact that the plan he is going to share is “being formed in Columbus”.
Ross is clearly running the show at this point. For you astute readers, you may have noticed the discrepancy between the meeting being scheduled for May 20, yet the minutes being for May 21. That’s explained in the next two emails.
The meeting was hastily rescheduled for May 21 at what had now become “the usual place”, Tressel’s university-owned residence. And as Tom Humphries writes in his email, Dr. Ross is coming up to not only share his plan, but to give the cabinet “an update on the status of legislation.”
State Superintendent Dick Ross was not an innocent bystander nor just an aide serving at the pleasure of this cabinet. We now have proof that Ross created the cabinet, was working on the Youngstown takeover plan, and was now involved in the discussion on legislative changes.
Tomorrow, we’ll detail Ross’s plans for Youngstown and share just how long he and his staff at ODE had been working on them…