In the months leading up to the takeover of the Youngstown City Schools through the hijacking of House Bill 70, Governor Kasich, State Superintendent Dick Ross, and Youngstown Superintendent Connie Hathorn continually duped the public by claiming that solutions needed to “come from the community” while they worked in secret to create a puppet cabinet and the amended legislation.
Our station checked in with Youngstown City Schools to see if district leaders had heard from Kasich.
“Well I’m pretty sure that if the governor is going to do anything, he’s going to contact the school board first or the commission. I got to give him that much credit that I think he would do that,” said Youngstown Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn.
Hathorn said if that time comes, he will worry about it then.
[Representative-Elect Michele] Lepore-Hagan said the governor is in the process of putting together a committee to review Youngstown City Schools. Superintendent Hathorn said, just like the charter schools comment, he has not yet heard of such a committee. (WKBN, November 25, 2014)
The TRUTH: Youngstown Superintendent Hathorn had already been appointed to the Youngstown Cabinet formed by Kasich & Ross, and had already met with the group in October.
We don’t know what was said when Gov. John Kasich and state Rep.-elect Michele Lepore-Hagan had a brief private conversation about the academically challenged Youngstown City School District, but we do know this: The Republican governor will not push for a state takeover of the failing urban system unless the local community asks him to do so.
As Youngstown schools Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn, who has talked to the governor and to Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, about the district’s problems, correctly observed, if Kasich had any plans for a state takeover, he would undoubtedly alert local officials. He hasn’t done so.
Indeed, Kasich, who won re-election Nov. 4 by a landslide and led a sweep of the GOP in the statewide races, has been consistent in his opinion of what should be done to pull the system out of the academic cellar.
The governor expounded on that opinion in September during his endorsement meeting with members of The Vindicator’s editorial board and other editors and reporters.
If he were planning a major overhaul of the district (with the supposed goal of creating charter schools), he certainly would have share [sic] the information with this newspaper. After all, the governor sought our endorsement because he recognizes the important role we play in formulating public opinion. (The Youngstown Vindicator, Editorial, November 30, 2014)
The TRUTH: Again, Hathorn had already met with the Youngstown Cabinet, and the editorial board of the Youngstown Vindicator was strangely adamant that the governor would have shared any plans of a district overhaul with the newspaper (he didn’t share that he had already formed the cabinet).
October 31, 2014: Dick Ross approves the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission’s Recovery Plan, calling it “ambitious” and tells them “not to try to do everything at once”.
The TRUTH: Ross & Kasich had already formed the Youngstown Cabinet and had begun discussions about alternate plans for reforming the school district. At this time, Ross could have informed the members of the Academic Distress Commission of the secret cabinet and included them in on the discussions. Instead, Ross praised the commission’s work and encouraged them to continue on their current path in executing their recovery plan.
“My great concern is the schools here,” the governor told us, as he articulated his dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in the district.
He let it be known that he had asked state Rep. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-63rd, to engage the region’s business and community leaders in a discussion about the future of the city schools.
The governor wants the stakeholders to come up with options that would be discussed with state Superintendent Ross, a former chairman of the Youngstown School District Academic Distress Commission. Under state law, the commission is responsible for developing an academic recovery plan.
“Whatever that thing looks like, if it’s going to reform the schools we’ll do everything we can to help,” the governor said he told O’Brien.
There was nothing in the governor’s presentation that would lead anyone to conclude that a state takeover is imminent.
But Kasich remains adamant that the decision about the future of the troubled city school district rests with the stakeholders in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. (The Youngstown Vindicator, Editorial, November 30, 2014)
The TRUTH: Ross & Kasich had already formed the Youngstown Cabinet and had begun internal discussions about crafting a state plan for taking over the school district. Kasich did not reveal to the editorial board that the cabinet had been formed to begin working on a state-directed plan to takeover the district.
The governor, aware of the fractures within the district, asked Rep. O’Brien to bring together business, community and political leaders in the Valley to figure out how the district can be reorganized to ensure student success.
He has also talked to Humphries, a member of the Ohio Board of Regents and a long-time supporter of the governor’s, about the role business and industry can play.
But now, with Hathorn leaving, Kasich has no choice but to get directly involved in the selection of a new superintendent. He has been reluctant to use the authority of the governor’s office, but circumstances demand a change in his position. (The Youngstown Vindicator, Editorial, April 20, 2015)
The TRUTH: The secret Youngstown Cabinet had now been in place for seven months at this time and the nearly-final drafts of the state takeover plan were in the hands of Dick Ross and Kasich. The Governor still led the editorial board of the Vindicator to believe that his office would not play a role and that any change needed to come from the community first, downplaying the conversations that had taken place with O’Brien and, especially, Tom Humphries (the other architect of the secret Youngstown Cabinet in the previous September).
It was 10 months ago that I first met with a cabinet of prominent members of our community, all of whom possess a deep passion for our students and their opportunities for success. The likes of then-Eastern Gateway Community College President Laura Meeks, successful businessman Herb Washington, retired Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr., who has seen far too many Youngstown kids in front of his bench, and Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel were among the cabinet members. Others included Youngstown Catholic Diocese Bishop George Murray, then-Youngstown City Schools Superintendent Connie Hathorne, Regional Chamber Manager of Education and Workforce Development Nick Santucci, and myself.
Our state leaders, including Ohio’s Superintendent of Instruction Richard Ross and Gov. John Kasich, supported our effort. Eventually, the Ohio Senate Finance Committee used information gleaned from our meetings to carefully craft new rules, passed by the Ohio General Assembly, redefining academic distress commissions. We endorse those rules, contained in House Bill 70 which is set to become law in October. – Tom Humphries (The Business Journal, July 14, 2015)
The TRUTH: Tom Humphries claims that Ross and Kasich “supported” the efforts of the cabinet, neatly hiding the fact that the three of them hand-picked the cabinet at the outset and conspired to keep their work secret. He also claims that the Senate Finance Committee drafted the new rules from the committee meetings, omitting the key facts that Ross and his ODE staff crafted the plan, and the legislation came directly from Kasich’s office and was passed without advance notice to the public through the Senate’s Education Committee.
Mr. Kasich quickly signed the measure into law. His agenda was clear in November . He told Ms. Lepore-Hagan that a committee had been assembled to discuss the Youngstown problem but she couldn’t participate “because you’ll make it too political. You’ll muddy it all up.”
Instead, Mr. Kasich suggested she talk with state Rep. Sean O’Brien (D., Bazetta), the only lawmaker he would work with on Youngstown Schools. Ms. Lepore-Hagan informed the governor that Mr. O’Brien represents Warren Schools and that she was the elected official in the Youngstown district.
“The people who voted for me send their children to this school and I represent them, these kids,” she said. “It’s my neighborhood, my district.”
The incoming freshman, married to former longtime state Rep. Bob Hagan, said an angry Mr. Kasich abruptly ended the meeting. The lawmaker persisted. “Governor, my parents were both teachers in the Youngstown City Schools, and this is very important to me.”
He replied, “talk to Sean,” and left, she recounted. Ms. Lepore-Hagan asked Mr. O’Brien about the Youngstown group, but says he indicated he didn’t know anything about it. (The Toledo Blade, August 22, 2015)
The TRUTH: Rep. Sean O’Brien was on the original September 14, 2014, phone call that was the beginning of the formation of the Youngstown Cabinet.
[Jim] Tressel is denying the secrecy claims and said, “Minutes were taken at the meetings. You don’t take minutes when you’re doing secrets. It never felt to me like it was a secrecy thing.”
The meetings themselves were organized by Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber President Tom Humphries who said he formed the group after Governor Kasich asked him when the community would address the failing school district. (WFMJ, August 18, 2015)
The TRUTH: First, the entire cabinet repeatedly discussed when and how to reveal their existence to the public and did not collectively agree to release their names to the media until their June 30 meeting – after the legislation had already passed out of the General Assembly. Second, Humphries himself did not form the group at the request of Kasich, but formed it in collusion with Kasich staffers and Dick Ross.
[Tom] Humphries said Wednesday the governor was not involved in the plan. “He [Kasich] said, ‘You guys need to fix it. Columbus can’t fix it.’” (The Youngstown Vindicator, August 13, 2015)
The TRUTH: Based on the emails and documents we have released, the governor’s office was clearly involved in the creation of the cabinet, the eventual plan, and the legislative fix.
Ross told the [state school] board that a group of Youngstown leaders had been working on a plan as far back as eight to ten months ago to change the operations of that district’s “Academic Distress Commission.” That’s a state and city panel that steps in when a district is considered failing to turn it around.
Ross said he has wanted to change how those work since 2011, so he offered the group advice.
“I certainly support it,” Ross said. “It’s a good plan. It’s a needed plan.”
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.” (The Plain Dealer, July 20, 2015)
The Truth: State Superintendent Dick Ross and Governor John Kasich were the architects of the Youngstown Schools Takeover Plan and, with the help of Tom Humphries, they artfully created and manipulated the “Youngstown Cabinet of business leaders” to agree to work in secret and rubber-stamp their plan all the way through the legislature. Ross and Kasich staffers used the local cabinet members to work on contacting key local groups and try to present the plan as their own in order to avoid negative publicity when the legislation was finally revealed. Ross and those involved can no longer hide from these truths, and the cabinet members should be embarrassed at how they were used as nothing more than pawns by Kasich, Ross, and Humphries.
And then, after the secret plan was legislated, the cabinet members were asked for permission to reveal their names regarding their secretive, behind-the-scenes work:
But remember, this was “their plan”, so they would know all about it and be able to answer any and all questions…
The Truth: Even after House Bill 70 passed, the Cabinet still had no clue about the details of “their plan” and needed ODE to explain it to them over and over and over again.