Chief Cel Rivera of the Lorain Police Department provided
proponent testimony, emotionally sharing his perspective on the struggles
Lorain schools and the city itself have faced in recent years and since the
implementation of an Academic Distress Commission (ADC). Rivera got part way
through his testimony before he was asked to withhold his comments by Chair Lehner,
who said that he and others would receive other opportunities to share their
testimony on both this and other legislation dealing with ADCs.
Rivera said that Lorain schools had undergone the stress of
multiple changes in leadership and many years of social and economic downturn
that lead the school into the situation it was in. While he felt morale in the
city and schools was being restored, the ADC "changed everything
overnight," insinuating that the process to select the new CEO who would
run the school system was "tainted." Ensuing problems at the school
included an "authoritarian style of leadership," a lack of
communication and accountability and an exodus of administrators and teachers.
He said that the state accountability system for schools further does not
encourage improvement in students.
Vice Chair Lou Terhar asked if he felt the Lorain school
board and superintendent did everything they could do prevent the ADC from
taking control. Rivera said that he felt the right people were in place who
could have made the right moves to sustain the school, but factors including
changes in leadership and changes in social factors like flight to the
surrounding suburbs have made it very difficult. Terhar then asked if, had
these individuals been in place three years ago, Lorain could have avoided the
ADC. Rivera said he didn't think so, saying it'll take a generation or more for
true change. He said that too much was working against the district at the time
to make it possible.
Sen. Manning asked how the morale in the city and district has
changed over the years. Rivera said that Lorain used to be an excellent,
innovative school district that produced many notable alumni. He said the city
has only started to improve morale since decline of industry in the 1980s.
Rivera told Sen. Fedor that the current CEO, without
specifically naming David Hardy, has not been an effective leader, and was not
holding conversations with the community. He noted the ADC has failed to meet
for months at a time and does not discuss instruction or curriculum when it
does. Fedor asked him if there is currently a clear path away from
receivership. Rivera said he did not believe it would improve given the current
state of things.
Sen. Sykes said that they must look at results data to see
whether improvements are actually taking place at the district and told Rivera
that "this would not be the last swipe at this."
Next, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenaur provided proponent
testimony, explaining that he initially sat out of the debates and controversy
surrounding the ADC at Lorain until he saw the failure of leadership under the
new CEO. He said the fatal flaw of 130-HB70 (Driehaus-Brenner) was that it ceded
too much local control away. He said the bill, which would allow the mayor to
make more appointments to the ADC to the point that it can have a majority
local control, is a step in the right direction toward improving the conditions
at Lorain and other districts under ADC control.
Sen. Brenner and Manning thanked him for the testimony, the
former noting that there may be language related to the ADC in the biennial
Fedor asked Ritenaur how the business community is responding
to the current situation. He said that the ADC is the issue number one for the
business community and said that the situation has made it difficult to attract
businesses and residents to Lorain, especially those people with families
looking for a school district for their kids. Fedor again asked if there was a
clear path forward for the district. Ritenaur said there was not, given the
current leadership. He said he feels the district is losing local leaders who
were committed to the district the longer the ADC goes on.
Sykes asked if the local school board should instead be
permitted to appoint more members to the ADC. Ritenaur said that may be one way
of going about the ultimate goal of reestablishing local control. He emphasized
the need for the district to get a levy on the upcoming ballot in order to
avoid further fiscal strife.
Lehner recommended Ritenaur look at the language in the
current proposed biennial budget. Ritenaur said that he felt the proposal there
gave too much discretion to the ODE.