Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith writes editorial against Cleveland schools property tax levy, says it hurts Cleveland taxpayers, lacks student- based outcomes, that unconstitutional school funding formula that hurts poor children should be fixed first, she wants mechanism to monitor educational outcomes


Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat representing Ohio's 21st legislative district

From the Metro Desk of Cleveland Urban News.Com and The Cleveland Urban News.Com Blog, Ohio's Most Read Online Black Newspaper (www.clevelandurbannews.com)

Guest Columnist: State Senator Shirley A. Smith (pictured), a Cleveland Democrat, represents Ohio's 21st District.
By Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith (D-21), Guest Columnist

CLEVELAND, Ohio -Clevelanders are now voting on Issue 107, a 15-mill levy for the Cleveland [Municipal] School District. Its fate will have huge repercussions for students and taxpayers. (Editor's note: The Cleveland schools are controlled by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson per state law and the schools 15- mill operating levy is on the Nov. 6 ballot for either approval or disapproval by Cleveland voters, a majority of whom are Black). 
I oppose the Cleveland plan for multiple reasons. It lacks student-based outcomes. It was sold with hyperbolic doomsday rhetoric. And it fails to address socioeconomic problems that obstruct learning. It will also add to higher water, sewer and garbage bills in 2013.
I oppose Issue 107 because money will not fix these problems. Ohio's school funding system is unconstitutional and exacerbates educational disparities because of property taxes. Increasing our taxes will not solve Ohio's problem.
Recent revelations by the state auditor and the state board of education add fuel to the fire.
First, they expose district administrators' failure to follow state law. Second, they show that "the right plan, right now" is, in reality, too late.
To understand why these points matter, consider what happened at the Statehouse in the last two weeks.
The auditor is investigating Ohio school districts for improperly withdrawing students for truancy. School attendance data are used by the Ohio Department of Education to rate school districts on a five-point scale, from excellent with distinction at the top to academic emergency on the bottom. Improper data manipulation can make a school district appear better than it really is. Withdrawals allow the district to discard students' test scores so they do not count toward the district's aggregate score.
Students who don't regularly attend school usually test poorly. Removing them from district averages inflates district scores.
The Plain Dealer investigated this issue in 2008 and found that "from 14 percent to 32 percent of the scores in grades four to 10 [for the Cleveland School District] were eliminated in 2007."
Recently, the Columbus Dispatch inquired about the "scrubbing" of attendance records in Columbus Public Schools.
The auditor then seized the issue. He does not expect to finish the investigation until the end of the year, but he released an interim report on Oct. 4. It found that Cleveland schools administrators were incapable of locating all files and records. They were scattered among 109 schools, and many original documents were discarded. This practice flies in the face of state law requiring districts to keep these records for five years.
Nonetheless, this "scrubbing" problem has deep roots. Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Eugene Sanders, former Cleveland schools CEOs who began in 1998 and 2006, respectively, had different approaches. Byrd-Bennett included most scores as part of a holistic philosophy to consider all children, resulting in an Academic Watch ranking in 2006. Sanders did not share this viewpoint. The district advanced to continuous improvement in 2007 because he scrubbed more scores, though it dipped in later years.
The Ohio Board of Education voted on Oct. 9 to release the full set of data used for creating districts' academic ratings, but also to delay the official report cards. Normally, they would be available by now.
These data show that Cleveland schools earned Academic Emergency, and that over the last four years it has not met standards for Adequate Yearly Progress, another metric for learning. Accordingly, state law requires that a five-member Academic Distress Commission be appointed to improve the district's performance. The commission will have broad statutory powers to that end.
Youngstown is the only district in Ohio history to have a commission. Cleveland will be the second.However, the commission will not be appointed until after the official ratings are released. That won't happen until the auditor finishes investigating.
So, regardless of whether the levy passes, we will see a state-appointed commission take the helm of Cleveland schools as soon as January.
The commission's existence will complicate the duties of the district's board of education and the transformation alliance, created by the Cleveland plan legislation. Children are failing in the classroom, and administrators are sleeping in the backroom.
We need a different plan, jointly conceived by parents and professionals, to usher in an era of academics and accountability. The Cleveland plan was not and will not, and it will be implemented by administrators who haven't even been keeping track of our children.
Cleveland's growing mountain of reform plans leaves us knowing this: Regardless of CEOs, academic ratings or how test scores are counted, too many children are not learning.
Contact Ohio Senator Shirley A. Smith (D-21): Senate Building 1, Capitol Square, Ground Floor Columbus, OH 43215.(614) 466-4857. Email Senator Smith

Reach Cleveland Urban News.Com by telephone at 216-659-0473 and by email at editor@clevelandurbannews.com.