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Cleveland Municipal School District: Transformation Plan

June 12, 2012

  • Plain Dealer: Ohio legislature approves Cleveland’s school plan.

June 6, 2012

  • AP: Cleveland Teachers Union rejects fact finder’s proposal that would have reduced the $19 million CMSD budget deficit (not $65 million as reported earlier) by $13 million.

May 25, 2012

  • Plain Dealer: Mayor Jackson and Gov. Kasich are announcing the school plan at 3:55 pm.
  • WTAM: agreement reached
  • WKYC: A deal is in place for the Ohio legislature to approve the Transformation Plan in June.

May 24, 2012

No vote was taken. Next opportunity for a vote is in June. Sen. Nina Turner told the Plain Dealer: “Even if the education proposal is passed in June, the time lost to organize the levy campaign will be problematic.” Mayor Jackson had wanted a “yes” or “no” vote today. He said that Ohio representatives will have to explain why they did not support the bill, which only applied to the Cleveland Municipal School District.

On May 1, 2012, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, accompanied by Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon and Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, advocated for their comprehensive school-reform plan embodied in the 191-page House Bill 595; the Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Ohio Senators Peggy Lehner and Nina Turner.

The Legislative Service commission bill analysis provides additional information about the major provisions of the proposed legislation, especially in relation to existing state law. Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools adopts the “portfolio model” that has been used in New York, Baltimore, and other cities. Four elements of the portfolio model are: growing high performing district and charter schools, while quickly fixing/closing/replacing failing schools; streamlining central administration, while transferring autonomy and resources to high-performing schools; creating the Cleveland Transformation Alliance to ensure accountability for all municipal and charter schools in Cleveland; and investing in “high-leverage system reforms across all schools from preschool to college and career.” Governor Kasich is “praying and begging” for people to support for the plan and has offered to lobby legislators “door-to-door” on its behalf. The legislation will only apply CMSD, which was previously the only municipal school district that has ever been taken over by the state (prior to mayoral control of the CMSD school board taken in 1999, and affirmed by 70% of voters in Nov., 2002). (Bill Analysis, pp.47-48)

More recently, Mayor Jackson agreed to tweak the plan to address concerns of charter school operators. Pending the requested legislative changes, CMSD seems poised to work with effective charter schools, while tripling the number of students in high-performing schools after six years. (Briefing Document, Feb. 6, 2012, p. 10) Mayor Jackson notes that he has a vested interest in fixing CMSD quickly, since his grandchildren attend the schools. The Cleveland business community also needs better educated students. Currently, although the CMSD high school graduation rate has improved from a shocking 45% to about 55%, only 7% of CMSD graduates go on to obtain a college degree. (Another issue that CMSD hopes to address more quickly through greater awareness and information distribution is the fact that some of the best-performing CMSD schools had openings during the past school year.)

The CMSD Transformation Plan needs three changes to go into effect: state policy changes (through the aforementioned proposed legislation); a financial stability plan; and a fresh start in labor-management agreements. (Briefing Document, p. 9) Financial stability is the elephant (more accurately perhaps a herd of them) in the room. Mayor Jackson will try to get a levy passed if the Ohio legislature passes his plan. If the levy is not passed, the $65 million deficit CMSD faces will be a formidable obstacle that may put it into academic receivership and financial bankruptcy. Thus, the Teachers Union had some incentive to agree to elements in the Transformation Plan that take into account not just tenure, but also teacher evaluations when layoffs (and returns) occur, as well as shorter teacher contracts. Some argue that the “fresh labor start” from the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) echoes the fight over Senate Bill 5. Mayor Jackson argues that changes in the CBA are needed to give CMSD the flexibility to rework shift resources and accountability to higher performing school, while quickly fixing or closing failing schools.

Ohio’s school funding process has been controversial for the last fifteen years. The Ohio Supreme Court found the state’s process of school funding (using residual general Assembly funds supplemented by local (real property) tax revenues) to be unconstitutional in DeRolph v. State I-IV. Historically, Ohio has supported public education via the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Article VI, section 2 of the 1851 Ohio Constitution states that “The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state…” One of the Constitution’s drafters went further, arguing that Ohio’s public school system should be “as perfect as could be devised,” not just adequate. (School Funding in Ohio…, pp. 112-113).

In 1935, the “Foundation” system of school funding was established: local school districts were funded by a combination of state and local tax revenue. Two major problems with the Foundation system are that there is no objective criteria to determine the true cost of public education and that state funds for the school were the residuals (leftovers) after the General Assembly funded higher priorities. (Id,  p. 113) Through the 1950s and 1960s, the manufacturing prowess of Cleveland allowed for adequate funds for an effective CMSD. (The Rise and Fall of Cleveland, at p. 211) With the oil price shocks and the demise of major industry in Cleveland the city, by 1975, had high levels of population loss, poverty, violent crime, and municipal debt. (Id, pp. 211-212). Court-ordered busing (desegregation), outmigration to suburbs by almost all families that could, a teachers’ strike, and a financial crisis in the Cleveland Public Schools system from 1976-1979 led to “a virtually complete exodus” from Cleveland schools, with those remaining “asked to pay higher taxes for an educational benefit that was, by all accounts, severely declining in quality.” (Demography and Desegregation…, p. 498)

The recent financial and housing crises undoubtedly have impacted both state and local CMSD funding in recent years. Though the state is attempting to introduce an Evidence-Based Model (EBM) for school funding, there are concerns with that model. (School Funding in Ohio…) One bright spot is a fund for building new schools, which has helped enable CMSD to open 13 new schools in the past five years. (Transformation Plan, p.2) Nonetheless, the state budget does not have a lot of excess funding for education. Outmigration from Cleveland (and inner suburbs) continues, with a 17% population decline in Cleveland from 1980-2000 and “widespread population loss,” with the exception of parts of Downtown, in the 1990s. As most people are aware, the real estate market has been especially hard hit in recent years, decreasing the amount of locally-available real estate tax revenue for schools, especially in Cleveland. Within a mile from Case Western Reserve University, many houses (taxes on which presumably at one point helped fund CMSD) have been, or are in the process, of being demolished because they have been abandoned and are beyond repair. Another factor seldom raised, except by the occasional independent journalist, is that there are also, within a mile of CWRU, new townhouses ($300k+ per unit) that offer the new homeowners tax abatement.

Mayor’s Jackson’s plan also seeks to allow CMSD more flexibility in the control of its own real property. For example, CMSD may want to sell its downtown headquarters to developers. Equally importantly, CMSD seeks the ability to quickly divest itself of the facilities of any failed schools that it decides to close — perhaps by selling or transferring the property to charter schools. While Mayor Jackson recently has  addressed some of the charter schools’ concerns, the extent of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s proposed oversight over such schools is still delaying the legislation, days before the legislature’s typical summer recess would begin.

Whatever happens with Mayor Jackson’s plan, it is hard to argue against putting the school children’s needs first and the fact that our region needs an effective CMSD that can produce graduates who are capable of becoming productive citizens, employees, and entrepreneurs in an increasingly globalized world.