Gov John Kasich Poised to Sign Cleveland Reform Bill

Ohio Governor John Kasich is poised to sign into law a bill that will overhaul the teacher tenure and seniority rules for the Cleveland school district. Among the changes will be those requested by education leaders and the Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson that will not only give the district leadership more flexibility in how to fund schools, but would also allow the city to change the rules when it comes to deciding which teachers stay and which teachers go during lean budget times.

One of the provisions considered particularly revolutionary, which was opposed by the city’s teachers’ union, would allow district leaders to make tenure and seniority secondary in their layoff decisions. This is particularly vital at the time when Cleveland schools are suffering chronic funding shortages and teacher layoff decisions are therefore more critical. The change will allow the district to hold on to exceptionally well-performing teachers and those specializing in difficult-to-replace subjects such as math and science, even if they don’t have enough years of service behind them.

The bill will also serve as a boon to Cleveland school choice advocates, as it allows more freedom in allocating money for district’s charter schools. Now, some of the funds collected via property taxes could be spent on selected charters, in order to increase the educational choices offered to local families. The city and the district will also have a voice in determining which charter organizations will be allowed to operate within its borders.

School district CEO Eric Gordon said the changes give the district tools to help carry out the transformation blueprint it rolled out in 2010 to boost the number of high-performing schools in the city and eliminate low-performers. But the district has to use those tools, Gordon said, adding that the cooperation between the district, city, legislators, charter schools and the city’s businesses and foundations must continue.

“When the governor signs this bill, that can’t be the conclusion of this collaborative effort,” Gordon said. “It’s just the beginning.”

Although it’s been less than six months since Jackson first proposed the whole reform package, negotiations over its contents have been going on much longer than that. Before making the bill public, Jackson sought cooperation and support from several Cleveland civic organizations interested in school reform, including the Chamber of Commerce and the George Gund Foundation which has donated millions to education projects in the city.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership was key to providing the funding to shepherd the proposals through the legislative and judicial gauntlet, spending over $100,000 on the effort over the past year. The group’s president Joe Roman said that he was especially glad to see the changes in the seniority rules, something the GCP has been campaigning for, for over two years.

Jackson has made education issues a priority in the last few years, creating a partnership with local colleges to help more Cleveland students finish school and graduate. He also started a summer school for incoming high school students.
Since Gordon became schools CEO last summer, Jackson has repeatedly asked him what changes he needed to make the schools work, Gordon said.