Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cleveland School Plan an Achievement of Compromise- Rep Jim Buchy

Guest Column from State Representative Jim Buchy

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s proposal to reform the Cleveland City School District has received a lot of attention in the Ohio House over the past several weeks. I am encouraged that it has not only been an area of extensive discussion, but also an item of bipartisan cooperation and agreement. A pair of jointly sponsored bills recently has been introduced before the Ohio House and Senate with this cooperation in mind, which has been inspired by a compromise from Mayor Jackson and the Cleveland Teachers’ Union.

Throughout this process, I advocated for the Cleveland Teachers’ Union to get involved. In order to enact appropriate reform, it is important to have all sides present and willing to cooperate. Therefore, I was happy to hear that Mayor Jackson and the Cleveland Teachers’ Union had come together and reached an agreement on legislation. This cooperation has extended to the legislature, as the new proposal has a long list of support on both sides.

In recent years, the Cleveland Teachers’ Union has been collaborating with the school district to increase professionalism and teacher performance. Their support of this bill is a continuation of that work. Over the past few months, I have worked closely with the President of the Cleveland Teachers’ Union and become familiar with strategies they have put into place to increase rewards for high quality teachers. Their work was limited by laws that needed updating and the State Legislature is prepared to work in a bi-partisan manner to make those changes.

Among other changes in the new version includes the ability for the school district to quickly intervene in low-performing schools and states that teachers even at these low performing schools will be assessed on merit and their qualities will determine their future not an arbitrary rule that says all teachers in a low performing school will be fired. Another feature of the agreement establishes a performance pay model based on a variety of factors, such as specialized training and experience. Furthermore, teachers will be assigned to fill positions using input from principals, teachers and parents, rather than the current seniority based system.

Regarding school layoffs, decisions will be made based on teacher evaluations and quality. Tenure and seniority will still be considered, but only as a tie-breaker. Finally, under the agreement the school district will have management control of decisions that affect the school’s spending.

It is important to note that this legislation will only affect the Cleveland City School District, which is the only district in the state operated by the mayor. While obviously not all of Ohio’s school districts are set up the same, I feel strongly about the Cleveland plan and believe it can be used as a benchmark down the road for other districts seeking to make changes. I will be a co-sponsor of this important piece of legislation.

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