Proposed School Amendment Galvanizes Opponents In Columbus
A possible take-over of the Columbus City Schools has galvanized opposition. A group called the Ohio Organizing Collaborative says it will lobby, protest, and possibly litigate to keep a school board elected by district voters. "No takeover of our schools, No takeover of our schools. (Group Chant) In the basement of the Broad Street Presbyterian church, about 50 people joined the chant lead by Sam Gresham, former head of the Columbus Urban League and now spokesman for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. The group fears that an Ohio House budget amendment, if passed into law, will lead to a state take-over of Columbus City Schools and the disenfranchisement of district voters. The proposed amendment, introduced by two lawmakers from Lancaster and Grove City, allows the state superintendent and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman to appoint a five member commission to replace the seven member elected school board. "As citizens of the city of Columbus, these are our school system. The elected officials are responsible to us. Do we let another system supercede our direct elections of our public officials." Gresham says. Any possible take-over of the district hinges on a finding by the state auditor that the district officials "knowingly manipulated student data........ ".... with the evidence of the intent, let me write that word, to deceive " Says Gresham. State Auditor Dave Yost is investigating alleged manipulation of student attendance and test data in the district. But has not given a release date for his report. The legislation allowing for what's known as an "Academic Distress Commission" surfaces just as a commission appointed by Mayor Coleman readies recommendations for improving schools in Columbus. But, commission member Lolita Augenstein said last night that neither she nor any other commission member was aware of the proposed legislation allowing a takeover of district leadership. "No, the first time I heard about the amendment was like at 2:30 today. Somebody told me that it was in the paper. So,as far as the education commission we have no idea about this. This is our first time hearing about this just like the public." Says Augenstein. And, Augenstein says she'll report what she heard at the collaborative's meeting back to the education commission. "The thing that, out of this group, I feel like they're missing that there are things that need to be changed. Nothing about taking over the school is even on the table. So, I'm confused of what that is about, but, you know. " Says Augenstein. Gresham counters that Columbus is among the best urban school districts in the country with 12 nationally recognized schools and some model programs at the middle and high school level that he says are being copied in other districts. But, he says the Ohio House could vote yet this week on the amendment allowing a district take-over. "And we've been told it's a slam dunk. It's a slam dunk that they're going to pass this piece of legislation. The legislation was put forth by two people outside the city of Columbus. They're not from the city of Columbus Now, you know, a duck is a duck when it looks like a duck it looks like it's coming." Gresham says. Gresham says the Organizing Coalition will try to stop the measure in the state senate. The group also plans a rally in front of City Hall in early May.