12/15/2010 8:00:00 PMGov.-elect Kasich would have state take over Cleveland schools unless academic performance improves
John Kuntz / Plain Dealer file photo: Gov.-elect John Kasich said he will push for a state takeover of the district if evidence doesn't quickly emerge that proves that the district is improving its academic performance.
December 15, 2010, 7:52 PM
By Thomas Ott, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Gov.-elect John Kasich will give Cleveland school reform a chance to work but will push for a state takeover of the district if it fails.
Kasich has not drafted a specific proposal but said Wednesday that he favors putting a "special master" in control of school districts like Cleveland with chronically low graduation rates and test scores. He did not set a deadline for improvements but said he wouldn't wait four years, the length of an Ohio governor's term.
Kasich, a Republican, delivered the warning during a news conference at the Crowne Plaza Cleveland City Centre hotel.
He met earlier with Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive-elect Ed FitzGerald to discuss how he and the two Democrats could work together on local issues. Asked whether talk of the Cleveland schools' financial problems came up, Kasich instead targeted the district's academic struggles, including a 54 percent graduation rate.
"Look, I've been thinking about this for 30 years," said Kasich, who will take office in early January. "You cannot let kids sit in an environment where they are failing, where the system is failing them."
Contacted later for comment, Cleveland schools Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders did not respond directly to Kasich's comments.
Instead, Sanders predicted that the district's new "transformation plan" will make the point moot -- that's if his successor follows the blueprint. Sanders announced Sunday that he will retire Feb. 1, six months into the plan's execution.
"The district has a plan to improve," Sanders said. "We have confidence the strategies we are going to use are going to be effective."
Kasich also talked about getting rid of a state law that requires school districts to lay off teachers by seniority. In an interview after the news conference, the governor-elect indicated that the move could be part of a comprehensive education reform package.
Cleveland Foundation chief Ronn Richard, who accompanied Kasich, has made scrapping the "last hired, first fired" law his top priority for next year. The foundation has invested heavily in the district's specialty schools, and their handpicked staffs will be hit hard if continuing budget problems make layoffs necessary.
The Greater Cleveland Partnership has heeded Richard's call for help. The metropolitan-area chamber of commerce plans to assemble a statewide coalition devoted to rewriting Ohio's teacher seniority rules.
Kasich also said he would help Jackson and FitzGerald plan for state cuts that are certain to reduce operating budgets of cities and counties. The governor-elect has not detailed his plan to deal with a projected $8 billion state budget shortfall. But so-called local government funds are expected to be on the chopping block.
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of the budget. I don't have the revenue numbers yet," Kasich said.
Jackson said he asked Kasich for firm numbers by January so the city can plan. The mayor said he expects a cut of 15 percent to 20 percent of about $45 million in local-government funds the city receives every year.
"The reality is we know that it will happen, so the only question is how much," Jackson said. "As long as I know this and I can plan on it, then I will deal with it."
FitzGerald has said in several speeches since his election that state cuts will lead to county cuts.
"Both Mayor Jackson and I are getting ready for those cuts, and the sooner we know the magnitude of the cuts, the more rationally we can plan our budgets," he said.
Plain Dealer reporters Harlan Spector and Mark Naymik contributed to this story.