Compromise with Union Clears Way for Cleveland Education Overhaul

Published April 19, 2012

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has reached a compromise with the Cleveland Teachers Union on his sweeping education plan to reorient the troubled district around school and teacher performance.

To get CTU support, Jackson scrapped a plan provision requiring the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and labor unions to renegotiate without carrying over terms from previous contracts. The measure was intended to increase collective bargaining flexibility in a district that had the second most restrictive contracts of the nation’s 50 largest school districts according to a 2008 Fordham Institute study.

“[Jackson and the CTU] didn’t completely renegotiate the contracts, but they removed many of the major impediments to reform,” said Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering). Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon “felt he had the tools he’s going to need to move forward,” Lehner said.

The Ohio Senate and House of Representatives will likely vote this week on the Democratic mayor’s legislation, which Republican Gov. John Kasich supports.

High Costs, Poor Performance
More than 30,000 students have left the school district in the last decade. The district currently has 44,362 students. 

Eighth-grade students in Cleveland have average National Assessment of Educational Progress scores of 240 in reading and 256 in mathematics; the national averages are 264 and 286, respectively.

Fifty-five percent of Cleveland schools fail to meet the state’s minimum academic requirements, according to a report prepared by the mayor’s office.

The abysmal performance of CMSD schools isn’t for lack of funding. Total CMSD expenditures stretched well above $900 million, or $11,619 per pupil. That’s $1,800 more than the per-pupil public school average in Ohio and nearly $1,500 more than the national public average.

CMSD also faces a $65 million deficit in 2012-2013—more than 10 percent of its current operating budget—and an estimated $40 million deficit in 2013-2014, according to the mayor’s report.

Accountability Provisions
Under Jackson’s plan, performance will outweigh tenure in teacher layoff decisions. Schools will be accountable for performance standards, and the most successful—Transformation Schools— rewarded with the most autonomy. Gordon will have the power to fire ineffective teachers. 

Each year, the CMSD will target the 10-15 percent worst schools, which will likely face closure and student reassignment or a change of hands to a charter operator. Learning time in all schools will be increased on a year-round calendar, with Transformation Schools allowed to adjust the calendar according to their needs.

“So many of our children lose so much over the summer months. I am thrilled from an academic perspective about that,” said state Sen. Nina Turner (D-Cleveland).

The reform emphasizes public schools’ cooperation with high-performing charter schools. Among other things, charters will be allowed to receive money from a proposed levy the public will vote on this November.

“We have to stop looking at [whether] they’re from a parochial school, charter school, or traditional school,” Turner said. “We should be sharing money, as far as I’m concerned.”

Giving charter schools equal funding and access to school levies is rare across the nation and so far nonexistent in Ohio, said Terry Ryan, a vice-president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Bipartisan Bills in Legislature
Jackson’s plan has earned bipartisan support, introduced as Senate Bill 325 by Senators Turner and Lehner and House Bill 506 by Reps. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) and Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster). 

The bipartisanship has been a welcome change after Ohio’s tumultuous battle over education reform last year concerning Senate Bill 5, which limited collective bargaining and was overturned by a voter referendum.

With CTU’s support and the promising results other school districts have had with similar “portfolio plans,” legislators hope to pass the bill quickly, Lehner said.

“The superintendent is anxious to start addressing many issues in the schools themselves” she said. “People need to see changes taking place, or they won’t believe quality is going to improve.”

Reforms will start long before the levy comes up for vote, which Lehner said will require some large but temporary cuts in funding.

“Those things they can do without spending money, they’re going to do,” she said.


Learn more: 
Cleveland Schools reorganization plan:

Image by Patrick Giblin.