Why Hasn’t the Ohio Department of Education Shut Down Cleveland’s Schools?
Under Ohio law, a charter school that is in academic emergency or has certain failing grades on its report card can be permanently closed after just a few years. Charter schools can also be closed for fiscal issues and violations of state law. And many charters, even otherwise promising schools, are shut down every year.
But the State of Ohio never, ever shuts down failed public school districts. Let’s take a look at one of the biggest and the worst, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
According to their latest Ohio School Report Card, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is an abject failure in every category possible. Achievement – F. Gap Closing – F. K-3 Literacy – F. Progress – F. Graduation Rate – F. Prepared for Success – F.
And we reported not long ago Cleveland’s graduation rate is at risk of even dropping lower. In fact, the district projects it could even fall as low as 50%.
Poor performance is nothing new for Cleveland’s schools. Previous report cards have ranked them anywhere from the 5th lowest of Ohio’s over 600 districts down to the 2nd lowest in years 2011-2013.
Fiscally, they are a taxpayer’s nightmare. According to the report card, Cleveland had total enrollment of 39,125 students. At the same time, they spent a total of $830,036,957.00 in local, state, and federal funds. Broken out, that’s just over $21,000 per student.
In 1998, the district had more than 73,000 students. In 2006, enrollment had dropped to under 58,000 and as noted above it is now nearly 20,000 students lower.
And just 64.1% of their operating dollars actually got spent in the classroom. That was good for a rank of 12 out of 14 in districts of over 10,000 students in Ohio.
And get this. Since 1998, Cleveland’s schools have operated under a special governance structure created by the Ohio General Assembly. This structure was created because a federal judge had ordered a state takeover of the school district after the district had run up a huge deficit and had refused to desegregate. Here’s its description:
The Board of Education is made up of nine voting members appointed by the Mayor of Cleveland from a slate of nominees selected by a local nominating panel, established under State law. At least four of the nine members must have significant expertise in either education, finance, or business management. Board members must be residents of the School District, and at least one of the nine members must reside in that part of the School District that is outside the City of Cleveland (Bratenahl, Linndale, Newburgh Heights, and parts of Brook Park and Garfield Heights).
State law also provides that the presidents of Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College serve as nonvoting ex officio members of the Board.
So where is all of this money going? Salaries, and big ones.
According to the Treasurer of State’s Office, the district’s CEO, Eric Gordon, was paid $239,200 for the 260 days he worked for the 2015-2016 school year. A review of the district data reveals another four individuals that made over $200,000 per year for the school district and over one hundred individuals that made over $100,000 per year for the school district.
The district’s in-house general counsel, Wayne Belock, was paid $178,500 for his 260 days of work during the 2015-2016 school year. Their in-house lobbyist, Michele Pomerantz, was paid $91,800 per year for her 260 days of work for the district.
The district also budgeted nearly $4 million for the provision of outside legal counsel and other professional services. Presumably that helped pay their outside lawyer/lobbyists at Squire Patton Boggs.
Squire Patton Boggs was also paid over $700,000 by the district in 2016 to investigate the failure to obtain over $8.5 million in e-rate refunds. The law firm concluded that not much could be done to collect these funds. But they still kept their legal fees, billed out at a whopping $550 per hour.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is certainly not a stranger to scandal and wasted taxpayer dollars. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO from 1998 until 2006, recently pled guilty and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for helping steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms in exchange for approximately $2.3 million in kickbacks while working as the CEO of Chicago’s Public Schools.
While in Cleveland, Byrd-Bennett was frequently criticized for her lavish spending and financial scandals. In 2004, the State Auditor’s recommended that the district better monitor her travel and meal expenses which were being paid for by a private foundation and used for expensive hotels, first class flights, and meals at fancy restaurants.
The simple fact is that if the Cleveland Metropolitan School District was a charter school, they would have been closed down years ago. Instead, their money and political power allows them to trudge along, with taxpayers and students holding the bag.