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COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – An announcement Friday afternoon from State Representatives Sandra Williams (D- Cleveland) and Ron Amstutz (R- Wooster) soliciting co-sponsors for a bill they say will be introduced as early as next Wednesday to push Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Education Plan forward. The plan, which the Cleveland Teachers Union and others were wary of because it appeared to contain some of the same union busting provisions that voters rejected last November, now appears to have some buy-in from the union, even though the duo of lawmakers said serious differences on other issues remain.
“We need you to join us in efforts to lift up Cleveland students and those charged with guiding their education,” Williams and Amstutz said in their joint release today. “We are writing to ask you to step forward as co-sponsor of a bill we are introducing for legislation.”
For those that do become co-sponsors, Williams, a member of the Minority Caucus, and Amstutz, a Member of the Majority Caucus, said they will have access and, presumably, input to negotiations as the bill winds its way through the legislative process in the coming weeks.
Williams and Amstutz said they “committing to give co-sponsor members particular access to this process.”
“We are pleased to report that, after the announcement of our intent to introduce a bill as requested by Mayor Frank Jackson, the only mayor in Ohio heading a municipal school district, that productive discussions took place Monday with leaders of the Cleveland Teachers Union,” they said, adding, “We understand that commonality was achieved on a range of differences that the mayor’s team has sought to incorporate into a revised draft…We know that serious differences remain on a couple of issues…These will be the subject of further discussions this Tuesday between Mayor Jackson and the Cleveland Teachers Union…We are pleased that this progress has occurred, and that both parties appear to have conducted themselves in good faith.”
They said they are committed to “maintaining a strong, bi-partisan partnership in carrying this bill through its legislative journey” and “expect that additional progress will occur during legislative activity on this bill.” A similar bill will be introduced into the Ohio Senate, where a similar joint bi-partisans sponsorship is anticipated.
According to Jackson’s plan, the school year or school day could be expanded, teachers would abide by a merit-pay system, with layoffs based on teacher performance, make the shedding of poor teachers easier. The plan would also include demoting seniority to just another factor for layoffs instead of one that trumps other criteria. Continuing contracts would end for new teachers and be limited for teachers already in the system. In late March the Cleveland Teachers Union offered Jackson a counter-proposal.
At a state board of education meeting March 12, Ohio Gov. John Kasich offered his strong support for the Jackson plan. At the same meeting, Ohio Federation of Teachers officials hand-delivered a letter to each member of the state board from the union president Melissa Cropper.
In her letter, Cropper wrote that plan does nothing to benefit students and everything to attack teachers. “The plan lacks any data or methods proven to raise student achievement and should not be supported blindly,” she argued.
The main architect of the plan, Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Public Schools, said the plan is part of a broader strategy of district-wide reform known as the portfolio approach, which is being tried in several dozen big-city school districts. However, Gordon did acknowledge that “there is no empirical study that shows the portfolio strategy is the one strategy,” but that there is some evidence that some of the approaches in the Jackson plan have worked to raise test scores.
The research Gordon was referring to came from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a non-profit group that recently issued a report on a number of big city school districts trying reforms similar to those in Jackson’s plan, with specific reference to schools in Denver.
Another example that may bode well for the schools and teacher unions coming together is the Baltimore school district, which worked closely with its teacher union to rework teacher contracts, largely based on teacher evaluations and student test scores.
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