YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – A meeting between local leaders and lawmakers has been canceled after a Youngstown pastor questioned why the meeting was being held “in secret.”
According to Rev. Kenneth Simon, chairman of the Community Leadership Coalition on Education, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss House Bill 154 — a bill that’s designed to “dissolve academic distress commissions and to instead require improvement plans for certain low-performing school buildings.”
HB 154 aims to repeal and replace House Bill 70, the law that led to the state takeover of the Youngstown City School District.
Simon believes it was to be held in secret to put an imprint on HB 154, even though local lawmakers said it was not.
“I think we’re going back to square one where House Bill 70 started in the first place. It started with secret meetings,” Simon said.
Simon questioned why the meeting — which was originally scheduled for Saturday morning — was being held at a time when the Ohio General Assembly is finalizing changes to HB 154 and is on break for the holidays.
State Sen. Sean O’Brien and Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan confirmed that they were supposed to attend the meeting.
“Unfortunately, I had a passing, a friend of the family, and Sen. Rulli with his shops couldn’t be there. So without the Senate there [they] decided just to reschedule,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said among other things, they were going to discuss the capital budget and undergo a workshop to talk about how other struggling districts in the country — similar to the Youngstown City School District — partnered with local universities to help turn them around.
“This was absolutely, categorically not a secret meeting. Everybody knew about it. It was planned weeks before,” O’Brien said.
“Everybody didn’t know about it. You ask anyone [in] the community, did they know about this?” Simon asked.
Rep. Don Manning was also set to attend the meeting. He is the co-sponsor of HB 154.
“I find it funny that some people are making it like this is some sort of secret meeting and it’s not. It’s what we call an IP meeting or an ‘interested party’ meeting,” Manning said.
“Why didn’t you invite some community stakeholders that have something to do with our district? Why don’t you invite some parents, some educators? Why don’t you invite some community leaders?” Simon asked.
“We need to do this right this time and we need to involve the community and we need to talk. It cannot be top down, it cannot be dictated to us from Columbus,” Lepore-Hagan said.
Simon said Youngtown State University President Jim Tressel was also expected to attend. It was even going to be held at his house, the YSU Pollock House.
The meeting may be rescheduled.