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Lorain school board votes to put levy on November ballot -- for now

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    Lorain Schools treasurer Josh Hill, left, school board president Mark Ballard and school board member Yvonne Johnson attend an emergency school board meeting Thursday at Lorain High School.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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LORAIN — Voters will see a renewal levy on the ballot and the district will keep its treasurer, for now.

The Lorain Board of Education unanimously approved to put the $3.1 million renewal on the November ballot, with the understanding they will pull it if CEO David Hardy is still with the district as the early voting deadline approaches.

City Law Director Pat Riley and attorney Anthony Giardini agreed the school board would have the ability to pass a separate resolution to remove the issue from the ballot. Giardini, who serves as a Democratic member of the Board of Elections, said if the issue was removed after ballots were printed, the School Board would need to reimburse the Board of Elections for reprinting costs. He advised the absolute deadline for them to remove it would be the start of early voting, Oct. 8.

Board member Yvonne Johnson said she’s pushed for the levy since she got on the board, and has watched the community sour on it during her tenure.

“I kept saying it is about the students, it is not about politics,” she said. “That was the only focus I had, and it bothered me that I could see the community becoming very negative about the levy that didn’t cost them a dime that was going to help our students and I realized that our CEO was not going to stay here continuously.”

Board member Tim Williams disagreed, stating there is “never a levy that does not cost the taxpayer anything.”

“It’s about kids, yes, but it’s also about politics,” he said. “House Bill 70 was politics. This is about adults and how they spend their money and their expectations for how their money is spent. To throw off on it’s all about kids and kids need money, that doesn’t allow us to abuse the taxpayer by misspending their money.”

Interim Mayor Joe Koziura, who was invited to the meeting, said House Bill 70 is the worst piece of legislation he’s ever seen, with the end goal being turning the district into a charter school.

“If Mr. Hardy is still here when that date of election comes around, it might be questionable whether I’m going to run up and down the streets … to support it either. I really believe strongly that Columbus has to make a move.”

He added he hopes the state Supreme Court declares HB 70 unconstitutional. Youngstown Board of Education’s Supreme Court case against the Ohio Department of Education has oral arguments slated for Oct. 23. East Cleveland Board of Education’s case against the state is pending in Franklin County Court Nov. 4.

Board President Mark Ballard reaffirmed the board has no renewed confidence in the CEO by putting the levy on the ballot, but hopes change is coming.

“I am confident with the conversations I have had, from Columbus back to here and with the (Academic Distress Commission) that they will keep their word and give us the relief that we need from this CEO sooner than later,” he said.

ADC members Diane Conibear-Xander and Steve Cawthon share the board’s view of the CEO.

Conibear-Xander said, “I’ve had recent correspondence with Mr. Hardy and that I’ve let him know my stance that there would not be support of any contract renewal as well as it is in the best interest of the Lorain City Schools students and community at large that we sit down and talk about an immediate exit strategy, and I’d be willing to help him and help the commission and the board work collectively to see that that happens.”

After the meeting, ADC Chairman Randall Sampson said via phone that the commission has not formally addressed whether it will renew Hardy’s contract, which expires Aug. 8, 2020.

Treasurer

Giardini and Riley agreed Treasurer Josh Hill’s position is a statutory one, governed by a separate section of Ohio Revised Code. Giardini noted the treasurer position is not specifically mentioned in House Bill 70, which allowed for the state takeover of the district and hiring of CEO David Hardy.

Giardini said in their interpretation of the law, Hardy had no legal grounds to renegotiate Hill’s contract, which superseded the board’s. While the board’s original contract, valid July 1, 2016, expired July 31, they had the option to adopt the CEO’s agreement with Hill, which runs through July 31, 2021.

“We’ll be the first to admit that there may be a difference of opinion on that issue,” Giardini said.

The board unanimously voted to adopt the CEO-negotiated contract, which had increased Hill’s salary from $104,000 to $118,500 and altered some fringe benefits.

He said Hill could seek further legal counsel, or move toward litigation to fight to get out of the contract if he so desired, and advised further conversation be done in executive session.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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