Reflections by Steve Cawthon

Lorain Academic Distress Commission Member/Teacher

04 July 2019

-

The joys of the 4th of July holiday in America is an experience that is truly special and meaningful as it has helped to provide a context of our nation's birth while at the same time enjoying time with family and friends, having the tradition cookout and fireworks show. This year something even more significant and symbolic as a teacher in Ohio exists, breaking away from the tyranny of HB 70 and allowing for local districts to regain their ability to have a true say in the direction of their futures. So at a time when Americans celebrate our nation's independence from Great Britain, there are unique parallels to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence as Ohio pushes for public schools to gain their independence from state overs.

My perspective is very unique for sure, I am Steve Cawthon, I am the only member serving on the Academic Distress Commission as well as a classroom teacher and parent in Lorain City SchoolDistrict. I believe it is my responsibility to express the concerns of those in the trenches and the community of Lorain. As a proud educator in Lorain City Schools since 1991 and a parent of a Lorain City Schools graduate, it pains me to see what is happening in Lorain and across Ohio. Our students, parents, staff and community members all have been affected by the usurpation of power under HB70.

First off let me be very clear, I am strongly opposed to HB 70, Academic Distress Commissions and the CEO state take over model. I am in support of legislation such as HB 154 that will return local control to districts and allowing for much needed wraparound services and true collaboration between communities and the state of Ohio.

As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence which was ratified on July 4, 1776:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Jefferson’s thoughts as well as the many patriots back in 1776 are eerily applicable in 2019. Today we find ourselves questioning the State of Ohio, and in question the implementation of the “Acts“ under HB70 that has led to the undemocratic and flawed state takeover model. Let’s examine the historical context of HB 70. Originally a bill that was geared towards providing wrap around services and assistance for districts that were facing academic struggles and needed a boost. It then somehow turned into a state takeover bill, hurriedly passed in June of 2015, HB 70 at its core, is a disturbing and un-American bill that went against the basic principles established by our Founding Fathers as the cornerstone of our democracy. The phrase “no taxation, without representation” is once again a pointed argument against those who have concocted this state takeover as Lorain’s local tax dollars are being used without true local oversight as the elected board of education and the people of the community have little say or role in the decision making in its own school district. Essentially, HB 70 disenfranchised the citizens of Lorain and all Ohioans. In the likes of eminent domain, the state has seized the property and its buildings in the three school districts that these communities purchased with their hard earned tax dollars. The community can not use these buildings without the approval of the State’s ADC appointed CEO.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence is a moving collection of words that were intended to sway Americans to invest in the amazing cause of independence and self determination.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (Ohioans) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, (state takeovers of public schools) it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments (school boards) long established should not be changed for light and transient causes(standardized test scores and erroneous report cards); and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism (CEO absolute power over operational, managerial and financial decisions in such a cruel and oppressive way), it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

What a powerful and predictive statement by Jefferson as his message seems rather clear that government should exist through the power of the people that they represent.

Jefferson was also strategic in the writing of the Declaration of Independence as he wanted to spell out to the masses the essential reasons for the American colonies making a break from the British crown. In fact, Jefferson listed the 27 grievances that he believed were reasons for humankind (all school districts in the state) to fight against tyranny and injustice. As one peruses the Declaration of Independence some striking points leap out that can apply to state takeovers.

Many of the grievances listed by Jefferson deal with creating an oppressive authority instead of a representative government, creating a situation where the colonists did not have the ability to have self-rule and a condition where the colonies felt abandoned and that war was being waged against them.

*He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

*He has forbidden his Governors (school boards) to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

*He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large (Urban School) districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

*He has called together legislative bodies (ADC Commissions) at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

*He has dissolved Representative Houses (building leadership teams) repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

*He has made Judges (Chiefs-administrators) dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, & the amount and payment of their salaries.

*He has erected a multitude of New Offices (administrative positions), sent hither swarms of Officers (chiefs) to harass our people (teachers), & eat out their substance (take away teaching and support services).

*He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

*He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

*He has combined with others (out of state chiefs and Teach For America mercenaries) to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution (contract), and unacknowledged by our laws (teaching pedagogy); giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation (rules):

*For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

*For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: (walking teachers out of the classroom without reason)

*suspending our own Legislatures (board of education), & declaring themselves (ADC) invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

*He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

*He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns (budget and student programs), and destroyed the lives of our people.

Under HB70, the leadership of the CEO and his chosen administrative team have been guilty of numerous detrimental points of concern that have occurred in Lorain to our students and community, these could looked upon in the same light as Jefferson did with King George’s grievances. These include:

*Problematic Standards Based Grading Implementation

*District Shared SLO (shared attribution) that heavily goes against the ODE recommendations.

*Poor Restorative Justice Implementation for discipline

*Lack of transparency

*Inability to work with the board of education and local elected officials

*grievances at an all time high as there was a failure to follow contracts

*Numerous Curriculum issues

*Reduction in Supports and Services

*Consistent Negative Feedback in surveys

*Financial Concerns/Spending

*Levy Concern: Loss of $3 mil per year & $21 mil over the next 7 if renewal is not passed.

*Lorain High Teachers reapply (fired) for their jobs fiasco in February 2019

*End of the year non-renewal of teachers who were building reps

*Email sent to only three members of the ADC but excluded the two members who have been critical of him.

*Some unqualified & inexperienced administration who have failed to build trust and improve morale.

*Inaccurately reporting teacher attendance so that it appeared as if they did not report to school at a high %.

*Public records request responsibility taken away from the treasurer and is now the responsibility of ??

*Publicly displaying a slanderous email from an unknown individual about the Lorain athletic department that simply was false. A report by the Athletic Director debunked the fabricated accusations.

* In recent Senate testimony the CEO made accusations of corruption of the Board of Education and the

Mayor and made the disturbing quote, “hundreds of kids who were exploited because they can dribble a ball better than open a book.”

I know there is some question regarding components of new legislation to repeal and replace HB70 and the idea it “basically turns the solution back to people who have “driven the bus into the ditch.” My response to those charges would be that first of all public education needs to be funded properly which the Ohio Supreme Court ruled as such many years ago. Assist local districts with the issues that they face instead of trying to punish them for them, fix the flawed state report card and standardized testing model that has been proven to be very defective and to allow local control which is key component to American democracy. The bottom line is to stop perpetuating a misleading narrative. The reality is that in America, if a community is unhappy with its elected officials or a board of education, VOTE THEM OUT! It’s the democratic way and has been for 243 years.

Furthermore, there is an awareness that Lorain City Schools has had its challenges over the years, but those shortcomings were being addressed in the spirit of cooperation prior to the arrival of HB 70. The story that nothing was being done is simply false. For example, under then Superintendent Jeff Graham, Lorain City Schools was working with the Ohio Department of Education in a collaborative fashion which included helping to introduce and improve wrap around services, advance community involvement, and improve curriculum alignment just to name a few. Lorain City Schools ranked in the top 3% of public school districts in Ohio for overall value-added in 2014/15 LCS and moved from 214-18. Students displayed significant academic growth even under trying circumstances faced in the community.

To quote Public Education Partners when referring to HB70, the law is:

*Undemocratic: because it takes away the power from locally elected school boards.

*Unaccountable: because it gives one person, the CEO total control over every facet of the schools.

*Unacceptable: because its reliance on test scores in underfunded schools disproportionately impacts minority families in low-income communities.

It is important to remember, when the environment of the locker room changes to such a degree that the leader is no longer a positive change agent for the good of the team and the trust in the locker room is lost, it is time to move on, as I mentioned in my statements of March 19 at the ADC meeting, until positive change occurs, chaos will ensue in our community. As turmoil continues in Lorain, students, teachers and administrators are leaving Lorain City Schools at a disturbing rate. With the loss of each student, the district is also losing state funding as well. Couple that with the lack of the passage of a levy in the fall and Lorain will begin the path down the road of a financial crisis.

In addition, Lorain has a dysfunctional Academic Distress Commission where the first chair of the ADC resigned abruptly and another member also resigned and without an evaluation of the CEO. The ODE then appointed an ADC Chair that lives in Columbus which is over 2 hours away from Lorain while he operates a “Lorain ADC Twitter Account” without the approval of all its members. Another state appointed member lives in Toledo and the other state appointed member is often disconnected from what goes on in Lorain. The Academic Distress Commission model is simply flawed and “out of touch and out of time” as the situation has created many challenges and issues.

In fact, Paolo DeMaria Ohio State Superintendent has commented publicly regarding HB 70, that is has “too much hostility and too many “challenges” to work well.” He went on to say “by having the state impose itself on districts, instead of working with them to bring change, too much acrimony is created.” Amen Mr. DeMaria.

The time has come to end this relationship with HB70 and create a collaborative new direction for Lorain and all of Ohio as we move forward with local stakeholders and the ODE as partners in this endeavor to make educating the students of Ohio truly a key priority. This also means not replacing HB 70 with another state over model with a new name that will invite charters, big money and individuals who are not experienced in the field of education to attempt to use their “magic potion” to fix things.

As Thomas Jefferson articulately stated:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

What should we do to heal the wounds of HB70?

I will call it “A Common Sense” approach to creating positive change with the state and the local districts:

*Local Control and Checks and Balances need to be reinstituted with the democratic principles of our nation. Lorain citizens and taxpayers demand this. Have a true collaborative approach with the state and the locals working together. That is the only way to improve the situation that districts across the state find themselves in. Hostile takeovers haven’t worked.

*Build Trust as new leadership is needed for LCS. The lack of experience, credentials and professional leadership skills have hurt our students and has fostered a sense of low morale throughout the district.

*Wrap Around Services: hire more social workers, counselors, medical professionals and individuals that can help our students.

*Smaller Class Sizes: to deal with the dynamic needs of our students.

*Safety/Discipline: Students have not been giving the proper structure and consistency in the school environment. The increase in violence/misbehavior/disrespect has been alarming.

*Curriculum: Needs to be evaluated, the lack of cohesion, pacing, consistency, materials and resources have contributed to major issues across LCS.

*Restructure the State Testing Model: It is dysfunctional and needs to be altered to improve the student’s educational experience in Ohio’s schools.

*The State Helping Support local school districts instead of punishing them.

These Common Sense ideas along with “The Lorain Plan” which was submitted by the BOE at the State Board of Education Meeting would be a start to a positive academic renaissance in Lorain and all of Ohio and of course there is the language of HB 154 that was overwhelmingly passed by the House. All would be solutions that would help propel Ohio’s public schools forward and away from a detrimental system of state takeovers.

It is my professional opinion as a long time and experienced educator that the Senate include language from HB 154 in the budget bill and that this body vote to end HB 70 and support effective legislation that will restore collaboration for public education in Ohio. Our schools should have a fair and impartial opportunity to allow their unique social and economic realities to shape the structures that will allow their districts to prosper. Remember that school districts are communities, and the time for community takeovers has passed. Let us work together to make our public education experience a model for the rest of our great nation to follow. With that Ohio needs to return local control to the districts, which is part of the fiber of the American ideology that our Founding Fathers so cherished, fix the flawed state report card/testing model, properly fund public education and “collaborate” with communities to improve our schools. The State School Board unanimously passed a resolution against HB 70 & the House has already voiced their thoughts on the issue with the overwhelming passage of HB 154. I ask this body along with Governor DeWine to be on the right side of history and stand with us on public education in Ohio and leave a lasting legacy that all Ohioans can be proud of and not leave us with another “American Tragedy.”

As Jefferson concluded in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence:

That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States

Now in 2019 it is time for the political leaders of Ohio to embrace the backbone of a Founding Father and absolve state takeovers in Ohio and return the ideals of common sense, local control and American democratic rule to school districts all over the Buckeye state.

Thank you for your time

Steve Cawthon

Lorain Academic Distress Commission Member/Teacher

-

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.