Legislative haste leads to legal questions years after Youngstown Plan

Lawmakers say public contracts and taxpayer funds not protected with current CEO structure
 
YOUNGSTOWN— State Reps. John Boccieri (D-Poland) and Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) today expressed regret that, in the legislative haste to adopt the Youngstown Plan, important checks and balances for taxpayers were likely left out. Their comments come after today’s Vindicator reported that Youngstown’s CEO Krish Mohip was a paid consultant for a company that conducted public business with the school district.
 
The so-called ‘Youngstown Plan,’ enacted under House Bill 70 in 2015, created a state takeover of the Youngstown School District and required the appointment of a CEO to run all public schools. The law also all-but dissolved the publicly elected school board charged with holding a district’s superintendent accountable for abiding by state law and proper use of taxpayer dollars.
 
Boccieri and Lepore-Hagan remain concerned that this Republican-led initiative to privatize local schools out of Columbus did not give enough thought to how taxpayers might maintain accountability for the CEO, who makes every decision for the district - from approving agreements with private vendors to writing lesson plans for students. They argue the bill did not put strong enough protections in place to protect public contracts or taxpayer dollars from abuse.
 
“Legal opinions and the Distress Commission suggest the CEO has carte-blanche authority to do whatever it takes to fix our schools, but the question that needs to be answered is ‘does that include personal enrichment’?” Rep. Lepore-Hagan said. “It was clear to me from day one when this plan was thrust onto taxpayers that there were no appropriate safeguards enacted to protect public contracts or public dollars from misuse.”

“This news demands a thorough look at the plan again,” Boccieri added. “The state would not let any of the six hundred superintendents receive a paycheck from a vendor they were using taxpayer dollars to purchase services from – there are just no clear boundaries in this case.”
 
Since the Distress Commission does not have clear guidance on this matter, the legislators plan to ask the Ohio Ethics Commission to review this situation and determine if any relevant ethics rules need to be tightened. If the answer is yes, the legislators plan to introduce legislation to make the corrections promptly. A similar state takeover is underway in the Lorain School District and any ethics rule changes would affect that district as well.