Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education conducts last business meeting prior to governor’s order to close the schools
(Plain Press, April 2020) At the February 25th 2020 Cleveland Board of Education business meeting, it was business as usual, there was no indication that in only a few short weeks Governor Mike DeWine would order all Ohio schools to close due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic.
At the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) Board of Education meeting held at Halle School, CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon urged all Clevelanders to complete their census form. Gordon said, “Cleveland is one of the most undercounted cities for children.” Gordon said the district would be encouraging every teacher to encourage their students to remind their families of the importance of filling out the census. The message, he said, should be: “It pays to be counted. It is safe. It is easy. It drives funding, and the creation of congressional districts.”
Gordon said the best way to keep a census worker from coming to your door is to complete it. “It is important to work hard to get everyone counted,” said Gordon. He noted examples of populations need to be counted that have been undercounted in the past such as immigrants and refugees. He said, “Families with a cousin sleeping on the couch, you need to count that cousin.”
Following his remarks about the census, Gordon announce a first for the CMSD, a successful Esports tournament held at John Marshall High School on February 12th. He praised students from the Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts for designing First, Second and Third place 3D printed trophies for the tournament.
Gordon noted the extraordinary accomplishment of the Joseph Gallagher Chess Team as being the first middle school chess team to defeat all the high school teams in the Legends Tournament.
Following CEO Eric Gordon’s remarks, members of the public were allowed to address the Board of Education for up to three minutes.
Gene Tracy, a retired CMSD teacher and advocate for Cleveland’s children, spoke on several topics. Tracy took a moment to pay tribute to the late Norma Freeman. He noted the decade long effort by Norma and Don Freeman to get the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to live up to the promise it had made when the school construction bond issue was passed to have CMSD construction program graduates receive jobs on CMSD construction projects.
Tracy noted the decline of the number of students CMSD is serving and the exodus of students to charter schools. He said CMSD is contributing to this exodus by investing valuable resources in school buildings before they were either closed or turned over to charter schools.
Tracy, who has been a regular presence at school board meetings for years, missed two meetings prior to the February meeting. Tracy hinted that his health is on the decline when bringing up an issue he has consistently placed before the Board of Education for years. In many meetings over the years Tracy has advocated for the Board of Education to advocate for the restoration of $1 million per year to the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Plan (CEAP). He has noted that students participating in extracurricular programs had higher school attendance rates and performed better academically than their peers. For years Tracy has noted the promise made when the Cleveland Brown’s Stadium was built that the Cleveland Schools would be made whole for the tax abatement the stadium received to the tune of $2 million per year. Special parking and admissions taxes were put in place to provide funds for this as well as for stadium maintenance. While in the first few years after the stadium was built, the Cleveland schools were receiving $2 per year for after school programs from the funds, in 2009 the City of Cleveland reduced that amount to about $1 million per year – diverting the remainder of the funds to the stadium. For the past decade, the afterschool programs have received only $1 million per year. Tracy has repeatedly asked CEO Eric Gordon and the Board of Education to refuse to sign off on this program each year until the funds are restored. Tracy said restoration of funds to these after school programs would help stem the tide of students leaving for charter schools. He referenced his own poor health, saying, “Will you give me a commitment tonight, so I can rest in peace?” The Board of Education members did not offer any public commitment to Tracy’s request.
Don Freeman said his analysis and perception was that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District was primarily focusing on Say Yes Schools and the Say Yes to Education program that would ultimately be in all schools, while not giving comprable attention to the district’s poor performing schools— the former investment schools – now called redesign schools. Freeman said, “It is not sufficient to just concentrate on Say Yes. Most students in CMSD never attend college.” Freeman urged the Board of Education to work to “improve performance at poorly preforming schools so more students can graduate with a diploma that is worth more than the paper it is printed on.”
An eighth-grade student from Campus International School presented the Board of Education with a plan to reduce plastic waste at her school by using reusable plastic cafeteria trays rather than Styrofoam trays, and using reusable utensils, rather than utensils wrapped in plastic packages.
Plain Press Managing Editor Chuck Hoven relayed to the Board of Education concerns of Plain Press readers about pollution caused idling cars when parents and caregivers come to pick up students after school. Hoven noted that Halle School, the site of the School Board Meeting was one of the schools where neighbors were registering complaints about idling. Hoven read into the public record information the Northeast Ohio Area Wide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) “Don’t Idle Campaign” sent to the Plain Press after inquiries about anti-idling programs.
A resident of Camden Avenue, living across from Halle School, also testified as to how “noxious and disgusting it is having a row of cars idling in front of your house.”
A parent complained that her child was made to wait outside in thirty-degree weather rather than wait in the school building when the parent was running late in her effort to pick her child up from school.