An Ohio lawmaker passed laws to revive state law that a federal judge ruled unconstitutional and that Hills and Dales residents tried unsuccessfully to evacuate the Plain Local School District.
Cincinnati area Republican Tom Brinkman Jr. introduced House Bill 117, which would make it easier for certain residents to leave their assigned school district and move to an adjacent district. He wants the legislation introduced last month to be approved as an emergency measure so that the changes take effect immediately.
No hearing was scheduled for the Ohio House primary and secondary school committee as of Wednesday.
House Bill 117 almost mirrors the School District Area Transfer Act – Ohio Revised Code 3311.242 – which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional in September. U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson ruled that state lawmakers violated the one-subject rule of the Ohio Constitution by adding 2,600 pages of the provision of land transfer to the state’s two-year state budget.
More about the transfer law:Federal judges sides with Plain Local strike the state school transfer law
Watson wrote in his ruling, issued after nearly a year of legal proceedings, that the land transfer legislation should not be included in the budget because it had no legitimate relationship with the state budget and because it was controversial enough and substantial enough prior to the passage of a particular one Justify examination by the legislature. Watson’s decision did not speak for the merits of the Territory Transfer Act and left open the possibility that the state legislature could choose a separate transfer act.
Plain Local Schools commenced federal lawsuits in November 2019 to repeal the land transfer law after residents and homeowners of Hills and Dales, Irondale Circle NE in North Canton, used Ohio’s revised code 3311.242 to submit an application to leave the school district with around 6,000 students. Hills and Dales residents tried to switch to Jackson Local Schools. Irondale residents who live north of the Hoover Community Recreation Complex were planning to move to the North Canton City school district.
In the federal lawsuit, Plain Local and two students, identified only by their initials, argued that the Territory Transfer Act violated Plain students’ rights to equal protection, due process, and access to equal education. They also said the law could increase racial segregation.
Watson’s decision halted transfers for Hills and Dales and Irondale, as well as four other territorial transfers in Wood County. There were also two land transfer applications that were being prosecuted in Sandusky and Hocking counties. The transfers are now under review by the Ohio Department of Education and the State Schools Board, which rejected Hills and Dales’ transfer application in 2004 because it was not in the best interests of the students.
In November, state lawmakers, including Brinkman, approved Senate Law 89, which contains a provision repealing Ohio’s revised Code 3311.242 effective September 1, 2021.
Jim Kelly, director of the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s Office of Research and Drafting, said while the transfer bill may stay on the books until September 1, it has no authority based on the judge’s decision.
Much like the Early Transfer Act, House Bill 117 creates a separate method for residents of townships, villages, and towns that contain more than one school district to change their home school district. Essentially, only one petition from residents is required to request the transfer and majority approval for a ballot of the same residents. School districts and the state education authority have no authority to stop the broadcast under the proposed law.
Brinkman, who has worked at Ohio House for about 15 years, said he was reintroducing the school land transfer issue that he added to the household bill two years ago because of the dozen homeowners in the Cincinnati area that he covered Had the legislation drawn up it didn’t understand a chance to benefit from it.
“I was the one who introduced the amendment (to the draft budget in 2019),” Brinkman said. “It was for a specific area around the Cincinnati City School District. … I don’t care about plain local. I will never go to plain local. I will never be in plain local. I don’t even know where Plain Local is. My intention is to take care of my district because all politics are ultimately local and reside in my local district. ”
More about the transfer law:How the School Area Transfer Act was inserted, removed and reinserted into the budget
Brinkman, who added that he had not discussed either of the two laws with a Stark County legislature, said Columbia Township residents filed papers to quit Cincinnati public schools, but the school board declined to petition forward the electoral authority.
“They were stonewalled and in the meantime the plain matter (federal lawsuit) was pending and the judge ruled the whole matter was unconstitutional,” Brinkman said.
He said he understands that public school districts don’t want to lose land because then they lose property tax revenues.
“My feeling is ‘let my people go,'” said Brinkman. “If you want to go, you should be able to go.”
He said his goal is to correct some of the inconsistencies in school boundaries that have emerged over time as neighborhoods have changed. Denying claims that the legislation will lead to chaos, he notes that only a handful of territories took advantage of the Territory Transfer Act prior to the judge’s decision.
“There won’t be an avalanche of people walking,” he said. “It only gives an opportunity to people who have this pent up (urge to leave) because things have changed in their area.”
House Bill 117 would add villages and towns with more than one school district as eligible areas to be transferred. Brinkman said he extended eligibility because he was approached by a neighborhood in the Indian Hill village of Hamilton County trying to return to their original school district. He does not believe that many other towns and villages would be eligible under the definition of the law. Hundreds of townships contain more than one school district and would be eligible under the proposed law.
Though not yet set out in legislation, Brinkman plans to include a language that will allow residents to submit their transfer request directly to the county electoral board if the local school board does not respond to their petition within 30 days.
He also intends to add a sunset clause so that the new law will only go into effect long enough for residents to receive their transfer issues at the next election.
“It’s not supposed to be something where people can say, ‘You better treat me right or I’ll go.’ It will not be an ultimatum like a weapon constantly pointed at the school board, “Brinkman said.” It is for a short time to let the unhappy people looking for relief get off and then close the window. … It should not be a lifetime free card with which one can be released from prison. “
When asked if residents like those in Hills and Dales and Irondale needed to start over, Brinkman said he needed to consult with his colleagues to see what could be done legally.
School principals were against it
Ordinary local superintendent Brent May hopes lawmakers understand how House Bill 117 can negatively transform Ohio’s educational landscape.
“This proposal is a problem for Ohio and all public school children,” May said. “If approved, residents of towns, villages, and parishes can change their school district at any time. This creates chaos and uncertainty for the districts to budget and plan each year as the boundary lines can / will change at any time. If it existed, all makeup and equal access to public education in Ohio for every child would be at risk. “
Some national education associations have already expressed their intention to oppose the legislation.
William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Justice and Fairness of School Funding, wrote that House Bill 117 “must be stopped” because it would allow for a major shift in territory between school districts.
The Ohio Association of School Business Officials plans to testify against the bill at their first opportunity and strongly encourage school districts to join them in testifying against the bill.
Hills and Dales village mayor Mark J. Samolczyk said Monday he was unaware of the proposed legislation and declined to comment on it until he and the council reviewed it.
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House bill 117
Under House Bill 117, residents living in townships, towns, or villages with more than one school district could use a new method of changing their home school district.
The legislation states that:
- The petitioners must initially receive at least 10% of the voters residing in the area to be transferred. A minimum number of inhabitants that make up the area to be transferred is not specified and can be small as an individual.
- Petitioners submit their proposal to their current school board, which must then submit the proposal and a map with the boundaries of the area to be transferred to the state education board. The school board must also confirm the proposal to the district electoral authority in order to put the topic on the ballot paper.
- Only the residents of the area to be transferred have the opportunity to vote on whether the transfer should be approved. Other school district residents who either gain or lose territory will not be included in the vote.
- If a majority of voters within the area approve the transfer, the school board that wins the area and governing body of the municipality, village, or city where the residents live must begin negotiations on the terms of the transfer. While negotiation is required, a formal agreement on the transfer process is not.
- The governing body of the community, the village or the city as well as the school authorities of both school districts are obliged to distribute the funds and debt fairly between the districts.
- The state education agency is not involved unless it remembers the transfer after it is approved by voters.