Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Eric Gordon, the chief executive of the Cleveland public school system, have offered a model of cooperation and tenacity in their effort to reform the school district. The only mayor in Ohio with responsibility for a public school system, Jackson and his team have performed an intricate courtship to bring aboard the diverse partners essential to improve the beleaguered district. With a compromise last week that resolved the last major sticking point, the framework of the Cleveland Plan has garnered the broad commitment without which the ambitious plan would be ineffective.
As legislators tried to complete work last week on outstanding bills before the summer break, some charter school advocates balked at Jackson’s proposal for a Transformation Alliance, a panel that would be appointed by the mayor and whose duties would include authorizing charter schools in the district. The advocates objected to an entity linked to a public district determining who would operate a charter school in the district. They were skeptical of the process by which charter schools would become partners with the district and eligible for a share of local tax revenues, another of the plan’s proposals.
The disagreement threatened to scuttle progress on the legislation, House Bill 525, to implement the plan. As he had previously, Jackson showed a willingness to accommodate opponents without losing sight of the structural changes he is seeking. In the deal, the mayor would appoint the Transformation Alliance, whose authority will expire in five years. Rather than authorize schools, the panel, along with the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, would review and recommend sponsors to the Ohio Department of Education, which would have the final say. The Cleveland school board would decide which charter schools to partner with and how to distribute the local revenues.
Jackson is pushing a plan that is necessarily bold and ambitious to rescue a struggling school system. The quality of the system’s products is a major contributor to the region’s economic imprint. It has helped that influential business and civic groups in the city backed the direction of the reform plan. If the mayor leveraged that support in negotiating major concessions with the Cleveland Teachers Union, the union’s leadership also proved an equally keen partner, working with him for change in the best interest of the district and its students.
Bipartisanship rarely has looked as good as it has with the Cleveland Plan, a Democratic mayor and legislators working side by side with House and Senate Republicans and Gov. John Kasich to ensure the legislation, when it finalized in June, gives Cleveland the flexibility to fix its school system.