COLUMBUS — Two bills in the House, one in the Senate, an extensive rewrite in the governor’s proposed two-year budget, an informal group of school administrators, and recommendations from the state superintendent.

One might get the impression that folks don’t like the state’s process for taking over chronically struggling schools very much.

Originally pitched as the “Youngstown plan,” House Bill 70, pushed by then-Gov. John Kasich, was proposed and passed in a single day in June 2015 with little discussion. Since then, East Cleveland and Lorain also have been taken over by academic distress commissions, while Dayton is scheduled to go next school year. Nine others, including Columbus Schools, could see a takeover in 2020.

Now, four years since its passage, it’s hard to find anyone defending the process, which applies to any district with three consecutive “F” grades on the state report card.

“I hate being right,” said Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who opposed House Bill 70. “You can’t just spring something on a community or district without any input from them and expect them to accept it. They want a seat at the table, which they deserve to have.”

Manning is now sponsoring Senate Bill 110, which would alter the takeover setup in Lorain Schools.

Under the system, struggling schools are run by a CEO appointed by a five-member academic distress commission, which includes three members appointed by the state superintendent. The CEO gets "complete operational, managerial and instructional control of the district," including the ability to cancel union contracts, close schools and replace them with privately run charter schools, and spend money.

Local elected school boards have little power beyond voting to put levies on the ballot.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer described to a Senate committee the mess in his school district since the distress commission and CEO took over nearly two years ago. He said the lack of local control is a “fatal flaw” and “Lorain has become the poster child for dysfunction under its implementation.”

“The earth has been scorched with the teachers, staff, and the community. This CEO has lost his voice and his ability to lead,” Ritenauer said.

Lawmakers directed Ohio Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to review the state takeover system and recommend changes. He reported recently that the current process leads to “tremendous resistance” from local communities and improvement work is not sufficiently supported.

Districts are not given enough time to improve, DeMaria said, and the focus “causes a district to find the easiest path to a higher overall report card grade,” rather than make systematic improvements.

As part of his two-year budget, Gov. Mike DeWine used some of DeMaria’s recommendations. His proposal would require the distress commission to select a CEO after the district board of education submits a candidate, instead of the commission selecting a CEO with no local board input.

DeWine’s plan would eliminate the CEO’s increasing powers over the first five years and remove the ability of the CEO to reconstitute any school operated by the district.

His proposal also would prompt state action, including an academic performance review and a support agreement with the state, starting with the first time a district gets one overall “F” grade. It provides the state superintendent more options upon a second consecutive “F” grade.

“It should be viewed with alarm,” Scott DiMauro, vice president for the Ohio Education Association, said of the proposal, urging lawmakers to pull it out of the budget. “The state superintendent and the Ohio Department of Education would take over many more districts, and much faster.”

DiMauro urged lawmakers to repeal the takeover law.

Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, said he regrets voting for House Bill 70 in 2015 and is now sponsoring legislation to place a moratorium on future takeovers. He agrees with those who say DeWine’s proposal should be stripped from the budget bill.

“I’ve got some of the same concerns raised here about doubling down on state control,” he said following a committee hearing this week. He likes some of DeWine’s concepts of phasing in support, but added, “They’ve got a proposal in the budget to provide these additional services but they didn’t put any money into it.”

Hambley also said county educational service centers, rather than the Ohio Department of Education, should play a lead role in helping chronically struggling schools on a building-by-building basis. “I think the least capable organization providing those services is [the Ohio Department of Education].”

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she’s been working with a group of superintendents and principals on crafting a replacement. She would like to see it included in the budget bill, which is supposed to pass by the end of June.

“We’re going to look at a comprehensive solution here, not a patchwork,” Lehner said.

The key problems with the current academic distress commissions, Lehner said, are a lack of flexibility, lack of local control and unrealistic expectations for rapid improvement.

“It’s taking too much away from the local community. That voice is very important in the implementation of anything,” she said.

Associations representing school boards, superintendents and treasurers have urged lawmakers to replace distress commissions with support that focuses on building-level changes, rather than district-wide.

“If any changes from state intervention are to be lasting and permanent, they need to involve the local board and administration from the onset,” said Jennifer Hogue of the Ohio School Boards Association.

Chad Aldis, a policy leader at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, education-focused organization, cautioned that it would be “unwise” to simply abolish distress commissions. He supports Manning’s Senate Bill 110, which, among other things, would ensure that a majority of distress commission members are appointed by local officials, and beefs up evaluations and accountability of the CEO.

“The state still has an obligation to taxpayers and families to step in when students aren’t being served well,” Aldis said, noting that some districts in or heading for state takeover “have struggled for a decade or more.”

Lehner said she has seen some other states have success with intensive teacher and administrator coaching focused on the challenges of teaching children in poverty.

“It’s no coincidence that every one of these schools in academic distress is a high-poverty school,” she said. “Those kids are going to need a lot of support, and they also need teachers who have strategies to deal with children who are struggling.”