I've been holding my tongue about this, mostly because I wanted to see if the city and schools would actually reach out to the public and truly engage them. At this point, that seems less and less likely, and I've got to say, I'm disappointed. My disappointment stems not from a desire to see the city to launch another conversation here at The Civic Commons. I'm disappointed because the future of the schools is too important, and the public roll out of this plan has been plain tone-deaf.  

For the mayor's office to shoot itself in the foot by not being transparent and inviting the public into the conversation is a first term kind of mistake, and not even the type of mistake you'd expect from a process-focused leader like Mayor Frank Jackson. Instead, what we got at the beginning was something that sounded like the kind of back-room deals that make voters sick. Back in January, under the headline "Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is crafting a plan for the Cleveland schools and Gov. John Kasich is poised to help make it happen" (who writes these?) Patrick O'Donnell broke the news to Clevelanders that something was afoot. Apparently, even the teachers' union didn't know:

Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, whose members would be most affected if the plan renews Jackson's earlier push for changes in teacher rules and contracts, said Wednesday that he has "absolutely no knowledge" of Jackson's plans. 

I'm not about to go all pro-union about this. I've made my opinions on teacher unions clear both in print and in public, but I thought at the time that if Quolke didn't even know, that was a bad sign. What's happened since then hasn't given me much cause for optimism. 

The mayor and CEO Eric Gordon have made the rounds to the media. That's an important step, and some of those appearances, especially on WCPN's Sound of Ideas, allowed for an interaction with the community. But there just hasn't been enough of an effort, unless I've missed some news of events. Most of the time and energy seems to have been spent in conversations with Columbus, many of which have been fruitless.   

The Mayor's plan is full of ideas that are very much worth discussing. 

  • Bringing charter schools into the district? Very interesting, and could solve the problem of a lack of accountability. 
  • A so-called portfolio strategy built on the success of other urban districts? It's nice to see our leaders borrowing good ideas from elsewhere. 
  • Decentralizing power and decision making? The right school site administrators can do wonders with that kind of authority; the challenge will be in making sure every school has a great principal and administrative team. 
  • Allowing local tax dollars to go to high performing charters? That's how it works in many other states, including New York, where one successful charter has attracted some of the best teachers in the country by starting them at a low six-figure salary.
  • Removing tenure for teachers? Any teacher evaluation system that replaces tenure and seniority rules must have the buy in of teachers, students, parents and administrators. Just about the only way I know of building that buy in is by asking those people to help you build the system. 

While all those ideas would make fodder for a great conversation--the kind that, if local decision makers and leaders would take the time for it, might actually help create the kind of buy in that would improve the plans odds of success--there hasn't been any indication that such a conversation might be forthcoming.

The school district has been putting a lot of resources into their Rally for Excellence, which is worth doing, but I remain baffled as to why the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the philanthropic community, the Mayor's office and the district haven't invited the public into a conversation about the plan--particularly when it hinges on the approval of a new tax levy and the support of both parties in the General Assembly.

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