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Ohio Supreme Court hears fight about 'takeovers' of troubled schools

At issue is a state law that shifted operational control of poor-performing districts from locally elected boards to unelected CEOs appointed by the state.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — (AP) — A law that changed how Ohio intervenes in repeatedly poor-performing school districts should be found unconstitutional, a school board and school employees' unions argued Wednesday in front of the state's Supreme Court.

At issue is a state law that shifted operational control of such districts from locally elected boards to unelected CEOs hired by state-appointed academic distress commissions, starting with one in Youngstown.

RELATED: Ohio Supreme Court to hear school 'takeovers' case this fall

The Youngstown school board and school employees' unions challenged the law, arguing it violates the Ohio Constitution by stripping school boards of their authority. They also contend lawmakers violated a procedural rule — the "Three Reading Rule" — and skirted more thorough debate about significant changes made to the divisive House Bill 70 when it was pushed through the Legislature in one day in 2015.

"If you have evidence like we have here where there's an intent by public officials to violate the purpose of the Three Reading Rule, that's a pretty easy call," attorney Charles Oldfield told the justices Wednesday during an off-site court session at a Williams County high school in Montpelier, in far northwestern Ohio.

The state has defended the law, arguing that affected school boards still retain some of their powers, and that the bill was always aimed at improving education in failing districts and was given the necessary consideration in the legislative process despite the short timeframe in which it was changed and then passed.

"I'm not here ... to argue that this isn't something people would find distasteful. They may very well, but if there is, there's a check" because Ohioans unhappy with their legislators' actions can vote them out of office, the state's lawyer, Benjamin Flowers told the court.

The court will consider the matter before issuing a ruling.

Two other districts affected by the law, East Cleveland and Lorain City Schools, had echoed the Youngstown board's push for the Ohio Supreme Court to consider the case after an appeals court previously sided with the state. Groups representing Ohio school boards, superintendents, teachers and school business officials joined that chorus, too.

RELATED: East Cleveland Schools CEO discusses 'F' grade in state of district address

RELATED: Ohio schools show showing 'ongoing improvement,' according to new state report cards

RELATED: Lorain City Schools Board of Education declines mediation to settle controversy with CEO David Hardy Jr.

As the legal challenge has proceeded, lawmakers also have been considering different proposals about changing or undoing the law. They have yet to reach agreement on a plan.

RELATED: Local parents, teachers, school leaders up against budget deadline to end state takeovers in Ohio

RELATED: Ohio House passes bill to end state takeover of local schools

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