- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A hotly contested state law allowing an appointed CEO to take over the Youngstown City Schools was allowed to proceed Tuesday.

In denying a preliminary injunction, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French said representatives of the academically distressed district who sought to block implementation of the law until a trial failed to make convincing arguments the law was unconstitutional.

French said the district needed to prove they would be irreparably injured if the law were allowed to proceed in order to win the delay.

She rejected that claim on grounds that the district’s been registering poor performance ratings over the past decade and half of its students are now attending school elsewhere.

The takeover plan was crafted by a group of local business, community and education leaders with the help of State Superintendent Richard Ross. It was kept secret from the public until it was pushed through both chambers of the state Legislature on a single day.

But French said that was not sufficient to constitute a violation of the three-reading rule required on all bills.

“In this case, there was ample evidence demonstrating that there was a conscious effort on the part of several ‘stakeholders’ to meet and quietly formulate a ‘plan’ to address the failing school district, and that at least some of these ideas were contained within (the law),” she wrote. “While these closed-door meetings may function to undermine the public’s confidence in this portion of the legislative process, it is not unconstitutional.”

Ross, who has defended his role in the talks and the fact he didn’t share the work with the state school board, said Tuesday that he looks forward to helping implement the new law.

“Having been in education for more than 40 years, there is nothing worse than seeing our boys and girls trapped in failing schools without the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” Ross said in an emailed statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with districts, teachers, parents and communities to give students in struggling districts the best opportunity for success.”

Joe Andrews, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, called the ruling a “strong step forward for kids in failing schools across our state.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat critical of the new law, expressed disappointment in French’s decision. He said he’s still hopeful the school district’s arguments can prevail at trial.

“There are serious legal issues at stake here, including the right of Ohioans to testify in public hearings on important pieces of legislation,” he said in a statement. “The citizens of this state were denied that opportunity when the so-called Youngstown Plan was drawn up behind closed doors and added to House Bill 70 at the last minute.”

Schiavoni said he plans to introduce legislation soon to improve upon the original bill.

The leader of Ohio’s largest teachers union said the decision would not deter the organization from finding a way to “give voice” to those in Youngstown.

“We also remain concerned that the school-takeover provisions that were enacted could be applied to other districts in the state,” said Ohio Education Association president Becky Higgins in a statement.

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