Lorain City Schools- Jim Smith- “Good- Bad and Ugly” – Guest Post

November 30, 2011 at 11:17 am 16 comments



Lorain City Schools
The Good, Bad and Ugly by Jim Smith

I have advocated for Lorain City Schools since 1981. I have done this as a parent, private citizen, employee and school board member. The following is a chronicle of my experiences, perceptions and opinions.

1981-82 – When I called to congratulate newly appointed superintendent John Pavic he asked me to chair a school levy. I agreed. The levy failed but I learned a great deal about the school district, its people and the community at large. I came away with a positive opinion of all three areas and remain positive to this day. That was good.

I also learned the school district was not really interested in maintaining a continuous stream of open communication with the community. I call it the “Ivory Tower Complex”. It goes like this; when we need something from the community we will open communications with the citizens. When we don’t, we consider them to be a nuisance and shut them out. That was bad and, in my opinion, remains the same today.

I also found that the district failed to alert the community about the many unique learning opportunities open to the children of Lorain. That was ugly, and in my opinion is still ugly today.

1983 to 1986 – I was approached by the district to create an “Adult Education” program aimed at helping local businesses by providing low cost valuable training for their employees. The program was funded by a grant from the state and was designed by Ohio State University. It was a great success.

I maintained an office at Charleston and developed a great relationship between the district and business community. Unfortunately my earlier good, bad and ugly opinions were reinforced. In 1985 I attended at conference on community education sponsored by the Mott Foundation in Flint Michigan. I toured downtown Flint and got a glimpse of what downtown Lorain would look like 20 years later. Ugly!

I also got to meet with people from other U. S. school districts and some from England. It reinforced my opinions of the poor job Lorain schools were doing with community relations as compared to what other districts were doing. I brought back these ideas back, but they fell on deaf ears.

My time as an employee of the district reinforced by good opinion of the employees and my bad and ugly opinions of communicating with the public and advertising the educational opportunities unique to Lorain City Schools. I left the job in 1986.

During this same time period a truly ugly event took place. Public schools across the U.S. were forced to desegregate to obtain racial balance in the classrooms. Lorain City Schools made a bad, and ugly, decision.

They closed the elementary with highest number of minority students and bused them all over town to get the required racial balance. The school was Charleston.

The district was sued in Federal court and signed a voluntary consent degree to obtain racial balance without putting the burden on minority students. A program was designed to meet the terms of the consent degree by creating schools of choice based on unique curriculums in each building and allowing parents to enroll their children in the school they felt would best meet the needs of their children. The schools were called magnet schools and the program was such a success that it drew national, and international, attention and praise. It was not only good, it was great. It was, in my opinion, the high water mark of Lorain City Schools.

1987 – In April I was appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board. I again was exposed to the good, bad and ugly. Despite the good created by Magnet Schools nothing else had changed. I lost by bid for election in the fall of 1987 and, for a few years, lost touch with the school district.

1992 – 2007 – In 1992 I was asked to become a member of the school district’s Business Advisory Council. Ohio law requires all public schools to establish such a council. For once, I thought, maybe the district was serious about communicating with the community. And for a while it was.

The pride of the council was the development of “Business and Industry Day”. On in- service days teachers got to select area businesses and spend the day as guests of the host companies. At a latter date business representatives were invited to visit the classrooms of the teachers they had hosted. But after a change in administrations things went back to the normal state of the good, bad and ugly.

Then in 2001 a “Chance of a Lifetime” became a reality. Since 1996 I had worked on renewal tax levies and all had easily passed. In 2000 the renewals were combined into one levy and it passed. In 2001, if the voters approved a bond issue, the district could participate in a $216,000,000 building program and the state would pay for 81% of the cost. The voters approved! These events fall under the good classification.

Although the program has been down sized because of decreases in enrollment, we now have 10 new elementary schools and 3 new middle schools. That is not only good, it is stupendous. How many school districts can boast, that between 2004 and 2011, 13 new buildings have opened.

But, once again, in my opinion, the district has failed to capitalize on this amazing feat. The district has failed to let the public know about, not only the buildings, but state of the art technology available to students in the buildings. Smart Boards, Laptops and, in one of the buildings, a Flight Simulator provided by NASA. The bad and ugly persist.

2008 – 2011 – I went back on the school board in 2008. I saw, first hand, how a once great school district, continued to march into chaos and become totally dysfunctional. Do I partially blame myself? Yes! Could I have done more to prevent the current state of affairs? Maybe!

While I have great confidence and respect for the employees of the district I am not sure everybody gets it. For the past 10 years all the warning signs of economic disasters have been ignored. Instead of reducing costs the district has borrowed over $10,000,000 since 2006. Instead of creating a plan to attract and retain students the district has done nothing while losing 12 to 14 million dollars a year to open enrollment, community schools and educational choice vouchers. Instead of proceeding with the design, and construction, of a high school 2 years have been lost over political infighting. These facts are not only bad, they are plain UGLY!!

Let me sum up my experiences with Lorain City Schools by sharing a meeting I had with former Morning Journal editor, the late John Cole. Between 2002 and 2004 I volunteered to direct the affairs of the school endowment fund. The fund was, and is still, managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County. Lorain City Schools was the first school district in the U.S. to partner with a community foundation and in 2002 the fund had assets in excess of $1,000,000. Each year a portion of the funds earnings are distributed through teacher grants that enhance the learning experiences of our students.

I met with Mr. Cole to update him on the endowment fund and after doing so he said,

“How the hell could Lorain City Schools have a $1,000,000 endowment fund and no one knows about it”.

2012 – What will come next? Will it be good? Will it be bad? Will it be ugly? I close with quotes from Helen Keller and the movie “Cool Hand Luke”.


“What good is sight if you have no vision”.

The movie,

“What we have here is failure to communicate”.

Jim Smith


Entry filed under: commentary, education, Link -ups, Open for Discussion. Tags: , , .

Lorain City Schools – What will it take Lorain – The BAD Lorain City Schools Endowment Funds for Enhancing Education

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Loraine Ritchey  |  November 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Jim, I have to disagree that the magnet program was great – basically some of it was good…. but the experience this family had was definitely NOT good and in fact was the cause of my children being ultimately pulled from LCS to go to Lorain Catholic in the 7th grades ( and thereby hangs another tale- of grant funding a program that had to succeed even at the cost of the LCS student ) I may mention that in UGLY – we weren’t Catholic and the cost of sending my children to LCHS was a finacial burden so in this instance I will have disagree with you re the magnet program……

  • 2. Grammy  |  November 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    The magnet program was fundamentally good in that it allowed LCS to explore educational options. The concept was good, the funding allowed for some great experfiences. Of course, that opened the door to grant driven education. When the funds dried up, the program was gone. When the funding was finished we were supposed to assimilate the programs into our budget, no such luck. Students would start an educational journey only to have a road block come along and change the journey into a detour. A hodgepodge of opportunities with no completion.

  • 3. Loraine Ritchey  |  November 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    it also caused the demise of the “neighborhood school” at least in my neighborhood which was already integrated “naturally” ( and a disconnect from those that lived and supported the schools.. …… the sitting in parking lots over night by parents to attend a hyped arts “academy ” in a terrible neighborhood… and since my forte was the arts I knew a good “program” when I saw it and contrary to the popular belief I can tell you what I saw as “bubble gum dance” well that is a whole post I believe….

  • 4. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  November 30, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I didn’t know about the endowment fund . . .

  • 5. Joyce Early  |  November 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Jim, you’ve been the shining light on the school board and it’s clear you care about what happens to the kids. But you are just one vote. Your ability to communicate has probably kept most of the voters at least informed of the direction we need to go. The nagging question, are you running in 2013? Your lone voice representing the kids is the only hope I see we have. You ask the tough questions and you are solely responsible for showing voters what is really happening. If you don’t run, it looks like we are doomed. The other rubber stamps won’t move us in any direction but status quo. I am running in 2013 and I hope it’s with you! If we can change the dynamics of the board to caring about the kids rather than political strategizing we may have a chance. The dysfunction is ultimately hurting every last kid that walks through the doors. Can we afford not to have you run?

  • 6. Grammy  |  November 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    So on target Loraine! I was told to “find” my youngest son a school because his neighborhood school was going to be unsuitable for his abilities with the change in the school that was coming. Three houses from the school and he couldn’t go there. Couldn’t get in line for the “academic” program on the other side of town since I had to work and couldn’t take off work to sit in a chair over night. He “found” a school and did very well until later in his education career the system pulled all extra activities from the students to coerce a levy passage. Once again, administration on the backs of students.

    When the school system realizes that they are a “business” and the students are their “clients” and you have to do the BEST for the clients in order to stay in business, maybe we will make some progress.

  • 7. joe smith  |  November 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    ditto Kelly…….

  • 8. Joyce Early  |  November 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Good like finding anything about the endowment fund. I’m researching it as we speak. The Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County claims they don’t have any financial records on individual funds and says to contact the school. Let’s see where this takes us.

  • 9. Dr Tammy Ramirez  |  November 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Joyce the information you seek is in the foundations annual report, here is the link http://www.peoplewhocare.org/page20450.cfm
    See the pdf “by donor” pages 31-32. You can find the requirements for applying in the first pdf at the site

  • 10. Loraine Ritchey  |  November 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Jim Smith just called – apparently people are calling the school etc. he will be go into further information on the endowment fund but it is not controlled by the BOE or the LCS admin but by the Endowment Board – they cannot touch the 1,000,000 the interest or percentage there of is apparently available for teacher grant requests.

    Guess I have more than 5 readers 🙂

  • 11. Joyce Early  |  November 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I have the info on my site, I have to send a public records request to get the financials. I wanted spending for the last three years and who sits on the board. The contact info I have is:

    Lorain Fund for Enhancing Education
    Charleston Administration Center, Room 21
    Lorain, OH 44052
    440-282-9541 Fax

  • 12. Loraine Ritchey  |  November 30, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks Joyce I have updated the main page with a link to your information

  • 13. hammer  |  December 2, 2011 at 3:18 am

    I haven’t been keeping up real well with the latest school posts, but really, what is the worth of having discussion when the conversation appears to be pretty much one side. I appreciate the comments of Mr. Smith and Mr. Sturgil, but how is two people out of closer to a thousand employees setting the tone for discussion?

    I believe that nothing is going to happen until it is absolutely positively 100% no other options left and at the last possible moment. Magic 8 ball says…

  • 14. thatwoman  |  December 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Aye there is the rub and it goes back to I believe being uncomfortable to speak ones mind……and trust that even I ( if they write under a “nom de plume” won’t “out them” – Do you remember under the Morgan admin and the apparently thousands spent trying to track down a “leak”……… those things don’t go away overnight.

    Of course I would like to have more input—— but even under the what is good??? even that didn’t bring in “on the blog” responses. I do have some off the blog comments which I will pull together as a post……

  • 15. Bill Sturgill  |  December 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I can’t say I disagree with one thing Jim has said. I may be biased because Jim Smith and Carl Ciccerella are probably the two biggest influences on me since I started paying attention. What should we correct. I would suggest the following.

    Communications is a must. How is the best way to do that ? A recent survey said most communications is done thru what parents recieve in letters brought home with their children. Has to be a better effort.

    Not only do we have to try and retain students we must actively recruit. We as a district do a horrible job of marketing our curriculum and higher education programs.

    Customer service seems to be a lost art. Its as different as this. A phone rings and someone picks it up and says ” What do you want”, as opposed to this is Jane Doe Lorain City Schools, ” How may I help you or direct your call.

    One other thing since I started listening to Jim’s history lessons is this. It seems as though when we did better under a superintendent that was home grown than when we bring someone in from the outside. I also agree with Loraine the biggest disconnect from the community was going away from neighborhood school concept and busing. Our community is so diverse I don’t see the need with that. I’m not sue the NAACP or the federal gov’t would agree but that is my opinion.

    It certainly is a shame that the only time the district starts communicating is when they need something. Just maybe we as a board should encourage a few more town hall meetings and see if we get any improvement in attendance…….When administration quits talking its one thing, but when the public quits talking thats really scarry……

  • 16. Loraine Ritchey  |  December 4, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Bill what I have found through the years that those that have “ownership” in a community or have live through and experienced the problems that are faced and know the “history and how we got here- are more likely to care not just about the “salary” ……. just my two cents worth….

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