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Plan Gives Mayor Control Over Cleveland Schools

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Eighteen months after Ohio took control of the beleaguered Cleveland public schools, a move is afoot to hand them over to Mayor Michael R. White.

A pair of Republican lawmakers from the Cleveland suburbs proposed legislation early last month to make the change. Since then, both Gov. George V. Voinovich, a Republican, and Mayor White, a Democrat, have tentatively endorsed the idea.

"In the best of all worlds, the community would elect a board of citizens to supervise the schools," Rep. William Batchelder said in introducing the measure. "Cleveland is so far from the best of all worlds that we cannot see the best of all worlds from where Cleveland is."

The proposal was modeled on legislation approved in Illinois last year that gave Mayor Richard M. Daley broad control over Chicago's schools.

The Ohio bill is not expected to become law in the current legislative session. It was introduced during heated contract talks that barely averted a teachers' strike in Cleveland last month, and the sense of urgency that attended it has since abated.

'Broken System'

But with Mayor White saying he would consider taking over the schools if a community consensus develops that he should, the proposal is far from dead.

"We have a broken system," the mayor told The Plain Dealer newspaper. "And we have to have enough guts, I think, to try some new strategies even though we may not know whether or not they'll completely work."

State education officials have been in control of the 70,000-student district since March 1995, when a federal judge ordered the takeover. ("Crisis Spurs State Takeover of Cleveland," March 15, 1995.)

The district is facing severe fiscal problems, and has staked much of its hope for financial stability on a proposed tax increase being put before city voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Mr. Batchelder and Rep. Michael Wise, the bill's other sponsor, said the measure should not be construed as a knock against the state-appointed superintendent, Richard Boyd, who they said has made "heroic efforts."

But they said Mayor White was in a better position to command community support.

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