Recruitment & Retention

Cleveland Chief Announces Departure Just Days After Major Levy Defeat

By Catherine Gewertz — August 05, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of the Cleveland public schools, announced Friday that she is stepping down from her job, a move that comes three days after voters soundly defeated a levy designed to bolster the troubled district.

Ms. Byrd-Bennett said in a statement Aug. 5 that she would not seek to renew her contract when it expires at the end of September, but would remain in the district for up to a year to help facilitate a smooth transition to new leadership. She said she had decided before the Aug. 2 vote on the levy, Issue 3, that the current contract term would be her last.

“It has been my privilege to serve as CEO of this district for nearly seven years,” she said. “But there comes a time for change. … I have been considering the future for some time and would have reached the same decision regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s operating levy.”

Two-thirds of the voters that turned out for the special election cast their ballots against Issue 3, which would have raised more than $45 million to restore some of the teachers, security guards, and sports and after-school programs that have been cut as the district’s financial woes deepened over the past few years. A portion would also have gone to alleviate future anticipated debt. Cleveland voters rejected another proposed levy nine months ago. They haven’t approved an operating levy since 1996.

Alan Seifullah, a spokesman for the 65,000-student district, said it was too soon to say whether more layoffs would be needed this year. But without more revenue, he added, the district might have to look for additional savings by cutting personnel or closing even more schools than the 11 shuttered in June.

Many interpreted the results on Issue 3 as a referendum on Ms. Byrd-Bennett, who has led the district since late 1998.

“Think of her title: CEO,” said Jerry Austin, a Cleveland-based political consultant. “If you are the CEO of an organization, it most probably has shareholders. The shareholders of this organization are the people of the city of Cleveland. Now, the shareholders have said ‘no’ to additional funds twice. In any other organization, the CEO would get the message the shareholders want a change. Barbara Byrd-Bennett got that message.”

‘One of Urban Education’s Finest’

Meryl T. Johnson, the first vice president of the 4,500-member Cleveland Teachers’ Union, said she believes that voters never fully understood how much Cleveland schools have improved under Ms. Byrd-Bennett’s leadership. The official of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate noted a rise in the graduation rate from 28 percent to 50 percent, and academic gains that outpace the state average. She blamed the news media for focusing on the district’s struggles at the expense of its successes, and fueling skepticism in large swaths of the community.

“I cannot at this moment think of a greater loss to Cleveland than the resignation of Barbara Byrd-Bennett,” said Ms. Johnson. “She is brilliant. She knows research, knows how to get children to learn, knows the kinds of instruction it takes to make it possible. She’s able to communicate her vision to people no matter their socioeconomic status. I’m going to miss her. But it’s awfully hard to stick around when you’re not supported.”

Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an urban-schools advocacy group based in Washington, cautioned against interpreting the levy vote as a judgment on Ms. Byrd-Bennett’s performance. Voters are influenced by many things, he said, and she clearly did an excellent job in a beleaguered school system.

“She really was one of urban education’s finest superintendents,” Mr. Casserly said. “She did a superb job in raising academic performance. She was relentless, and her passion for kids was unquestioned. She leaves a system that still faces many challenges, but is in far better shape academically than she found it.”

Related Tags:


School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention A Dallas Principal Lost a Fifth of Her Teachers. Can She Hire Enough by the First Day?
Principal Rocio Gardea sat at a folding table near the front of the auditorium, shuffling her papers. The pressure was on.
Talia Richman and Meghan Mangrum, The Dallas Morning News
9 min read
Dallas ISD staff hold signs with positions they are looking for during a job fair at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Dallas ISD staff hold signs with positions they are looking for during a job fair at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Elías Valverde II/Dallas Morning News via TNS
Recruitment & Retention From Our Research Center How Many Teachers Are Retiring or Quitting? Not as Many as You Might Think
An EdWeek Research Center survey found that teacher resignations in the year leading up to August 2022 were only slightly above 2019.
2 min read
Classroom without students. Empty desks
Recruitment & Retention What It Will Take to Recruit Teachers in a Tough Job Market
Job seekers have the upper hand right now. How schools are trying to meet their demands.
4 min read
Image of a job interview.
Recruitment & Retention Spotlight Spotlight on Teacher Retention
This Spotlight will help you investigate how schools can hold onto valued staff, learn how to build a healthier school culture, and more.