What the next Cleveland mayor should do to help area’s tech industry, Part 1: Tech Czar Talk

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The City of Cleveland is at a critical juncture with the upcoming mayoral election. Parts of the city are enjoying an amazing Renaissance, while others still have a long way to go. There is hope for a better tomorrow to be sure, but with the wrong mayor in office, that hope would disappear quickly.

Consider for a moment that the Mayor of Cleveland is responsible for the general budget of the City, is the head of the Cleveland Municipal School District and its budget, controls two key utilities, shares responsibility of the port authority, the airports and the various stadiums.

That is a lot of control.

As we approach the primary and general elections on Sept. 12 and Nov. 7

Michael C. DeAloia 

respectively, here are some of my thoughts (more coming Aug. 6) on how to unlock the value of Cleveland’s assets to the benefit of residents and the emerging tech industry. Whoever wins the mayoral election this year should pay close attention to the suggested areas, which start at the very beginning with educating our future employees and entrepreneurs.

The 100 Gig Network. Recently, DigitalC, the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Health Tech Corridor announced the launch of the 100 Gig fiber network within the Health Tech Corridor, which runs on Euclid Avenue from the CSU campus to University Circle.

The reasoning, of course, is to bring the fastest Internet capabilities to tech tenants within the Corridor. It’s a great idea, but not broad enough. The mega fiber network should be citywide, if not countywide. Every home, building, school, business, non-profit, hospital and government agency should be surfing the Internet 100 Gig’s at a time. There is no reason Cleveland couldn’t be the first truly connected city on Earth … but does it have the political will to do so?

The 12-Month School Year. Mayor Frank Jackson has worked diligently to get the Cleveland Municipal School District back on track. However, despite all his efforts to reform and build the CMSD, the results have been lackluster. To many, the flailing school system might be beyond repair. Consider, in 1977 there were more than 90,000 children attending public schools in Cleveland. Today, only a shade over 30,000 students are active in the school district. What was once considered the pride of the Sixth City, is now fighting to stay relevant and afloat.

The ultimate way to stay relevant is to produce a cadre of talented graduates. It is a long haul for the CMSD, but very doable … and completely necessary to foster the talent needed to fuel the City’s growing health care, biomed and tech industries.

How is this accomplished? One way is to redesign the entire school year.

The next mayor must propose a 12-month school year (including three breaks) for all students. During the first eight months, the CMSD would focus on the State of Ohio and Federal requirements of the school system. The other four months would be a steady focus on engineering (computer, industrial, product); computer science (software development and design, networks), biology (medical device, biotech and pharma), culinary arts, design and other STEM related courses. Students would graduate with not only a diploma, but also many necessary certifications for employment in high-demand jobs.

An essential part of this suggested plan rotates around club and varsity athletics, as well. If the CMSD is in the business of exporting smart and industrious people, then it also must provide an environment for the students to excel physically, as well. The next mayor must pledge that an investment will be made in a state of the art, athletics complex that focuses on Olympic sports. This facility will be a shared resource for all students of the CMSD.

Mandatory extracurricular activities, be it either club sports or varsity sports, music, theater, additional STEM or computer club activities. In addition, students entering high school could opt to complete an internship one or two days a week.

The biggest obstacle to implementing a 12-month school year would be the local teacher’s union. But students within the CMSD, with exceptions of course, are so far behind a mandatory minimum that the only way to catch up and then to move past other school districts is by going to school year-round. CMSD also has a high percentage of students receiving free-and-reduced breakfast and lunch. What happens to these students during the summer? A yearlong school year would resolve that issue.

Cleveland College Board. After Cleveland’s next mayor implements the 12-Month School Year plan, then a strategic initiative must be implemented to support graduating CMSD students for college.

This “game plan” would be produced by a new entity called the Cleveland College Board (CCB). The goal of the CCB is to design individualized post-graduation plan for each student. This plan might start at the beginning of high school for each student based upon the student’s current educational level as well as their extracurricular activities. By graduation, there is a defined plan of colleges to apply for and have been accepted to, as well as, scholarship and grant opportunities. If the student does not elect the college path, then the plan focuses on vocational training.

For all CMSD students graduating with a 3.2 GPA or higher, there would be scholarship packages available if they attend Ohio colleges and universities. And if they attend an Ohio college or university and return home, they are eligible for “life grants” to help them matriculate back to Cleveland. The grant would be $4,000 for the first year, $3,000 for the second, $2,000 for the third and $1,000 for the fourth. The obvious goal here is to begin a local commitment process to each student and that the CMSD can define success early on for each student and find a program to ensure success for the students and the city.

The next mayor of Cleveland has a window, unique in the city’s history, to fundamentally change the philosophy of how this city operates. Additionally, the next mayor must find favor with Cleveland’s ever-growing tech industry, a big factor in employment and opportunity in the foreseeable future.

Part 2 of this column (publishing Aug. 6) will focus on broad economic development opportunities within the City of Cleveland that might have profound effects on the future of many of its residents.

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