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State School Board Considers Major Rule Change for Music, Art, Other School Positions

colored penciles, education, art
Alan Cleaver
Flickr Creative Commons

Some believe a pending vote from the state’s top education leaders could have major ramifications on local schools around Ohio. The debate dealing with Ohio’s so-called 5 of 8 rule is taking social media by storm.  The hashtag “5of8” or “Ohio5of8” refers to the state rule requiring elementary schools to provide at least five of the eight specialist positions for every 1,000 students.

We’re talking about art, music, and physical education teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, nurses, social workers and visiting teachers.

“This just gives flexibility to these schools districts to assess their own needs and priorities and make hiring decisions based on the staffing needs that they have," says John Charlton with the Ohio Department of Education. He says changing the rule, which has been around since the early 80’s, is about giving more control to local districts.

A state school board committee has been trying to find ways of revising the language, and this proposed change comes out of that process.

But Scott DiMauro, vice president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, says requiring just five of the eight specialists in schools is already setting a low bar.

“And if you take away those minimum standards then we’re afraid, particularly in districts that don’t have as many resources, that there’s going to be a race to the bottom.”

The idea of no longer requiring courses like music and art or positions such as nurses and counselors is riling up many different groups around the state. A number of those groups lined up to testify before a board meeting during its allotted time for public comments.

But as state school board member Ann Jacobs explains, a last minute change to the agenda by the board president pushed public comments back a couple of hours.

“And that was very concerning to a number of us because people drive, they miss school, they take a day off; it’s a big deal for them to come and participate.”

Jacobs says she called for a vote to readjust the agenda but believes her request wasn’t taken seriously. That’s when she and three other board members walked out.

“Because they thought it was completely disrespectful.”

The groups, both for and against the change, ended up waiting about an hour and a half to get their chance to speak. Many noted the importance of the different specialties and how they play a big role towards a well-rounded education.

But Charlton says every district has its own unique circumstances, demanding more wiggle room than the current rules allow.

“A lot of urban districts will have a community health center built into the school so anyone that needs it can get their health services there so can the students," he says.  "So why would you have a school nurse when you have a health service center right in your building?”

Since the economic downturn these classes and positions tend to be the first on the chopping block. DiMauro believes this is because of the pressure put on standardized testing of the core subjects like math and English.

“That creates an unfortunate incentive that when there are shortages of resources—you’re gonna cut programs like the arts—you’re gonna cut support services like guidance counselors and nurses first.”

A.J. Wagner is one of the board members who walked out of the meeting. He says he’s still not sure how he’ll vote on the issue.

"At what point does the state step in and say ‘these positions must be funded’ and at what point does the state respect their need for flexibility and their budgets because they’re so tight and says ‘go ahead you make the decisions we’ll trust you to do that.’ It’s a tough decision for me.”

Wagner and the rest of the members have until next month to make a decision. That’s when the board is expected to hold a vote.