Ohio Board Of Education Lacks Political Clout
Members of the State Board of Education were upset at their meeting this month when they found out that some charter school sponsors may have been getting special treatment in their evaluations. Some state legislators are calling for the resignation of Ohio’s School Superintendent Richard Ross. The power to fire him lies in the hands of the school board. But as some board members found, that’s just about all the power they have.
There are 19 board of education members in Ohio. Most are elected to represent various regions around the state but eight of them are appointed by the governor. So he has a lot of sway. The board on its own, not so much.
One small example happened in June. Two of the minority Democrats on the board proposed to keep funding steady for INFOhio, an online digital library for K-12 students. The board approved the idea unanimously. Their resolution was sent to leaders of the General Assembly who promptly slashed INFOhio by 42 percent.
The person who was most surprised was Cleveland-area board member Rosyln Painter-Goffi, a former school librarian.
“I just wonder why, when this whole board agreed and supported this resolution unanimously, how that wouldn’t carry any weight with the people making the decision," she said. "So I guess my question, as a person who’s new to this board, is: what else do we have to do?”
The one legislator who routinely attends school board meetings is Republican Senator Peggy Lehner, chairman of the Education Committee. But she explained even she had little sway over the recently passed biennial budget.
“I had 55-some amendments that I tried to get into this bill and I think I got what, two?”
Lehner’s amendments had to be voted on by the full House and merged into a final bill by a conference committee of effectively four people and then given final approval by the governor who had the power to veto parts of it.
In the end, the senator didn’t even know that rules for Ohio teacher evaluations had been changed in the 2,900 page budget document until a Department of Education lawyer told the board two weeks later.
“A lot of these decisions are made at the end of the day by a very small number of people and they’re made quickly. I can’t tell you how many things in the budget I’m seeing for the first time today that got added in conference committee,” Lehner said.
School Board President Tom Gunlock had some advice for his members.
“I think there’s um… I don’t want to say what I really think but…”
Gunlock told the board the only real power they have is to hire and fire the state school superintendent.
“If there’s some things that this board wants to do, then everybody has to be willing to talk to their members - their General Assembly members," Gunlock said. "Because at the end of the day they’re controlling everything.”
Everything including all the money which is why hundreds of pages of education policy was included– sometimes at the last minute with little debate—in the 2 year budget. Senator Lehner, whose Republican Party dominates Ohio government, wonders if that is the best way to deal with important education issues.
“Which is one of the problems with putting this much policy into a budget document, which has been an increasingly difficult issue for us all to face,” she said.
And if the school board wants to return to that issue over funding online school libraries, the Department of Education lawyer suggested they start lobbying legislators and get a jump on the mid-biennium budget review.