Sunday, January 11, 2009

State Board of Ed: Representing Whom?

Our State Board of Education is comprised of 19 members. Eleven of the members are elected by the people of each region of the state, and eight are appointed by the Governor. The elected members are:

  • District 1: John Bender of Avon, educator, former State Representative in the General Assembly
  • District 2: Ann Jacobs* of Lima. Lawyer, former local school board member
  • District 3: Susan Haverkos of West Chester, business owner
  • District 4: G.R. (Sam) Schloemer of Cincinnati, businessman, former local school board member
  • District 5: Robin Hovis* of Millersburg, investment representative, was previously appointed by Gov. Taft
  • District 6: Kristen McKinley*# of Hilliard (our rep), labor attorney representing OEA members
  • District 7: Tammy O'Brien* of Akron, lawyer (undergrad degree in education)
  • District 8: Deborah Cain of Uniontown, retired teacher
  • District 9: Michael Collins*# of Westerville, businessman (education degree) former local school board member.
  • District 10: Jeff Hardin* of Milford. College educator.
  • District 11: Mary Rose Oakar* of Cleveland, former US Representative

* = newly elected; # = endorsed by the Ohio Education Association, the statewide teachers' union.

Appointed members are:

  • Stephen Millett of Columbus, Battelle futurist. Taft appointee, term ends 2010
  • Jennifer Sheets of Pomeroy, attorney. Voinovich & Taft appointee, term ends 2010
  • Carl Wick of Centerville, retired NCR executive, former teacher. Taft appointee, term ends 2010
  • Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora, lawyer, former State Representative. Taft appointee, term ends 2010
  • Dennis Reardon* of Pickerington, former Executive Director of OEA. Strickland appointee
  • N. Daniel Green* of Gallipolis, retired postmaster, US Postal Service. Strickland appointee
  • Tracy Smith* of Van Wert. High School teacher. Strickland appointee.
  • Martha Harris* of Cleveland Heights. Special Ed teacher. Strickland appointee

Colleen Grady over at the State of Ohio Education blog posted her snapshot of the most recently appointed members, Readon, Green, Smith and Harris. I pay particular attention to what Colleen and her blog partner, Susan Haverkos, have to say about education matters as both served on State Board themselves. Susan continues to be a State Board member, while Colleen gave up her seat in order to accept an appointment to serve (a short time) in the 127th Ohio General Assembly.

Colleen made note that three out of the four are OEA members, with only Mr. Green not being an educator. Mr. Green's background does including serving on his local school board. The OEA endorsed election winners Kristen McKinley and Michael Collins, representing Central Ohio. None of the candidates endorsed by the OEA in the other five races for State Board seats won however.

Locally, our area has a new representative on the State Board – Kristen McKinley, who lives here in Hilliard. She ran against Larry Wolpert and James Moyer. Larry Wolpert is well known in Hilliard, having served as both a member of Hilliard City Council and as our State Representative in the Ohio General Assembly. James Moyer is not as well known in our part of the county, but ran a solid race, receiving nearly 77,000 votes (21%), including mine.

I started the research for this post taking a cue from Colleen's article, with suspicion that the OEA was beginning to exert an unhealthy amount of influence on the State Board of Education elections. The fact that only two of their seven endorsed candidates won suggests that the OEA's influence over elections is not that great – at least not statewide, not yet.

However, here in Franklin County, I think it was significant. Kristen McKinley won 56% of the vote in a three-way race, yet I don't remember seeing much campaigning by her here in her home territory. Maybe she just conceded Hilliard to Larry Wolpert, who received around 50% of the vote in nearly all of the Hilliard area precincts. Across the whole voting district, which includes much of Franklin County, she received over 200,000 votes. With the number of OEA members employed in central Ohio, I have to believe that a lot of these votes came from OEA members and their families.

By the way, second place in this race was "none of the above," with nearly 200,000 voters making no selection at all for State Board of Education.

Governor Strickland used his opportunity to appoint four new at-large members to the State Board to fill three of those seats with OEA folks, including the former Executive Director of OEA, Dennis Reardon. Colleen observed that two of the Governor's appointees, Tracy Smith and Martha Smith actually ran in the November election and lost (Smith to Jacobs, and Harris to Oskar). Interesting that the Governor would appoint two folks that the people of their community rejected.

It is not clear what role Governor Strickland would like the State Board to take going forward. Remember that he has already asked the General Assembly to put education fully under the administration of the Governor, a reorganization that would require amending the Ohio Constitution. I think this might be a good thing by the way, primarily because the Governor is a very visible elected official, and someone We The People are more likely to hold accountable than we do the State Board of Education, which is largely invisible and anonymous.

The next best thing for the Governor is to get people seated on the State Board who agree with his vision. He'll have a chance to appoint four more at-large members in 2010. There's a chance that with those appointments, a majority of the State BoE members would be OEA sympathizers.

That somehow seems inappropriate to me. The OEA already has a powerful presence in the Statehouse due to its campaign contributions and lobbying efforts. It seems to me like the State Board of Education, just like local school boards, should be the voice of the people who are consumers of education services, and who pay the taxes to support the schools – which substantially means to pay the teachers. However, we need to remember that the State Board has limited fiscal power, unlike a local school board, and that budgeting and taxation remains the province of the Governor and the General Assembly.

The economics of education is going to be a major challenge for the Governor and the General Assembly. Education funding is the largest part of the state budget, and the largest part of that funding goes to pay the salaries and benefits of educators. He'll have to figure out how to come through on his commitments to big campaign supporters – like the OEA - yet balance the budget in a challenging economic climate. The Governor is a smart guy, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what his plan will be when he announces it shortly.

In particular, it will be interesting to see whether he thinks he has the political leverage to push through the reorganization of primary/secondary education in Ohio.


  1. It's worse than you think. Benjamin, Cain, Bender and Oakar have all received teacher union campaign contributions in the past. Bender and Benjamin when they ran for the state legislature, Oakar when she was in Congress and Cain when she was elected to the State Board two years ago. All of Cain's volunteers were OEA. (Cain's a retired teacher and former OEA member.)

  2. Playing devil's advocate, why is this such a bad thing?

  3. Marc:

    As I said in the article, I think my objection comes from thinking about the State Board of Education as though it is a state level version of a local school board. It's not really, the local school board actually has more power as it can levy taxes (with direct voter approval), and it has great (but not absolute) control over the way money is spent.

    I would definitely object to having the Hilliard School Board loaded with HEA members, or even strong HEA sympathizers, as a key role of the Board is to represent the voters of the community in union contract negotiations.

    The State Board doesn't have quite that role, but then it does in a way because it recommends the budget to the Governor (and would have even more power if GIRFOF were enacted), and to a great extent an education budget is the same as the salary and benefits plan for the state's school employees.

    If the State Board is loaded up with educators, who speaks for the other stakeholders?


  4. I think it needs to be understood that the representation will not be of the individual taxpayer but of special interest groups.

    We should be in a planning mode as individual homeowners to prepare ourselves for the huge increases coming to us.

    The variables are well documented as the following
    1. A decrease in funding to our district based on our status viewed as a wealthy district, plus
    a state funding cut. Taxes will not be raised at the state level and the governor has stated so. The Legislature will not allow one either as it is not politically
    doable. The tax shift as I have spoken to so many times will come to us.
    2. The next contract at the same level of the last 3 has to be accounted for . Also a change back to no medical contribution.
    This will be accomplished in fear by the district of a strike. The issue is the district and its employees view anything less than the 7% module as a pay cut, instead of a simple short term adjustment

    3.A larger employee base with additional aids, support staff to address the planning time issue.

    4. A bond levy for infrasturcture will be due.

    5. Pension shortfall contribution
    increase of about 1.5 to 2%

    The next two levies will be double digit easily, so if you do the math on an average home in the district, lets say 150,000 your liablility the first time could be in the neighborhood of 800.00 in
    2010 and another 800.00 2012 and I believe this to be on the low end
    So realistically in year four the tax increase will be $1600.00 per year in 2012. Without getting the increases in compensation, that is going to be a huge challenge for many of us.

    But unfortunatly our districtt and its employees dont really care, and if we ask questions, we will be hurting the kids.

    As Steve ( Anon ) asked, how would a slight reduction in the increase
    of compensation, NOT A CUT. hurt the kids.

    If you have a larger home value,
    yikes !

    I think we are going to lose some
    sports, arts, music, bussing AP programs because I do not see people being able to afford these types of increases.

    I think the district should simply give us a heads up quickly as to what their forcast really will cost so we can start planning accordingly

  5. Rick, while I agree with you that the taxpayers are not being represented by much of anyone, I do disagree that we HAVE to look forward to the same old contracts next time around. I think it is fairly clear that many of us have finally woken up as to what is going on around us, and have said enough is enough. Of course the down side of that, given the lack of any increases in state funding, or any other income sources, is that cuts are going to have to be made. I will not vote yes for another levy without clear indications that equitable cuts are made throughout the budget, and not just teachers salaries and benefits even though that is the bulk of the budget and that is where the most money will HAVE to be saved. But I am not pessimistic enough to believe that we are in a a "do or die" situation where everyone is going to get what what they want and we are going to get stuck with the bill. I know that I won't as I would move out of the district if the board caved like they did last time.

  6. Rick writes, "The next contract at the same level of the last 3 has to be accounted for . Also a change back to no medical contribution. This will be accomplished in fear by the district of a strike."

    As a teacher in Hilliard and an active HEA member, I don't know ANYONE who thinks there will ever be a return to the days of no medical contribution (and I don't even think that would be appropriate). So I really wish you would lay off some of the cynicism, Rick. As MusicMan has pointed out before, it really poisons your message and makes it difficult to listen to your good points. Just food for thought...but it depends on whether your goal is simply venting, or fostering real dialogue.

  7. Rick said:
    "But unfortunatly our districtt and its employees dont really care, and if we ask questions, we will be hurting the kids."

    I do not see the need for this kind of approach. What do you hope to accomplish with this tact?

  8. Anon, Musicman.

    Real dialogue did take place with district with a legitimate proposal to

    1. Recognize the reality of the numbered points that I listed.
    The only exception was at that point we were not aware of the pension increase contribution due to the investment dollars going south in the State Pension funds
    This is also well documented.

    2. A proposal WAS made to have an immediate conversation to LIMIT
    growth to a possible starting point of 3% The response has been
    one of defeaning silence. In addition employees in the audience had a good chuckle out of that one.

    So a legitimate proposal was brought to the attention of the district. Paul also had a suggestion that he put forth on the compensation module.That also met with a zero response.

    Given the last contract was passed narrowly and the medical contribution was a key part of it along with maintaing the same
    3+4% raise module, and the last 3 contracts have been similar, I simply dont see a big change in this. It has nothing to do with cynism at all. I simply think the district given the variables that are noted should give us an ideas what the costs can be so we can simply plan accordingly financially given what the economic realities are right now.
    I checked with the auditors office to get a basic scenario so I dont think the numbers are that far off

    Perhaps both of you dont see any of those variables as real challenging situations for an individual homeowner. Given the compensation module increases, I totally understand. But many are not getting any increases, and actual cuts, layoffs etc. So big increases in our outlays are coming. Should we not have the opportunity to plan ahead versus being hit with this just a levy time

    If you remember I supported the last levy, and have supported every levy for the schools.

    Again, a proposal to limit growth to 3% WAS made. With no response what else do we have to go on.
    The last contract negotiation produced some challenging financial issues for students and parents. It is what it is, and it got swept under the rug.
    If it was about the kids, why were groups of graduating seniors financially affected ? Those kids
    had their college plans affected
    Sorry, reality, not cynicsm. I am glad personnally that we are only faced with more loan cost rather
    than those who are not in school because they needed those awards, scholarships etc.

    Hopefully next time, this will not happen. Simply put but the district and its entities need to recognize that this was not a good thing that happenend. Again, defeaning silence.

    Hillerdite, while I agree with you that there should be an adjustment (NOT a CUT) I see the threat of losing busing,sports, programming as a way to continue business as usual.

    I have no issues raising my contribution as we all have done this consistently. But I dont think we should be ignoring the points I made as something cynical or that there is no possible way that they will happen.

    As noted as the starting point for this particular topic on the blog
    Who is representing the individual community member ? The special interests that have deep campaign
    and lobbying advantages have loaded the board accordingly. Thanks to Paul for the overview on where everyone came from on the new state board.

    I dont think it is a good financial planning idea to not recognize legitimate financial impacts to our district funding. I happen to be of the opinion that everything should be on the table for adjustments.
    At this point, everything has not been on the table and thats what we have to go by at this point in time.

  9. Musicman, proposals made have been met with no acknowledgement or responses. That is ok with me.
    but it doesnt show much respect for the community. During the campaign there was a lot of rhetoric about hurting the kids if we dont pass the levy. But the contribution adjustment was one sided, and the contract negotiation also was an issue.

    As you have stated, and believe in your position, we should have passed even more of a levy amount. I understand that, I dont think many would object IF we had the funds to do this.

    The easy way to solve this and move forward would be for the district entities to simply communicate to the public what
    the PLAN is given what we are facing. And to acknowledge that even some of the points raised are a real economic issue.

    If a 3% spending limit is not doable then we in the community have done our part, BUT WHAT THEN
    IS THE ALTERNATIVE? Are we going to wait until FEB 2010 and just present a double digit levy.?

    How about a commitment for the next big expenditure that there is going to be an adjustment ?

  10. Rick, your description is not a "dialog". It was a single side making a proposal without any reply or discussion from the other.

    Most of the problems/issues we bring up here are in dire need for a true dialog. I sincerely hope for everyone's sake we can get to that point.

    At the Board Meeting last night, Hilliard's "Master Teachers" were recognized. It was a very nice recognition, and you can tell from the takeaways of the teachers from the experience, their passion and love of teaching. It showed so much of what musicman preaches of the profession.

    As per Paul's comments about caving into Union leadership, I could also not imagine any of these teachers complaining of taking a smaller raise as their part of the contribution to the betterment of our district and the students. There are greater forces at work ON BOTH SIDES that are suppressing the emotions of these participants as well as well-meaning constituents like Rick.

    I wish we can get to a higher level of dialog.

    BTW, Lisa Whiting recommended that the "Breakfast with the Board" continue (as previously promised) soon. It was agreed (can't say enthusiastically) by a few other members of the Board. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for dialog.

  11. Mark:

    It was Hillirdite not me who spoke about caving in to the union leadership. However, I don't disagree with his assessment.

    As far as creating a dialog, please accept that over the past couple of years at least, there have been folks like Rick, KJ and me who have stood before the Board, presented proposals, and been met with blank stares.

    The Breakfast with the Board can have some value for creating dialog, but a more structured conversation would be much better. For example, the way Tim Hamilton ran the redistricting effort was quite productive because we had a clear agenda, a clear process and clear goals.

    Just sitting down over coffee doesn't accomplish much, except perhaps a little face time. If anyone can talk about anything, most of which will be complaints, how does the Board effectively follow up? How does the community learn what was discussed and how the Board members responding? How do those discussions turn into policies and actions?

    I've suggested to the Board that they form a Strategic Planning team (much more important that an "Audit & Accountability Committee" in my opinion). The Strategic Planning team could form a set of critical issues (e.g. residential growth, cost drivers, revenue forecast, etc) and then the Board could hold moderated community conversations on just those issues (rather than freeform bitch sessions).

    Anyway, the same stuff keeps coming up over and over in this blog because there is a set of core issues that influences everything. The frustration is that the school leadership just doesn't seem to want to talk about these things.


  12. Marc, my apologies but I think many people have tried to open the dialogue and the communication.
    In my case it started some time ago
    but was unsuccessful and I own that.
    I tried to be upfront and took the risk to do that. I spoke to the tax shift coming 6 years ago as I have now, but as then it is viewed as something that cannot happen.

    Perhaps some new people will move forward and try to bring important challenges to the forefront.

    I think all of us are ready to pay for more levies to support our schools. Will our employee groups step forward and do the same ?

  13. Rick - if more of us had been paying attention 6 years ago we might not be in quite the mess we are now. I know that I, for one, bitched about the way things were but was never proactive in doing anything about it. Single voices tend to get lost in the noise, and that has been the
    history of things in the past. Hopefully with what Paul and Mark are putting together, we can have a united voice that can't be ignored. Given the current economy, it is the perfect time for a change.

  14. Marc said "I wish we can get to a higher level of dialog."

    Amen! And that is what I hope your group can accomplish. As Paul has pointed out to me several times.... "venting" occurs on here because people are waking up and seeing reality for the first time. And with that comes frustration and maybe even anger.

    So.... I've listened. But to be honest, a lot of the discussion on this blog has become repetitive and stale. Things happened in the past, I get that. I firmly believe we should not forget the past, but we also can't walk forward while looking behind us. To me, the time for SOLUTIONS has come. The clock started ticking the first Tuesday in November 2008. The community agreed to fund the schools; but did so with conditions. It's a 3-legged stool: Community, Teachers, Admin. The community did their part (and will continue to do so in the future if the other 2 do their part)... now it's up to the admin and HEA.

    To me it's simple. If the other 2 entitities meet their obligations, I will meet mine. However, as you all know by now I am not a socialist. And in this scenario, I'm not willing to continue to carry a disproportionate piece of the solution any longer.

    Sure, I wish I didn't have to pay taxes at all. But that's not realistic. Nor is it realistic to assume school taxes won't continue to increase. I get that. It's the RATE of increase that bothers me. Heck, I could even live with the current rate of increase if I knew all other members of the 3-legged stool were doing all they could as well.

    I truly believe we would all make additional sacrifices to pay the tax bill if we felt it were justified and the only possible solution. Americans (rather humans) will do what is reasonable, no matter what the cost. This is demonstrated during many world tragedies where we just "step up" when there is a legitimate need. Humans are also cynical beings (and rightly so many times) that moderate their support with a questioning eye.

    My point? If the community is convinced that help is needed I believe the support will come. However, without a convincing argument and supporting data, the community will become cynical and withold support until they are convince of the legitimacy of the matter.

  15. Hillerdite, I believe that a number of people including myself have tried over a period of time to address issues. Unfortunatly we have never gotten any type of positive response, if any at all. As I said , I own
    that, was not successful in trying to bring some of the future issues to the table that are now very serious current issues.

    Somehow in all of this we get the blame as individuals for "not doing enough" " having no plan " etc that has been communicated from a good number on this blog and met with silence from the district and its employee groups. The blame has been shifted to the individual taxpayer as "how could you let this happen "

    I simply see business as usual because you cannot ask questions of the district or its employees.
    They will get another free ride in
    the next levy, because we will be faced with same cuts in sports , busing, extra curriculars and as many have said " we will be hurting the kids"

    There would be real "dialogue"
    publicly going on by the district and all interested parties RIGHT now about upcoming contracts if they were very serious about change

    At some point we have to hold the district and its related entities accountable instead of allways pointing the finger back at the electorate. As individuals we dont have the huge campaign dollars to contribute as the district and its employees do to affect decision making

  16. KJ, solutions have been proposed for some time now for a number of issues by the community . Unfortuantly the outcomes have not been necessarily favorable to all students and the community

    The solutions by the district and its
    employees are to continue the same business compensation module year after year that in current economic times does not compare to what is happening in our economy. We had issues even trying to get a small
    contribution to medical, but offset by a large increase in compensation

    The solution presented to us has been business as usual. Somehow
    that is ok, but it is not ok to present adjustments that all of us are currently experiencing.