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City school leaders back JVS board change

Springfield senator’s amendment opposed by state, local board members.

A local CTC board member and superintendent this week defended a local state senator’s last-minute amendment to the state budget bill seeking to privatize JVS and career tech center district boards.

Springfield City Schools Board of Education President Ed Leventhal and District Superintendent David Estrop said they believe the topic should be explored, even as they acknowledged others’ concerns about how the amendment was inserted.

Sen. Chris Widener’s JVS plan would replace elected, district-level board of education members, who are appointed by their respective boards, with private business leaders, also appointed by individual districts.

Opponents of Widener’s amendment told the Springfield News-Sun in a story Tuesday that they disagreed with the proposal because privatization would eliminate the public’s ability to hold the board members accountable, and that mandating business persons be JVS board is not necessary because districts already have business advisory groups steering them.

And one opponent alleged Widener introduced the legislation because of a spat between the Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center and the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, a new ag-bioscience school that he championed. Leventhal and Estrop are governing board members for the STEM Academy.

Widener said Monday the sole reason for the amendment is to avoid a conflict of interest as the state passes on funding to districts. House and Senate members are debating the amendment as part of their conference committee work on the budget.

Leventhal, who also is a board member of the CTC, said he’s in favor of the proposed change, at least conceptually.

“The purpose of having a JVS or a CTC is to provide job training, job career skills, for those students who go there … and/or to train those students for life-long jobs in the market place,” Leventhal said. “That should be driven by industry and business of the community who are the best judges of what jobs and what job skills are needed to best fill the jobs.”

Opponents argue that career-tech schools are already guided by business advisory councils and don’t need to be governed by them.

But Leventhal said that, in his experience, the value of those advisory councils vary.

“I’ve had some personal experience … The advice given is pretty minimal,” Leventhal said.

Leventhal said there’s little accountability of CTC board members under the current structure because they’re also appointed, albeit as an elected official from a home district.

“We are certainly elected in our home districts, and we’re accountable to the people in our home district as to how we perform. But we’re certainly not as accountable as a CTC board member,” he said.

Leventhal understood those who said the proposal could have been more open and transparent.

“When you’ve got a budget bill that’s almost 6,000 pages, there’s a hell of a lot in there that ought not be in there, that too many of the legislators get to put in at the last minute; their pet peeve or their agenda. And it takes away from open and transparent discussion,” he said.

But he doesn’t reject the idea outright simply for the way it was introduced.

“I think the key driver … is not what’s best for the board members but what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the economic development of the community,” he said.

Having business leaders more involved, whether it be on the board, accepting visits from teachers at their companies, going to the classroom to ask students how better they could learn, for example, would all help move the area forward, he said.

“I think all those things would pay more dividends than trying to have a four o’clock or five o’clock meeting at CTC and hope you get some industry people there to talk about I’m not sure what,” he said.

Expanding opportunities for students to reverse the area’s declining population and to positively change the job market is something Springfield’s Estrop said needs to happen or Springfield and Clark County will be left behind.

“There are some, quite a few people in fact, who would just say we need to continue to do the same thing,” Estrop said. “In order to get different results and better results for our area, we’ve got to do different things than we’re currently doing.”

And that includes changing the way they’re governed, he said.

“I don’t know if that bill is necessarily a correct approach, but I do know that something needs to be done and the discussion seriously started that involves education and business and government, because there’s some big disconnects right now,” he said.

Estrop said he hopes that, at minimum, the introduction of the legislation starts a focused discussion about the topic.

He’s seen problems with elected, district board members appointed to CTC boards limiting the amount of students a district sends to the CTC because of money.

“It’s not being driven by the students’ needs or opportunities for kids. It’s ‘how much money do I want to have my local district spend to send a child to the CTC?’ ” he said. “One might conclude that’s why there is a lack of new ideas and new innovation because we don’t want to make those programs too strong.”

Change for the benefit of students and the region is why Springfield City Schools is participating in the Global Impact STEM Academy, he said.

“What I see, and I particularly see it at CTC, is not only no desire to change, but in fact, on the part of a number of board members, total resistance to change,” Estrop said.

Donna Myers, president of the Springfield-Clark CTC board, disputed Etrop’s claim of resistance to change.

She believes that while change does and should happen at the local CTC, throwing out the current governance structure without in-depth discussion would hinder student success.

She reiterated that the amendment doesn’t belong in the budget bill and that the CTC is already served well by its business advisory groups, which helps guide its curriculum and training.

“Our career-tech system in Ohio is one of the best in the country, so … we need to make sure if we’re going to make such a major change in governance that we don’t impact what we’re already doing and offering,” she said.

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