A state school board seat that represents more than 1 million Miami Valley residents has been vacant for more than five months, despite Ohio law requiring the governor’s office to appoint someone to fill the spot within 30 days.
That vacancy comes as the state board prepares for an unusually busy summer, according to board Vice President Tom Gunlock of Centerville, with key votes upcoming on new graduation requirements and rules for dropout recovery schools.
On Dec. 31, Jeff Mims resigned from the District 3 state school board seat — representing Montgomery, Miami, Butler, Preble and part of Darke County — because he had been elected to Dayton City Commission.
At the time of his resignation, Mims was the only black member of the 19-seat state board, which creates K-12 education policy for Ohio schools. One in every six Ohio students is black, but none of the current 18 board members are black.
“As soon as we have a qualified candidate, we’ll appoint him or her,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Ohio Governor John Kasich. “We’re processing it as quickly as we can, but we won’t shoehorn somebody into a seat just to check a box or meet some arbitrary deadline.”
Nichols pointed out that Kasich has appointed two black members to the board — Angela Thi Bennett and Stanley Jackson — but neither is there today.
“We are constantly looking for African-Americans willing to serve on that board, and we would encourage any African-American who is interested to submit their information to us,” Nichols said.
A heavy majority of the members on the current board do not have a background in education.
Mims said he left the board in part because he thought he was having little influence on the majority and could make more impact on Dayton’s city commission. But he said the lack of diversity on the state school board “bothers me tremendously.”
Recent history shows several board vacancies have taken months to fill, while a few have been handled quickly.
Darryl Mehaffie of Greenville, a member of the Republican state central committee, was appointed to the state school board on Jan. 4, 2013, filling an appointed position that had been open for more than three months. But when Mehaffie resigned last week, saying he could not devote enough time to the job, Kasich took just two days to name Cathye Flory of Logan to replace him.
Nichols said that replacement, which by law had to come from a rural area, happened quickly because Flory had recently applied for another board seat. “So we kind of had that person in our pocket for when a seat would open up,” he said.
“The state school board is one of 300 boards and commissions we’re responsible for finding qualified people for,” Nichols said. “It’s a big job, but we’ll continue to do it, and we’ll put the best and brightest we can possibly find in every one of these seats.”
‘We’re going to be swamped’
The legislature passed major K-12 education bills in recent weeks, including one that changes the pathway to high school graduation.
Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said ODE is still analyzing the bills line-by-line to determine which changes are ODE’s responsibility and which ones belong to the state board.
Charlton said it’s already clear that the board will decide the cumulative score needed on seven end-of-course exams in order to graduate.
State board member Ron Rudduck of Wilmington said the board developed a point system for that score last year, but it was based on 10 end-of-course exams, rather than the seven that ended up in the law.
State officials will also decide the “cut scores” needed to pass each individual end-of-course exam, create a system to translate Advanced Placement test scores into state scores, and decide the score needed on the third-grade reading test to advance to fourth grade.
“We’re going to be swamped,” Gunlock said of the board. “ We’ve got a very busy schedule ahead of us.”
Gunlock, an appointed, at-large board member, said another major effort will be establishing rules for dropout recovery schools based on new legislation. A variety of schools and colleges will be eligible for funding to help dropouts 22 and older earn high school diplomas.
“That money is available July 1, but we haven’t written the rules yet obviously, because it just passed,” Gunlock said. “That’s going to have to hit pretty quick if we’re going to get this program up and running. … It takes a long time to write rules. It’s not one month and you’re done.”
Ohio law calls for 11 elected members plus eight appointed by the governor’s office on the 19-member school board. But because of resignations and replacements, Kasich’s appointees now make up a 10-8 majority on board votes. Those numbers will reset after the November election.
Mims said he thought some appointed board members’ votes were guided too much by Kasich’s agenda, rather than by research presented by trained education professionals.
Rudduck admitted that only four or five of the current 18 members have a background in education, but he argued that the attorneys and business people on the board “really seek out advice and input from the professionals and experts. And that’s how it ought to be.”
Mims said he misses serving on the state board and hopes the board gets more diversity.
“There are certain issues that specifically affect children of color,” Mims said. “People who have not experienced the challenges that these students come to school with every day (may) have a desire to address those issues, and there’s not meanness, but there are lot of preconceived notions about why those kids are in the circumstances they’re in.”