A bill that would end gubernatorial appointments to the State Board of Education and return it to an all-elected body appears to be headed nowhere.
Recent, brief testimony on the bill might have been the end of an effort by state Rep. Ronald Gerberry, D-Austintown, to return control to voters.
William Phillis, a retired assistant state superintendent and the leader of the organization that sued the state over school funding, was the lone supporter at a House committee meeting.
“I assume that that bill will be assigned to the cemetery,” Phillis said. He predicted that no governor would sign legislation reducing the power of the office to control the board.
The chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Gerald Stebelton, R-Lancaster, would not comment for this story.
The state board, created in 1956 in the image of elected local and county boards, was modified in the 1990s after it opposed Gov. George Voinovich. Members supported Phillis’ group’s lawsuit challenging funding of public education.
An angry governor and legislature moved quickly to change the make-up of the board by providing for appointment of nearly half its members — usually enough to give the governor control.
“The intent was to control the State Board of Education by the governor’s office. I was never a fan of that,” Gerberry said. He introduced House Bill 58 in last February to place the board back in voters’ hands.
Ruling parties have used the “nonpartisan” board to streamline and drive education priorities while avoiding political opposition from the moment its composition changed. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland did just as Voinovich, Bob Taft and John Kasich, all Republicans, have done with the board.
Until the resignation of a Democrat early this year, the elected portion of the board was evenly divided — four Republicans, four Democrats and one Independent. Kasich’s seven Republican appointees tipped the board solidly in his party’s favor.
Kasich has since added, Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings, an assistant vice president at Otterbein University in Westerville and currently registered as a Democratic voter.
The board came under a microscope last fall when the Beacon Journal and the NewsOutlet set out to profile each member and found conflict-of-interest issues.
Bryan Williams, a business lobbyist and 2011 appointee elected in 2012 to serve an area south of Cleveland and west of Akron, recently resigned. Elected members cannot also be registered lobbyists.
Also since then, a complaint on file with the Ohio Ethics Commission alleges that two-time Kasich appointee C. Todd Jones has used his position to benefit the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio, for which he is the lobbyist, president and general counsel.
Two of his clients — Ohio Christian and Otterbein universities — also have high-level officials sitting in appointed board seats.
A Beacon Journal story Sunday illustrated a potential conflict for board member Mark Smith, whose Ohio Christian University in the 2012-13 school year collected about $134,000 in K-12 dollars from the post-secondary education options program, which the state board regulates. Smith is the college president, and the school advertises that its courses are taught from a Christian perspective.
State law prohibits the use of post-secondary education dollars for religious, or sectarian, training.
Jones, in a board discussion of ethics issues a month ago, named a number of colleagues and former board members whom he said have conflicts of interest.
The solution, Gerberry says, is to do away with appointed positions and let the people of Ohio vet candidates at the polls.
“It’s become solely political,” Gerberry said of the state school board. “It should not be a political position.”
Gerberry added that creating more elected positions would reduce the size of massive districts, allowing board members to be closer to constituents.
“People don’t know who their board members are,” Gerberry said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.