Harry Evans
NewsOutlet

Name: Bryan C. Williams.

District 5: Appointed to a vacant elected seat in early 2011 by Gov. John Kasich, elected to fill the remainder of the term in Nov. 2012. Term ends Dec. 31, 2014. Represents suburban Summit and Cuyahoga counties, part of Holmes, and all of Medina, Wayne and Ashland counties.

School board committees: Capacity; Executive; Legislative and Budget; Accountability; Operating Standards.

Age: 48.

Residence: Fairlawn.

Political affiliation: Republican.

Occupation: Director of government affairs, Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio.

Education: Private high school, bachelor’s degree in history and political science.

Family: Married, three children who attend public schools.

Other boards and affiliations: State representative, 1997-2004; Past president, board of trustees, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church; member, West Akron Kiwanis; Former board member of theater and music organizations.

By Harry Evans

NewsOutlet

Bryan C. Williams, a former state representative for the Akron area, former Summit County Board of Elections director and now a lobbyist for nonunion contractors, is one of the state school board’s most ardent supporters of charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools.

“Choice to me is another word for competition, and competition is another word to me for eventual excellence,” he said.

Williams, who graduated from the private Walsh Jesuit High School, sponsored legislation early in the school-choice movement to rapidly expand the transfer of dollars from public schools to follow students who enrolled in private schools and supported legislation that removed the Ohio Department of Education from direct oversight of charter schools.

Now he sits on five of the most important committees, where he has an opportunity to act on those beliefs.

His position is that competition for funding eventually will make all schools better, no matter whether the money goes to a charter school, private school, home school or traditional public school.

The driving force behind reform should be market-driven, he said, with the parent deciding which type of school wins state funding for each child.

Williams acknowledges that safety and consumer satisfaction often trump academic concerns as parents move their children from public to charter schools, which he said pay teachers less, operate on smaller budgets and often offer “inferior” programming and extracurricular activities.

When another board member suggested that parents in poor, urban communities choose heavily advertised charter schools because they offer curb-to-curb transportation and amenities that have little or nothing to do with academics, Williams squarely rebutted the idea that parents might not be making well-informed decisions.

“It’s extremely dangerous and elitist to suggest that, although care as you might, you’re too stupid to know better,” he said. “That is a gateway to really bad government.”

Lobbyist for contractors

Government gets in the way of quality in nearly all segments of life and work, Williams said.

He supported a proposed state constitutional amendment, spearheaded by Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, to make Ohio a right-to-work state, which means that unions and private employers would be prohibited from agreeing to mandatory union membership. As a lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors, he opposes union-only school building projects and has lobbied on the legislation that would ban union shops in public schools.

As the lobbyist for contractors, he also has worked in support of a bill in the House that would create an apprenticeship program for the building trades as part of the post-secondary education program. Schools would be required to pay the employer’s cost of the apprenticeship.

When he ran in 2011 for a seat on the state board, he was endorsed by Ohioans for Educational Freedom, a conservative Christian home-schooling advocacy group whose mission is to resist government involvement in education, and local tea party groups.

He disagrees with the use of standardized tests. He said teacher evaluations, aimed at eventually determining tenure and pay, would have more impact on shaping collaboration and improving education if buildings and teams of teachers are assessed collectively, instead of individually.

He also said that any state funding given to students to attend private schools, also known as vouchers, should come with absolute accountability and that charter schools that continually post low marks should and will be closed, most likely by lack of enrollment.

School choice

He said the state is moving in the correct direction in allowing parents to send children to whatever school they wish, at public expense.

“I think we’re far better off than we were 20 years ago, because we have more choices. I believe that competition is the causal determinative for creating excellence in any arena, including education,” Williams said.

“Ultimately, the power of competition is having a positive effect on schools: public and private. And the positive effect it’s having is that in the quest to compete for students, school districts are having to be more accountable to parents, families and students. And that’s a good thing. [Traditional schools] don’t like it. Monopolies are always preferable.”

“Monopolies don’t work in any venue, including education. And I believe through choice, that not only are we creating more educational outlets — the government sector does provide a lot of choice — but the private sector choice that has been added to that mix is causing everybody to be more creative and find more efficiencies in the system,” he said.

When asked if he believes there are improvements in education, he said yes, but he’s not sure about the federal government’s intentions.

“In the 20-plus years I’ve been involved, I don’t think I’ve ever seen public schools asked to digest so much change, so quickly. … I think a lot of these changes are for the long-term better. There are short-term challenges that will have long-term results. I think the new report card, the teacher evaluation systems are great, where we’re going with those.

“When I say ‘I’m not sure,’ I’m very concerned about what I see as the attempted federalization of education that I see taking place, primarily through the Common Core, the National [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers], or this national system of testing,” he said. “I think the jury is still out as to what and where that is going to go, but I, if federal government is going to take over, to continue to creep into the governance of K-12 education, I think that the result will be more expense, less favorable outcomes, and less accountability to the people who are directly affected at the local school district level.”

Despite a life of politicking and a close affiliation with tea party organization, not all of Williams’ views are conservative.

For instance, in a recent telephone interview, he said there are times when human sexuality should be taught in public schools.

“I suspect there probably are some people who believe that government schools should not be teaching any human sexuality at all — I’m not one of them. But I believe that if it’s age appropriate and it’s not a values-based course, I think that’s appropriate.”

Williams’ views on issues affecting Ohio education:

Climate change: I think you’ve got to teach it. You have to teach the controversy. I’m well aware of the political fights that go on around that, and there are no hard answers. Therefore, I think you need to teach the controversy. You need to teach the theories that are out there, the amount of proof that substantiates the theories, and I think you need to teach the countervailing viewpoints from the people who refute that. I think that’s all appropriate within a science context.

School vouchers: I have never been one who has been put out by the notion of using public tax dollars to provide a free education to Ohio schoolchildren, even if that school is privately owned — whether it’s privately owned by a church diocese, privately owned by some sort of religious configuration, or if it’s totally secular and it’s privately owned.

Pleasing constituents: When you’re a Republican like myself, and a conservative Republican and you’re from a county like Summit County, you learn early that you’re not in the majority. You hear and come to understand other people’s viewpoints, because you hear them frequently. I’ve known from the very get-go that politics is a team sport, you’ve got to work with other people, often times people who don’t share your views — they may even have diametrically different viewpoints. Still when it comes to public education, they still have every right to be involved, whether they have the votes or support; you just have to work with people.

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, the University of Akron and professional media outlets including WYSU-FM radio and the Vindicator in Youngstown, the Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio in Akron.