Natalia Fenton
TheNewsOutlet.org

Name: Michael L. Collins.

District 6: First elected in 2008, re-elected in 2012. Term expires Dec. 31, 2016. Includes Delaware, Knox and part of Franklin counties.

State board committees: Urban Education; Legislative and Budget; Accountability; Operating Standards.

Age: 63.

Residence: Westerville.

Political party affiliation: None declared.

Occupation: Marketing executive, president, Promotions One Inc.

Education: Public high school, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.

Family: Married, three children, all went to public schools.

Other boards, affiliations: Former member and president of Westerville City Schools Board of Education, levy campaigns; Former director for Center for Community and Educational Planning at the Ohio State University; coached youth football and wrestling.

Michael L. Collins, a Columbus businessman, is an elected member representing an area north of the city.

His list of campaign contributors and criticism of for-profit charter-school managers suggest that he is an ally of traditional public schools.

However, Collins has maintained a position of political neutrality for years. Board of elections records show that he has had no registered party affiliation for about 10 years, and older records suggest he’s voted in both parties’ primaries.

He says: “I think we’re, now more than ever, way over-politicized in education … Politics and adults are getting in the way of children’s learning and also of the resources we could bring to education that could make America No. 1 again. Because we are not.”

He said his endorsements represent many perspectives.

“All levels of stakeholders in education — which includes board members, superintendents, principals, teachers — I was endorsed by all of them. I was endorsed by labor, but I was also endorsed by administration and small business,” he said.

Collins, whose district includes Franklin, Knox and Delaware counties, raised more money from individuals in the last cycle than anyone else ­— $22,711, according to Secretary of State records — but he also raised $34,464 from political action committees, among them state’s teachers unions: the Ohio Federation of Teachers, which contributed $9,500, and the Ohio Education Association, which gave $10,000.

Collins has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education and a career as a business and marketing professional. He was first elected to the board in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 with 40 percent of the vote by defeating two opponents, including Kristen McKinley, another Democrat who also was seeking re-election. Redistricting put Collins and McKinley into the same district.

As a businessman who has made money working for governments and other businesses, he’s critical of for-profit companies that have tapped into public education.

“The real fear in public education today is the fact that the private sector figured out it’s a $900 billion dollar operation in the United States of America — and they want some,” said Collins. “And getting it is more important [to them] than what they do with it — and that concerns me.”

In that regard, he is highly critical of the state’s accountability system, which he suggests allows huge gaps into which private and charter schools fall, often obscuring poor performance and questionable use of taxpayer dollars.

“The first thing we need to do is not exclude any of the [traditional public, charter, private and home-schooling systems] from certain academic, social and human responsibilities in the education of our children,” he said.

All types of education must set high, world-competitive standards.

“We have to quit talking about old economic philosophy and start talking about the global economy and what makes things tick,” Collins said. “We need to talk about supporting an infrastructure that talks about the economy of the future. Not an economy of yesterday. ‘We’re a Rust Belt, remember?’ Well, Rust Belt’s gone. We need to teach kids about the future of economics and the global economy.”

Departing from some of his fellow board members, he places importance on understanding and critical thinking about world cultures and philosophies.

“We need to tell them about the structure of different governments and governance and how they’re supposed to work and how they really work,” he said. “We have to learn what the ‘isms’ are, or what the philosophies are, and then how they really work. Then we need to challenge kids to start doing comparisons …”

He cautioned that adults should not think that what was good enough for them is good enough today.

“Students need to be prepared differently and also need to be prepared in a fashion that makes them comparable to the world economy and not the state they live in or the state next to them,” he said.

Collins also expressed concern about the differences among children, and the state funding formula’s failure to recognize that. He said that as we raise standards, those differences among children have become far more apparent, yet there has been no thoughtful analysis of what must be done to offer adequate opportunity.

He said that as co-chair of the urban education committee, he has come to recognize that the “largest common denominator” preventing success in urban schools “is not what happens in the classroom. They’re called social barriers, or social determinants.”

They are:

•?“Many don’t have a roof over their head, and if they do it’s not the kind of roof, trust me, the roof has got at least one hole in it.

•?“They don’t have enough to eat and they don’t have opportunities to eat the right foods and nutrition [which] is an unbelievable key to intellectual success.”

•?“There isn’t a balance yet of real medical attention,” which he said spreads illnesses and increases absenteeism.

And to resolve those issues takes money, he said:

“First and foremost, there is not, we do not yet have a state funding formula that is reflective of the total responsibility of the state to educate its children and we have way too much of a financial burden on local property owner’s and it creates a significant imbalance of haves and have-nots and the type of education that kids get, in many ways and many times, is based on their ZIP code,” he said.

Answers to additional interview questions:

Q: How is Ohio doing in serving children attending private schools under school voucher programs?

A: We have no way of knowing because there is no evaluative system in following the dollar. We just know those kids that are on vouchers, no matter where they go, when they return to public schools — because over two-thirds do by the way — [they] are further behind than they were when they left. We have no accountability system to track these kids. So the first thing needed is a tracking system. The second thing needed is a common accountability system. And the third thing has to do with if vouchers are going to be a success, it can only take kids who are in poor educational environments and moving them good educational environments. Not from taking them from poor educational environments and moving them to another private poor educational environment. Then it is an absolute failure. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. And between the politicians and the educators, we are not doing our job.

Q: What do you believe in the state’s obligation to each of the four types of education?

A: Until there is across-the-board, adequate accountability system that all four have to meet — and we eliminate exceptions for this or this or this — there isn’t an equitable formula for these. The first thing we need to do is not exclude any of the four from certain academic, social and human responsibilities in the education of our children. That’s the state’s first responsibility. Secondly, there needs to be a real allocation of dollars that recognizes the state’s responsibility first and secondly recognizes the fact that you can’t have a pie that is only so big and say now we’re going to cut it four ways instead one way or two ways. You all gotta … do what you can even though we’re making the pie smaller and not larger. So, it’s back to responsibility. And I think there needs to be sets of equal requirements academically that children need to learn and perform at certain levels. By a certain age or a certain age range you need to be able to do these things no matter which of those environments you’re in – and no one can be exempt from that.

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.