Rachael Kerr
TheNewsOutlet.org

Name: Stephanie Dodd.

District 9: Elected in November 2012, term ends Dec. 31, 2016. Includes Licking, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum, Perry, Hocking, Fairfield, and parts of Holmes, Franklin and Pickaway counties.

School board committees: Capacity; Accountability; Operating Standards.

Age: 33.

Residence: Hebron.

Political party affiliation: Democrat.

Occupation: Owner of SLD Consulting LLC, which specializes in campaign, political action committee and organization fundraising.

Family: Married, three children, one in private school.

Education: Private high school, bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Other boards and affiliations: Finance director, Ohio Democratic Party; co-chairman, Central Ohio Network, University of Cincinnati Alumni Association; member, Franklin Park Conservatory Women’s Board; member, Junior League of Columbus; member, St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church.

Stephanie Dodd, elected to represent Southeast Ohio on the state school board, is no stranger to Ohio politics.

She is a political fundraiser on the Democratic side of the aisle and finance director for the state party. While she sits on the board, her husband, Dan Dodd, a former state legislator, lobbies the state school board and legislature on behalf of an advocacy group for high-end private preparatory and religious schools.

She ran for the District 9 seat because she believed she would “bring something unique to the table” that could help improve the education system.

“Having a background in business and finance, I think I bring a unique perspective on organization — how companies are run,” she said. “I think that being able to look at the education system from that perspective brings something positive.”

She is owner of SLD Consulting LLC, a small company specializing in fundraising for campaigns, political action committees and other organizations, and previously in government relations for Time Warner Cable where she oversaw political action committee fundraising and acted as a financial analyst specializing in budgeting, forecasting and capital analysis.

In her quest for the board, she had one of the better-financed campaigns, receiving support from the Ohio public school and public employees Turnaround Ohio PAC, $6,733; Ohio Democratic Party Candidate Fund, $7,500; Ohio Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, $5,000; Ohio Education Association, $5,833; and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, $114.

Dodd graduated from Bishop Rosecrans High School, a private Catholic school in Zanesville before attending the University of Cincinnati, where she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration, majoring in finance, information systems and digital business.

A practicing Catholic who attended parochial schools and mother of three young children, she has one child in a private school.

Dodd, nonetheless, says she is committed to children in all settings.

“I’m the mother of three small children and I want to make sure that they and all the children in Ohio have the opportunity to receive the very best education,” she said.

In June, she proposed that the state board change its rules to include “sexual orientation” on the list of things that potential public school teachers cannot be discriminated against when seeking employment.

“Well, I think it’s most important that at our schools, they’re hiring the best and the brightest teachers,” Dodd said on the issue of homosexuality. “I think … that’s most important.”

Of the four types of schools in Ohio, she says traditional schools need “quality teachers, investment and pride,” charter schools provide flexibility, with home-schooling there is personalized teaching, and with private schools, “you tend to have high, really high academic standards. ... I think you tend to see more forward-thinking curriculum.”

During this first term on the board, Dodd said she has been visiting schools within her district and participating in education-based events such as Read Across America.

One of the biggest problems she sees in her district, which is mainly rural, is the schools don’t have access to the most up-to-date technology for classrooms.

“One of the biggest challenges for those schools is in the area of technology,” she said. “Many of the schools that I represent don’t have the resources to provide computers or iPads to their students and many of them don’t even have access to the best of broadband.”

She recalls speaking with a superintendent whose students were preparing for computer-based testing, and those students weren’t familiar with how to use a mouse.

“There are resources that we need to even be able to teach a child how to work with these devices,” she said.

Superintendents can vouch for her interest, but they don’t necessarily agree on everything.

“Stephanie Dodd is our representative in District 9,” said Licking Valley Local Schools Superintendent David Hile. “She has come to two of our Licking County superintendents meetings since being elected to the board.”

Hile said his biggest challenges come from loss of money to charter and private schools and the politicizing of the education system. One controversial issue on which he disagrees with Dodd and other state board members is accountability.

“The state accountability system has little basis in educational research or evidence and will not improve Ohio’s schools. It is a political tool not an educational improvement plan,” Hile said.

Dodd thinks otherwise.

“One of the committees that I sat on this year, it’s a brand new committee that was established in January, gives us accountability,” she said. “So I think one of the things that is changing for the better is that we are more focused on holding our schools accountable.”

But she stresses that she wants that accountability applied to publicly funded charter schools. Those schools are “certainly not up to the same level as the traditional schools. I think that we need to take a look there.”

Answers to other interview questions:

Q: How is Ohio doing in serving children who are attending private schools under school vouchers?

A: I certainly think that there are plenty of opportunities for children to take advantage of this program. If you look at the numbers of applications, it is increasing, so I think that’s a sign of Ohio’s success in that arena.

Q: In schools funded with public dollars, what do you think should be taught about religion?

A: Outside the realm of history, religion should not be taught using public funds.

Q: Is there a context in which you believe a discussion of human sexuality is appropriate in publicly funded schools?

A: In the context of a health class or biology, I have no objection to the discussion of human sexuality.

Q: What do you think about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs?

A: I am excited about the inclusion of STEM into our school system and some of the new STEM schools that have popped up. When you work with anything new, there will always be challenges, but I think they’ll, be able to work through those and provide something exciting and new in our schools. It’s just a varied area to focus on.”

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.