CUYAHOGA FALLS — School funding. Safety. Testing. Charter schools.
These topics and other education-related questions came up during Candidates Night, sponsored by the Akron Area School Superintendents’ Association. The event, on Oct. 16 in the Cuyahoga Falls High School, included nine of the 16 candidates invited, with more than 75 people attending.
Tom Speaks of Impact Group served as moderator, and fielded questions to the candidates that came from both the Akron Area School Superintendents’ Association and the audience. Invited were Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-37) and Democrat Adam VanHo, the candidates for the open Senate District 27 seat; Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-34) and Republican Josh Sines for the District 34 seat; Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-35) and Republican Osita Obierika for the District 35 seat; Rep. Anthony DeVitis (R-36) and Democrat Timothy Piatt for the District 36 seat; Democrat Casey Weinstein and Republican Mike Rasor for the District 37 seat; Republican Bill Roemer and Democrat Elliot Kolkovich for the District 38 seat; Rep. Steve Hambley (R-69) and Democrat Carol Brenstuhl for the District 69 seat; and Democrat Randi Clites and Republican Jim Lutz for the District 75 seat.
Rep. Marilyn Slaby (R-38) is not running for her seat, and Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-75) cannot run due to term limits.
Sines, Obierika, and Weinstein did not attend, and neither candidate for the District 69 and 75 races were present.
The first question posed to the candidates was, what is the greatest issue brought up by voters regarding education.
“I often hear from educators about how they feel they have to teach to the test,” said Piatt of Uniontown.
Piatt said he would like to see “something substantive, where schools meet goals, and understand what concepts are important, rather than teaching to the test.”
DeVitis said that he has heard from voters that school safety is a key concern.
“They are always concerned with the safety of their child,” DeVitis said. He said he introduced the initiative Law Officers Volunteering in Education program, which passed in the House but to date has not advanced.
According to information from the Ohio House of Representative website, the proposal was first introduced in June 2013. The proposal would allow active and retired law enforcement officers to volunteer as security up to nine hours a week in schools. They would be able to sign up with the sheriff of the county in which they wish to volunteer. Once approved, their names would be disbursed to local school districts, which would be able to contact them for scheduling purposes. It passed in the House 63-27 in December 2013, but has not come before the Senate.
Mike Rasor, an at-large Councilman on Stow City Council, said that school funding’s heavy dependence of property taxes is an issue he hears about from the voters he has talked to.
“The deeper I get in this campaign, the more I realize there are big holes the legislators need to handle,” Rasor said. “I’ve heard a lot of outcry from DeRolph, but few solutions.”
Kolkovich, who lives in Fairlawn, said the feedback he has received is similar.
“People feel we are always on the ballot,” he said. “They want to support the schools but they feel the schools are always on the ballot. Columbus has slashed a lot of funding. Most levies are for operating costs, which are just to keep schools afloat. That’s wrong.”
Roemer, who lives in Richfield, said a big complaint he has heard concerns the testing done in Ohio.
“There are significant amounts of improvements that we need to be doing regarding the tests,” Roemer said. He said he was a teacher, and had to give the tests. He said the tests are “implemented early in the year” and the results from those tests are slow to come to the districts.
Roegner, who lives in Hudson, said one concern brought to her is the lack of oversight with the state’s charter schools. She said that two bills passed this year, SB 216, which aims to create more oversight of e-schools, and HB 87, which mandates that money collected by the state from e-schools from a finding for recovery by the state auditor will go back to the public school district that lost the money rather than the state general fund, “are a good start.”
VanHo, who lives in Munroe Falls, said one of the biggest issues facing the schools was the state’s geography.
“We have 88 counties, and each county has school districts, which have their own needs,” he said. “There are vast differences in the districts. Some rural districts focus on agricultural business. Another district focuses on the wind turbine business. We need to figure out how to best serve districts and their needs. There’s no magic wand for this.”
Sykes, of Akron, said there “are as many issues as I have seconds to speak,” but one key issue is poverty. She said her sister, who is a teacher, has told her of the difficulty of students coming to school.
“Poverty, transportation issues, abuse in the home, has a great impact on students’ ability to learn,” Sykes said. “The Report Cards do not take poverty into account.”
Galonski, of Akron, said a recent issue brought to her by voters was the state’s decision to remove two graduation pathway options this year. This leaves students with three other options mandated by the state, as well as the need to earn at least 20 credits in classes.
“A conservative estimate is that 30 percent of seniors may have serious problems getting a diploma,” she said. Galonski added that she has proposed legislation to restore the two options available for 2018 graduates, but so far the bill has not received a hearing.
Phillip Herman, the superintendent of the Hudson City Schools and the president of the Akron Area School Superintendents’ Association, said he was happy with how the event turned out.
“I was very pleased,” he said. “I appreciate the time the candidates took, and the turnout. I would like to possibly do this every couple of years.”
Scott Karlo, who serves as the Woodridge Local Schools levy committee chair, said he was disappointed by the turnout.
“For as many people as complain about the property taxes, how few came out,” he said.
However, he added that the questions asked and the answers given “reflect a necessary change in how our schools are supported.”
“I hope this comes through,” Karlo said.
Dawn Tallent of Cuyahoga Falls said she “had lingering concerns” about how schools were funded.
“Everyone knows it’s broken, but no one has ideas on how to fix it,” Tallent said. “What Tavia said was rather disheartening.”
Tallent was referring to a comment Galonski made during the question and answer period about the difficulty of House representatives to work on bills within their two-year terms, when their second year is spent on campaigning.
Nordonia Hills Superintendent Joe Clark said he liked the overall respectful tone of the evening.
“What was most refreshing is we had nine candidates, and there was no name calling, no shouting,” he said. “Everyone stuck to the questions and to their own opinions, unlike what you often see in the national sphere. I think this is a good thing for the community to see, that we do advocate at the state level for schools.”
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC