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Education


Tea party members run for local offices, including Ohio's school boards, on a platform of fiscal conservatism
Turning to local elections is a way to stay relevant
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT JO INGLES


Reporter
Jo Ingles
 
Kelly Kohls, a member of Springboro City Board of Education, is helping others with the tea party fiscal philosophy run.
Courtesy of http://www.kohls4education.com/
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When Ohioans go to the polls later today, they are likely to vote on school board candidates. And this year, there’s a theme of fiscal responsibility among some Tea Party candidates in various areas of the state.

As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the outcome of these races could change the future spending in some schools.

Hear more on tea party members running for Ohio's school boards

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When Kelly Kohls became a member of the Springboro City Schools a few years ago, the district was reeling from four failed levies. Kohls didn’t focus on raising more money for the district; she focused on spending.

“I felt fairly confident that it wasn't that we needed more money,"Kohls said. “It was much more that we needed to spend differently. And so when I got on the school board, ... I was the lone voice that advocated we spend differently. Part of that is to stop some of the administrative-bonus packages that we were giving. That would save us a couple hundred thousand dollars a year.  ... We found many where the money was not coming back into the district that we now have coming back into the district.”

Kohls isn’t running for re-election in Springboro schools but she’s supporting a couple of candidates she says will likely follow her philosophy. 

In fact, as the president of the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council, she’s been holding workshops to help school-board candidates throughout the state learn how to be more fiscally conservative with public school district tax dollars. 

Change in running, as well as serving
And she’s hoping those candidates will be elected. Kohls says school board members must learn to change the way they think about running schools.

“The fiscal picture for education in Ohio, the public education picture, is going to fail,” Kohls said. “Pretty much everybody is taking their systems to fiscal emergency, always coming back to the taxpayers for more. The taxpayers are tapped out, they are saying 'no' in larger numbers than they ever had. There’s another way to do business.”

Innovation Ohio, a think tank that’s looked at school funding and spending, says there’s another factor at work here. 

Putting it on the locals
Spokesman Dale Butland says local school districts are faced with tighter budgets now because state leaders have shifted the tax burden from the state’s income tax payers to local taxpayers.  

“The school districts from one end of the state to another have made cuts right and left,” Butland said.  “They have cut back on academic programs. They’ve increased fees for participation in sports and other activities. They have laid teachers off.  They’ve asked teachers to pay more their health insurance and pensions.
"So that’s where these local levies are coming from and it’s been a giant shell game."

Butland says voters should remember school board members are making tough decisions about what to cut and at some point, they can’t cut anymore without cutting quality. 

Paul Beck, a political science professor at the Ohio State University, says these low-turnout elections are often when more conservative candidates can find the most success.

Small turnout could mean big influence
“The ability of some of these groups to be able to take over a school board or at least to elect some of their supporters to a school board is greater in these off year elections than it is when the electorate is far greater and more partisan,” Beck said.

Beck points out elections of fiscally conservative school board members could make a big difference in some districts.

“If they are elected to school boards in any appreciable number, it could make a big difference to the school board,” Beck said, “less willing to put levies on the ballot. Less willing to work out arrangements with local teachers unions that are often seen as enemies by some of these groups. Less willing to support more secular education.

Beck says there’s another factor to remember here. He notes more students today are opting for private schools, charter schools,religious schools and other options.

He says that means the parents of those children will no longer have the same relationship with the public school district that they once had.

And that, he says, means more parents and taxpayers might be less willing to fund districts as they have in the past.

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