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Education

New Ohio Education Board Members Talk Teachers Unions, Economy and Charter Schools

photo of Meryl Johnson
WCPN
New Board of Education member Meryl Johnson worked with the Cleveland Teachers Union for years and taught English for 40 years before winning the state board seat in November.

The state Legislature holds most of the power in determining education policy in Ohio.  But the 19-member state Board of Education can play a large role.

A half-dozen new board members are taking office this year. Five won election in November to represent districts in Ohio and one member, who has not yet been named, will be chosen by Gov. John Kasich to fill a vacancy.

One of the new board members is Meryl Johnson, who taught English for some 40 years and was active in the Cleveland Teachers Union. She believes the state Legislature is hoping to privatize public schools in Ohio.

“So it’s about getting rid of unions. It’s about taking the power away from teachers who should have the power because we know what works. But people don’t like to listen to us. We have a lot of non-educators making decisions, which is why we are in the shape we are in,” Johnson said.

Healthy schools and society
The new board member representing Northwest Ohio’s District 1 is Linda Haycock. She’s been a member of the Shawnee local school board in Lima for eight years. Her degree is in economics, and she says Ohio must prepare our children for the career and college path they need. 

“If we want a healthy economy, if we want a healthy society, I think it’s reflected in how we educate our citizens. And I think how we care for and educate our children mirrors the economic and societal health of our state,” Haycock says.

It was a public education that got a third new board member to where he is today. Nick Owens attended Batavia public schools in Clermont County and was able to take free college classes from the University of Cincinnati’s Clermont College while he was still in high school. He went on to get a law degree and is now an assistant prosecutor in Brown County.

“So I’ve seen what it’s done for me and the opportunities it’s given me and I want to ensure that for those who come after me."

'How we care for and educate our children mirrors the economic and societal health of our state.'

While a GOP leader in the Ohio House once called for privatizing the schools, Owens says providing quality education is an essential element of government. Owens calls himself a conservative Republican but like all of the new board members, says charter schools in Ohio must be held accountable for their performance.

“If we don’t keep the voucher schools accountable, if we don’t keep the charter schools accountable, then we’ve defeated the whole purpose of diverting tax dollars for that child."

Although court rulings have allowed charter-school companies a great deal of leeway in how they operate schools, Linda Haycock would like to follow the money.

“The public wants to and deserves to know how much money is going to administrators and how much money is going to advertising. And all of those seem to be pretty large budget items in charter schools.  So I do think there has to be transparency, financial transparency, academic accountability,” Haycock said.

'Teachers are no longer able to enjoy teaching'
The new members are also largely in agreement over the proliferation of standardized testing in Ohio. 

“Teachers are no longer able to enjoy teaching. We have wonderful teachers who are leaving the district because they feel like what they really went to college to do, they are not being allowed to do. And we are losing our kids. We have younger children that are starting to hate school,” Johnson says.

Ohio has measured teacher success partly on the basis of before and after tests that students take, the so-called value-added rubric. Like other new board of ed members, Haycock wants that de-emphasized.

“The administrators, if they’re good administrators, they’re not learning anything new from those evaluations. So I would call on them to do a better job, to do a quality of just a quantity evaluation for the teachers."

State board members can serve two, four-year terms.