The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
After Ohio’s State Board of Education President Paul LaRue initially canceled this month’s meeting, 11 members went ahead and had a meeting anyway Tuesday, saying they have an obligation to continue their duties while a law transferring much of their power to the governor’s office remains blocked by a temporary restraining order.
LaRue notified board members on Friday he decided to indefinitely postpone the regular monthly meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Based on the advice of legal counsel and due to pending litigation, I have decided it is in the best interest of the State Board of Education to postpone the October Board meeting,” LaRue said in an email Friday to State Board of Education members obtained by the Capital Journal.
There is currently a temporary restraining order from a lawsuit in place that is trying to block the transfer of power over Ohio K-12 education from the board to the governor’s office. The transfer of power was approved by lawmakers as part of the state budget process this summer.
The lawsuit is trying to stop the Ohio Department of Education from transitioning to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, which would create a cabinet-level director position and puts the department under the governor’s office. These changes would also limit the State Board of Education’s power to teacher disciplinary and licensure cases and territory disputes. Under this law, the board of education would no longer have various administrative powers or control over curriculum standards.
Objections to canceling the meeting
Over the weekend, 11 members of the State Board of Education sent LaRue a letter objecting to postponing the regularly scheduled meeting. The Ohio State Board of Education is currently made up of 19 members — 11 elected, and eight appointed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
State Board of Education Policies and Procedures Manual says the president can change the upcoming meeting dates if there is “a conflict due to extenuating circumstances.”
“There is no conflict of dates that members are aware of,” said Board Member Brendan Shea. “Rather than citing any type of conflict, President LaRue cited unspecified legal counsel and pending litigation. As far as unspecified legal counsel, members are confused as to why they are being kept completely in the dark by leadership.”
He said the 11 members are concerned postponing the October meeting could violate the temporary restraining order.
“The board members who signed the letter to President LaRue believe we have a legal obligation to continue to fulfill our statutory duties and regular order as members of the State Board of Education while the pending litigation is under a temporary restraining order,” Shea said. “Frankly, we don’t understand why board leadership isn’t here and why we have been placed in this position.”
In a letter Sunday, LaRue acknowledged he received the letter from the 11 board members, writing “we continue to believe in these extenuating circumstances it is in the best interest of the State Board of Education to postpone the October Board meeting.”
Tuesday’s meeting was different than other monthly State Board of Education meetings. There were no ODE employees present at the meeting, it was not live-streamed on the Ohio Channel and the agenda was much shorter. The meeting lasted only one day as opposed to the usual two.
President LaRue, Vice President Martha Manchester and Interim State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Woolard were not present Tuesday.
Shea was appointed temporary chair and Christina Collins was appointed temporary secretary. The same 11 board members that sent the letter were also present at Tuesday’s meeting:
- Christina Collins
- Walt Davis
- Teresa Fedor
- Diana Fessler
- John Hagan
- Katie Hofmann
- Meryl Johnson
- Tom Jackson
- Antoinette Miranda
- Michelle Newman
- Brendan Shea
During the meeting, those members came up with a list of 18 questions to send electronically to board leadership, with responses requested within a week or as soon as possible but not later than Oct. 29. The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30.
The questions ranged from why board leadership skipped Tuesday’s meeting to who do ODE employees answer to and how are they being paid.
Originally, seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education filed a lawsuit against DeWine on Sept. 19 in an attempt to block the overhaul of K-12 education. Those members were Collins, Fedor, Hofmann, Jackson, Johnson, Miranda and Newman.
The lawsuit was filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and Franklin County Judge Karen Held Phipps issued the temporary restraining order Sept. 21.
The lawsuit was amended on Oct. 1 and now Collins and Newman as well as former Toledo Public School Board President Stephanie Eichenberg and the Toledo Public School Board are the plaintiffs in the case. Collins, Newman and Eichenberg all have children attending Ohio public schools. The plaintiffs are being represented by Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP.
The search firm tasked with identifying superintendent candidates has paused their search.
Ray & Associates sent a letter to members of the State Board of Education on Monday, obtained by the Capital Journal, saying “we have decided as a firm, effective immediately, to pause any search activity until a resolution has been reached.”
“Unfortunately, with the recent lawsuit and other events that surround the Board’s current situation it has greatly affected our capacity to conduct a thorough search to our expected standards,” President of Ray & Associates Michael Collins wrote in the letter.
The search firm hopes to reconvene with the State Board of Education “at a later date and reactivate the search and our network on your behalf,” according to the letter.
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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