Sometimes it feels like the only thing Ohoians have to worry about on Election Day is picking the next president.
But, in fact, there are a whole bunch of other races further down the ballot.
That includes voting on candidates for the State Board of Education, who are finding it tough to get information out about themselves amidst all the chaos of the presidential election.
“When people try to invite people to an organizational event, they look for the people who are on the county ballot, and the state ballot,” says Phillip Gerth, a SBOE candidate in District 9. “They don’t ask, ‘What about these quirky districts?’”
Gerth, a lawyer by day, has convinced several organizations to let him come out and talk to them about what he would do if he were on the state board. The local-control advocate says one of this top concerns is “the federal government having way too much say in our schools.”
Gerth points to initiatives like the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. He says schools have complained to him about not being able to serve grilled-cheese sandwiches, or having to leave the cheese off a hamburger.
“I’m not running for office to fight for the cheeseburger,” he says, “But it’s an example of how crazy it’s gotten.”
The district Gerth is running in is an area just east of Columbus that includes Newark, Zanesville and Lancaster.
Larry Good is aiming for that same seat.
“I’d probably be the only ‘good’ name on the ballot,” he jokes.
Good, a car salesman, says there is too much emphasis these days on expanding charter schools and voucher programs.
“I have no problem if you want to go to a private school, that’s great,” he says. “But I still think public schools are still the best way to educate the masses and do the best job.”
His other complaint is that Ohio schools worry too much about tests.
That’s a concern his other opponent, political fundraiser Stephanie Dodd shares.
“In the past we’ve focused a bit more in this state on testing than we have on what’s best for our students,” she says.
Bordering District 9 is District 10, which includes rural areas in the southern end of the state between Cincinnati and Columbus.
It’s the district of incumbent Jeff Hardin, who says keeping health clinics out of schools is one of his top concerns.
“Schools shouldn’t be health clinics,” he says. “They should be schools.”
Hardin worries federal health care clinics would hand out birth control to girls at school.
Hardin says, “parents shouldn’t have to worry about their daughter having a pill to abort a baby.”
Todd Book, a former state representative, is challenging Hardin for his seat.
“I think there’s more important issues and I don’t think that’s a big problem right now in Ohio,” he counters. “I think most of the schools I talk with are concerned because they share a nurse with four or five other schools and it’s hard for them to be able to provide the basic things to make sure kids can get home whenever they’re sick.”
One of Book’s top priorities is finding a better way to fund Ohio’s schools, which seem to be perpetually asking voters to pass new levies.
A funding formula that the state Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled unconstitutional is one of incumbet Ann Jacobs’ concerns, too. She’s running in District 1, which represents the area around Lima, Findlay and Tiffin.
Jacobs’ worried about “many unfunded mandates” and what she calls a “virtually impotent board of education.”
Jacobs says she grew up following the state board of education, because her mother was a member for 26 years.
“I think that’s why they started term limits, to get rid of my mom,” she jokes.
Most Ohioans didn’t grow up with a vested interest in the board that implements education policy in the state, though it doesn’t actually write any laws.
But John Charlton, aspokesman for the Ohio Department of Education says there are opportunities for board members to “have a great deal of influence.”
““They’re the ones that talk to the constituency, they talk to parents, they get calls from educators, they get calls from principals, superintendents. They’re the ones that are out in the communities, they’re out on the ground.”
–John Charlton, Ohio Department of Education
“They’re the ones that talk to the constituency, they talk to parents, they get calls from educators, they get calls from principals, superintendents,” Charlton says. “They’re the ones that are out in the communities, they’re out on the ground.”
This coming year, the board will have to hire a new state schools’ chief, and implement the third-grade reading guarantee, new evaluations for teachers, and the common core curriculum. Plus, next year is a budget year that comes with rumors of a new school funding formula.