| The Columbus Dispatch
Voters are electing six members of the state Board of Education this year, including three representing the central Ohio area.
The half-dozen seats are among the 11 elected positions on the board. Another eight members are appointed by the governor.
The 19-member panel creates policy and makes recommendations for K-12 education, and hires the state superintendent.
More: Election 2020: The Columbus Dispatch Voter Guide
While members are elected in nonpartisan races, the board has been political at times. Most recently, the board sparred over a resolution ultimately approved 12-5 in July condemning hate speech and racism in schools, directing the Department of Education to review curriculum models and tests for racial bias, and requiring bias training for employees.
The resolution followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police, triggering protests across the nation. Conservatives on the board said the resolution was a rush to judgment and questioned the extent of racism in schools.
In central Ohio’s 6th district, incumbent Antoinette Miranda of Columbus is seeking a second four-year term against challenger Alice Nicks of Galena. The district covers most of Franklin County and all of Delaware and Knox counties.
Miranda is a professor of school psychology and interim chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University. She has more than 35 years of experience in K-12 and post-secondary education, including six years as a school psychologist.
Miranda said her priorities on the board include improving state report cards for schools and districts to make them more understandable for parents, educators and stakeholders and better reflect progress in schools. She also wants to advocate for districts as lawmakers tackle school-funding issues.
“The board doesn’t really vote on state funding, but it is an issue,” she said. “Looking at equity, and COVID-19 sort of exposed that (there are inequities across districts like) lack of internet and broadband services and the lack of computers that school districts have, especially in urban and rural districts.”
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled repeatedly, but not since 2002, that the way the state funds public education is unconstitutional, she said, “but we really don’t have a solution for that.”
Miranda also wants the board to look at how the pandemic has affected students and how the state can help deal with issues, including learning loss, mental health issues and special education students.
Nicks is founder of Childcare Unlimited Inc., and is a licensed clinical counselor. She did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In the 9th district, Ron Hood and Michelle Newman are squaring off for a seat being vacated by Stephanie Dodd, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. The district includes the eastern portions of Franklin and Pickaway counties and stretches east to Guernsey County.
Newman is a marketing consultant and director of the Canal Market District, a farmers’ market and community events space in Newark, where she lives with her 7-year-old daughter.
“I’m coming at this from a parent perspective, learning how to navigate the public school system as a single parent juggling multiple jobs. … Our funding is messed up, there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Newman said.
“One of my main priorities is establishing really good communication channels with all of our districts. The 9th district is a really big district. It encompasses all or parts of 13 counties, and a lot of those school districts look really, really different. I feel like if anyone is in elected office, their main role is listening to their constituency and making sure that is brought back to the state board and communicated to our lawmakers.”
While Newman considers herself a strong advocate for public schools, she also wants to give voice to parents who choose to home school their children. “We need to make sure we’re paying attention to the whole constituency.”
Hood, a long-time Republican member of the Ohio House, is finishing his eighth non-consecutive term in the legislature and is banned under term limits from seeking re-election.
Hood, who did not respond to messages seeking comment, has been a strong supporter of gun rights and opponent of abortion rights. In 2019, he co-sponsored legislation that would have outlawed all abortions in Ohio and allow for charging doctors who violate such a ban with murder, and a bill to allow anyone 21 years or older to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
In the 10th district, Mary Binegar, a retired teacher from Springfield, and Brendan Shea, a financial adviser from London, are vying for an open seat. The 17-county district includes Madison County and portions of Pickaway County, stretching south to the Ohio River. It is currently held by Nick Owens of Batavia, who did not seek re-election.
Binegar, was a high school special education teacher and has held several posts with the Ohio Education Association teachers’ union during her 35-year career.
Her focus is on fixing school funding, addressing inequities in education and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing, which she feels takes too much focus away from instruction.
“We have to find a better way to fund our public schools. We have to get away from an overreliance on property taxes because that means the quality of a child’s education is dependent more on their ZIP code than their abilities,” she said.
Binegar opposes taking tax dollars from public schools to finance privately operated charter schools and tuition vouchers for private schools.
She said the board should tackle racial justice in schools, learning gaps between minority students and their white peers, and disparities of resources among districts.
Noting his professional background, Shea said he’d like to see more teaching of financial literacy in high school and also expand career readiness programs to prepare students for high-demand jobs.
“I think there is very little financial education and financial literacy in high school,” Shea said. “That’s the age when we’re making important financial decisions that put you on a projectory for the rest of your life.”
He said he also would like the board to address rising rates of depression and suicide among young people.
Shea supports school choice and said he’s concerned about some trends, including Common Core national education standards, which he says undercut local control. He also opposes use of the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which frames history around the year the first slave ship arrived on American shores.
“I think there should be discussion about America’s original sin. It should be understood and grappled with, but I don’t think we should reframe history entirely around that subject. I think there is an agenda behind that, one most Ohio families don’t agree with,” Shea said.
Elsewhere in Ohio:
• Diana Fessler of New Carlisle is poised to make her return to the state board, running unopposed in the 1st district. Fessler was on the board from 1995 to 2000, and is a former Republican member of the Ohio House, where she served from 2000 to 2008. The district covers all or parts of 24 counties stretching from Union County to Williams County in the northwest corner of Ohio.
• In the 5th district, incumbent Lisa Woods of Medina is facing challenger Christina Collins, a former teacher and curriculum specialist, also from Medina. The district spans all or parts of eight counties, from Richland County north to the Cleveland suburbs.
• In northeast Ohio’s 11th district, incumbent Meryl Johnson, a retired teacher from Cleveland, is seeking a second term against two challengers: Michele Elba, a member of the Warrensville Heights Board of Education, and Richard Neal, a member of the Brooklyn School Board. The district includes most of Cuyahoga County.