The relationship between Gov. John Kasich and Ohio’s education leaders has been troubled for years. When it comes to school administrators, they’ve seen proposals from Kasich that cut funding and change the structure of school boards. These decisions loomed over Kasich as he addressed a statewide school boards association conference for the first time in his seven years in office.
Victoria Brock has a problem in her school district. The president of the Waterloo Local School Board in Portage County says the state keeps cutting her district’s funding, which means they need to keep putting levies on the ballot.
“The community doesn't want to keep every five years having to pass a levy and then taxes go up and then in five more years knowing we’re coming back for another levy," Brock says.
The elephant in the room
School funding increased by one percent in the state budget that took effect in July, which is half the rate of inflation. Brock was hoping Gov. John Kasich would address school funding when he took the stage at the Ohio School Boards Association’s annual conference. But he didn’t.
Instead, Kasich talked about what schools can do to curb the drug epidemic, improve workforce development and expand access to mental health services for students, such as school therapists.
Brock said she appreciated Kasich’s message on different issues, especially the drug problem. But the fact that he didn’t talk about the budget problems that local school districts face tells her that he might be out of touch with their needs.
“I feel his perception is higher now than just Ohio," Brock said. "I think he’s moving on to bigger and better things himself, so the school state funding is on the bottom of his (list). I wish he were a little more supportive on how the schools fund and do."
Brock didn’t seem to be alone. At one point during Kasich’s speech a small portion of the crowd cheered when he mentioned that he didn’t have much time left in office.
“A few more years I would’ve gotten it done, but I don’t have a few more years," Kasich said. “We’re only up 490,000 jobs in Ohio with a balanced budget so I don’t know what else you could possibly want.”
Disconnected from local schools
While Ohio School Board Association’s Damon Asbury says he wishes Kasich were a little more connected to what’s going on with schools on the local level, he was still was encouraged by Kasich’s stance on being open to input.
“Call him," Asbury said. "Tell him what they need, tell him what are the flexibilities I think we’ve tried to do that. The governor’s been governor for almost eight years now, this is his first appearance we appreciate it. It would’ve been good to have him at all of our conferences. But again I think he is sincere and I think that he tried to deliver what he thought were his priorities.”
Education and career prep
One of those priorities was the need for the traditional school model to change in order to prepare students for the workforce, which Kasich says is dramatically changing with fast-evolving technology that could put more people out of their jobs.
“What I don’t want to see is a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class disappears and we’re gnashing of teeth and dividing ourselves," Kasich said. "Right now the economy is better. What about when it’s not so better?”
That message resonated with Jeffery Talbert, superintendent of Alliance City Schools in Mahoning County. He agrees that schools need to look at how they can change to better prepared students for careers.
“We have to have a better understanding of what we’re doing and what that future is going to look like so knowing that the governor cares about that, the governor is encouraging us to create schools that are designed to create that worker for the future," Talbert said.
Kasich adds that changing the school model to center on future careers can start at the K-12 level and continue through even higher education institutions.