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 the Ohio 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 don’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 said.
School funding increased by 1 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.
“And I don’t… put a levy on, whether you can ask some of these folks in your community…some smaller communities would have trouble in a bigger community, not so much to donate or dedicate some hours to working with our young people to understanding the deep problems that they have,” Kasich said.
For Brock, she appreciated Kasich’s message on different issues, especially tackling 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."
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, so,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re clapping, thank you very much, I appreciate it," Kasich told the crowd. "We’re only up 490,000 jobs in Ohio with a balanced budget, so I don’t know what else you could possibly want.”
While Ohio School Boards 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 seeming openness 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 was his priorities."
One of those priorities was the need for the traditional school model to change in order to prepare students for the workforce. Kasich said that's dramatically changing with fast-evolving technology, which could put more people out of their jobs.
"Because 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 and right now the economy," Kasich said. "It’s 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 on the K-12 level and continue through even higher education institutions.