Week in Review > Week in Review 2-19-24

Posted by on February 20th, 2024

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

Ohio Department of Children and Youth Director Kara Wente joined a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) panel Wednesday for a forum on the economics of child care. The forum also featured Eric Karolak, CEO of Action for Children; Aslyne Rodriguez, senior director of Regional Strategic Partnerships for the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA); and Carol Haynes, executive director of Kiddie Academy. While many industries have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, the panelists said child care is one industry still feeling the effects of closures. Haynes said her centers that closed during the pandemic have continued to struggle with enrollment while those that “operated as pandemic centers” recovered sooner.

EDUCATION

The State Board of Education (SBOE) resumed committee work this week as it adapts to its new role in Ohio’s K-12 governance structure. Board President Paul LaRue told Hannah News he’s appointed leaders for the following four committees:

– Policies and Procedures Manual: Vice President Martha Manchester, chair; Diana Fessler, vice chair

– Budget: LaRue, chair; Brendan Shea, vice chair

– Legislative: Charlotte McGuire, chair; Jim Mermis, vice chair

– Second Chance/Licensure: John Hagan, chair; Meryl Johnson, vice chair

The SBOE is expected to move to the William Green Building in downtown Columbus, State Superintendent Paul Craft told members Monday. The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has given the board “notice” of the move, Craft told Hannah News. “We haven’t seen anything in writing yet, but the DAS director herself said ‘this is our plan,'” Craft said. The William Green Building, located at 30 W. Spring St., is about four blocks north of the board’s current meeting place at the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), 25 S. Front St. Craft said he tentatively expects the move in April. Craft also hinted that SBOE might not be alone in its move in response to board member Walt Davis who asked if DEW “gets to stay” in the building at 25 S. Front.

SBOE’s looming deficit is deep enough that it could require steps as drastic as cutting a third or half the staff or increasing license fees that teachers pay by more than 50 percent, Craft told board members Monday as the panel undertook Budget Committee discussions on tackling the crisis. Board members voted later Monday to request a $10 million General Revenue Fund (GRF) transfer to bridge the gap to the next biennium. Craft said board revenues are estimated at about $11.5 million this and next year, but FY24 and FY25 spending is expected to run $15.4 million and $17.4 million, respectively. That will wipe out the current cash balance of about $1.8 million and put the board $4 million in the hole by the end of the biennium, absent a solution, Craft said. The agency is already about 10 positions below its 70 budgeted positions, and the Office of Budget and Management won’t approve any further hiring until the board has a plan to fix the deficit in place.

The SBOE reviewed the Resident Educator Program Monday, with some members questioning whether the mentoring program is worth the money amid an impending budget shortfall due to the board’s restructuring under HB33 (Edwards). The Resident Educator (RE) Program, which began in 2011, is meant to improve teacher retention. It offers mentoring and professional development to beginning teachers. The two-year program also requires participants to pass the Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA), which makes them eligible for a professional teaching license. Craft told members the program, which draws on licensure fees, is one of the largest expenditures for the board. The RESA alone costs about $1.9 million this year due to changes under the state operating budget. The assessment costs about $1 million on a regular year-to-year basis. Several board members questioned whether they’re getting that much value out of the program.

The House Primary and Secondary Education Committee Tuesday heard a wave of proponent testimony from supporters of legislation to provide educational savings accounts (ESAs) to students at nonchartered nonpublic (NCNP) schools, formerly known as “08” schools. In sponsor testimony, Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) said HB339 is needed to correct an “oversight” from the voucher expansion in HB33 (Edwards). The “unintended consequence of utilizing the voucher program … rather than the educational savings program is to eliminate this population of students from school choice,” he said. Over 50 individuals, including parents, students, and NCNP school leaders appeared in-person or submitted testimony in support of the bill.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to expand the number of divisions in soccer, basketball, softball, baseball and girls volleyball. With the amendment to General Sports Regulation 17, girls and boys soccer will now have five divisions, while girls volleyball, girls and boys basketball, softball and baseball will all have seven divisions. In those sports, Division I and Division II will only include 64 schools, according to OHSAA.

ENERGY/UTILITIES

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo and former FirstEnergy executives Chuck Jones and Michael Dowling are out on bond and under electronic surveillance after surrendering to authorities Monday afternoon in 133-HB6’s (Callender-Wilkin) $61 million bribery scandal and appearing in Summit County Common Pleas Court for arraignment Tuesday. All pleaded not guilty to 60 state felony charges including bribery, aggravated theft, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and money laundering, among other crimes, and were each released on $100,000 bond by Judge Susan Baker Ross. However, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost left the door open to more indictments. “This indictment is about way more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said, referring to ill-fated energy subsidy 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). “It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio’s state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty.”

Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Tuesday he was looking for a “subject matter expert in the area of utilities” when he appointed Sam Randazzo as PUCO chairman in early 2019. “There was no one that knew more [than Randazzo] … and that’s why we picked him. We know he had been on both sides of the issue. He had a very good way of explaining issues and had a really great depth of knowledge of some very, very difficult issues,” DeWine continued in response to questions about Randazzo’s recent indictment on state charges. Asked about a dinner he had with Jones and Dowling in December 2018 and the PUCO appointment process, DeWine said, “I don’t remember it coming up in the discussion.”

Wednesday, DeWine defended his former chief of staff and current advisor after a report said she had been told by Randazzo about a $4.3 million payout from FirstEnergy before he took the job with the commission. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing the indictment against Randazzo and the executives, reported Tuesday that Laurel Dawson, DeWine’s former chief of staff, who assumed a role as an advisor in 2021, had been informed of the payment to Randazzo by FirstEnergy in January 2019, which he had categorized as a final payment of a consulting agreement. The newspaper said Dawson had testified as a witness to the grand jury that handed down the indictments.

On other topics, DeWine said he has so far received positive feedback from his administration’s latest draft of gender affirming care rules. He reiterated that it was never his administration’s intent to restrict care, but they wanted to make sure the quality of care is good. He doesn’t anticipate major future revisions, though they will continue to listen to input. “I think we’ve come up with something that will in fact work with children,” he said. “I know some people might say why do you even put it out since the Legislature overrode your veto … The answer is we don’t know what courts are going to do. I think having these rules in place, if in fact there is a stay issued by a court, just makes sense.”

PUCO Chair Jenifer French can continue her service into 2029 after Gov. DeWine reappointed her to the regulatory body Friday. DeWine’s office confirmed Friday the governor intends also to redesignate her as chair, a separate process from her reappointment to the commission seat. DeWine first named French, a former Franklin County common pleas judge, to the commission in 2021, following the resignation of Sam Randazzo, who left amid scrutiny over the HB6 scandal and has since been indicted.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott Wednesday denied a motion seeking to bar the use of the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA) campaign account by House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) as OHRA begins spending to protect incumbents with primary opponents next month. Reps. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) and Ron Ferguson (R-Winterville) filed the lawsuit against Stephens, OHRA Co-Chair Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) and J. Matthew Yuskewich, who serves as the OHRA treasurer, arguing that Stephens has falsely claimed to be in charge of the account even though they say a majority of the caucus elected Merrin as chair of the caucus and Plummer as the vice chair. On Feb. 1, the three lawmakers filed a motion asking the judge to block Stephens and others from making expenditures to or from any bank account associated with OHRA’s Legislative Campaign Fund (LCF) while the litigation is ongoing and from operating the campaign fund in any manner, including issuing statements that purport to be made by the campaign fund.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) heard an update on Statehouse security as part of Executive Director Laura Battocletti’s report Thursday, including the possibility of instituting background checks before lobbyists receive access badges. Battocletti said they are the only group not subject to that currently and it would involve a one-time fee of $40. Those discussions have been internal and Battocletti said lobbyists have not yet been consulted on the potential change. She also discussed efforts to maintain security at the Statehouse loading dock, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s (OSHP) stationing a trooper there during daytime hours. There have been changes to the external and internal cameras as well, which can lead to better identification of people if needed.

As part of the Capitol Square Foundation (CSF) report, CSF Chair Charles Moses moved to accept the nominations of NASA Chief Flight Director Gene Kranz, U.S. Rep. John Bingham and artist Howard Christy as “Great Ohioans.” “These three selections represent Ohio’s diversity in different fields of endeavor. An artist, a dedicated public servant and a leader in the United States’ effort in space exploration. All three made profound contributions to Ohio’s unique place in national and world history,” Moses commented. Specifically, Kranz was flight director in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and is depicted in the “Ohioans in Space” painting; Bingham was vital to drafting the 14th Amendment; and Christy painted two of the artworks now hanging in the Statehouse. Those nominations were approved by the board.

For two decades, Rep. Beryl Brown Piccolantonio (D-Gahanna) has been involved in state and local government, though her commitment to public service goes back further. Growing up in Mayfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Piccolantonio told Hannah News her parents modeled community service, with both being active in the community. Her father, Eric Brown, also served on the local school board. Piccolantonio said she decided to run for the seat because she knows she has a thorough and deep understanding of both state and local government, and how they interact and how they actually can best serve people. She also said she felt her skill set was an important one to have for a legislator.

In legislative action, the House Transportation Committee reported out naming bills HB255 (Claggett) and HB381 (Brennan).

HIGHER EDUCATION

Morakinyo A.O. Kuti is the 10th president of Central State University, the institution announced Friday. After a nationwide search, Central State decided to promote Kuti, the university’s vice president for research and economic development and director of land-grant programs. “Kuti’s appointment as the 10th president of Central State University marks a new era of research and innovation for the institution. With his extensive experience and track record of success, Kuti is well-equipped to lead the university in fulfilling its mission of providing quality education and opportunities to underrepresented students,” Central State said.

The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced Monday that it is now accepting applications from college students for the College Technology Internship Program, which provides work experience and pay starting at $15 per hour. Internships for this round can occur between May 1 and Oct. 31. Students can apply through Feb. 26. Intern experiences can include all areas of study, and tasks they have performed include development of social media platforms, mobile apps, websites and virtual reality technology, as well as implementing new software to modernize operations and improve cybersecurity. In 13 rounds of the program so far, 902 interns have been hired.

Ohio State University (OSU) Athletics Director Gene Smith fired men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann on Wednesday. Holtmann had four years remaining on his contract and will be owed $12.8 million from the university, according to OSU. “I want to express my appreciation toward Chris for the first-class program, and the well-respected program, he has run here at Ohio State,” Smith said. “He and his wife, Lori, are wonderful people. I thank each of them for their seven years here in Columbus and I wish them well.”

JUVENILE JUSTICE

The Controlling Board Monday approved a contract that will allow the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to expand a program providing CrossFit services to youth at DYS facilities. Anna Garver, chief fiscal officer at DYS, told the panel that DYS currently offers the program at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correction Center, and the contract with Craving More LLC services would expand it to three facilities. In addition to the physical fitness program, Craving More also provides trauma informed trainers who provide holistic training for youth as they re-enter the community on parole. Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), who held the item, asked Garver if DYS offers any programs outside of CrossFit at the facilities. Garver said that they do have physical education programs at all of the facilities but DYS is always looking for new opportunities and programs to offer.

OHIO HISTORY

The solar eclipse will cast a large shadow over the U.S. on Monday, April 8, and much of Ohio will be left in that shadow, promising to draw spectators from places around the U.S. without such a prime geographic vantage point. Ohio hasn’t seen the totality of a solar eclipse in over 200 years, and TourismOhio has launched a new tool to help guide the historic influx of eclipse watchers either already in Ohio or those visiting from elsewhere. Ohio cities from Lima to Toledo, then to Cleveland and Akron will be in the path of totality, and 55 Ohio counties will experience at least a partial eclipse. The website titled “Total Eclipse of the Heart of it All” guides visitors through eclipse-related activities in each county in the eclipse’s path. The website can be found at http://tinyurl.com/4a2xrwbz.

PENSIONS

Brian Perera, former Ohio State University lobbyist and Ohio Senate budget director, is the new investment expert in a State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) board seat that is the subject of litigation. Gov. Mike DeWine’s office announced Perera’s appointment Friday. G. Brent Bishop, DeWine’s prior appointee to the seat, resigned that post and one on the University of Toledo Board of Trustees, the governor’s office confirmed. DeWine removed former board member Wade Steen and appointed Bishop last year, citing in part Steen’s attendance record at meetings and concerns he appeared to be advocating for a specific investment firm. However, a magistrate in the 10th District Court of Appeals recently recommended Steen be reinstated, although judges of the court will ultimately decide what happens.

William Neville will stay on leave as executive director of STRS through mid-May, and the STRS board will hire someone to provide him “professional development” before further decisions about his future at the pension fund. Neville’s attorney strongly criticized the leave extension. The board put Neville on leave in November in response to an anonymous letter alleging harassment and threats, and Attorney General Dave Yost hired outside attorneys to investigate the matter. The extension through Friday, May 17 puts Neville on the sidelines until after the upcoming election for the STRS board seat now held by its chair, Dale Price. The filing deadline for that election is Friday, Feb. 23. Votes will be due by Monday, May 6, and the new board term will commence in September 2024. The board has been divided on the direction of STRS, with litigation now playing out over another board seat previously held by Wade Steen.

 

Posted by on February 20th, 2024

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