Week in Review > Week In Review 8-28-23Posted by Paul Imhoff on August 28th, 2023
AUDITOR OF STATE
Auditor Keith Faber’s office has published new guidance for schools and other local governments navigating the statutory prohibition on using public resources to promote levy and bond issues before their voters. The frequently-asked-questions document takes a “conservative” approach to coaching jurisdictions on the dos and don’ts of ballot issues. “Activity described as permissible, absent unique and unforeseen circumstances, is considered by AOS [Auditor of State] to be allowed under current legal standards; whereas some activities are considered unacceptable and must be voided — leaving a wide range of activity in between where caution is advised,” the guidance document states. The guidance notes that public officials can provide “factual information” on the effects of passage or failure of a levy or bond issue but cannot be compensated for time spent on activity intended to influence the outcome of the election. “In short, tax dollars cannot be used to ask for more tax dollars or influence how taxpayers vote,” it states. A copy of Faber’s guidance document is at https://tinyurl.com/yw47nmh9.
Backers of a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would end qualified immunity for police officers and other governmental employees are now 0-6 on getting past the first step in the process. Attorney General Dave Yost Friday rejected the proposed summary for the “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights” amendment, which would bar any “government actor” from using “any immunities or defenses which are only available to government actors or any subset thereof, including but not limited to qualified immunity, sovereign immunity, prosecutorial immunity, or any immunity provided to the state, political subdivisions, or public employees by statute.” The petitioners originally submitted the summary on May 3, 2021, under the title “Civil Action for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights” and again on Aug. 23, 2021. Thereafter, they submitted it on Nov. 22, 2022, under the title “The Ohio Civil Liberties Restoration Act” and on Feb. 27, 2023, and May 24, 2023, under the title “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights.”
The governor re-emphasized his opposition to an initiated statute on marijuana legalization that will be on the November ballot, citing the greater potency of marijuana today versus in decades past, other states’ experience with injuries to young children who’ve accidentally ingested marijuana edibles, the prospect of more impaired drivers on the roads, and the message legalization will send to young people. “You totally change the culture,” he said.
IT’S IN THE FY24-25 BUDGET
Local governments saw a number of changes affecting them in budget bill HB33 (Edwards), including increases to competitive bidding thresholds, help with funding the next generation 9-1-1 program, more capital funding for county jails, and an increase in funding for indigent defendants along with a cap on attorney fees for those defendants. The House had added the provision regarding increases in the statutory competitive bidding thresholds for counties, townships, municipal corporations, libraries, fire and ambulance districts, regional airport authorities and regional water and sewer districts that took them to $75,000 through calendar year 2024. After 2024, the competitive bidding threshold for these entities is increased by 3 percent annually.
Changes enacted in the state budget are meant to make Ohio’s Resident Educator (RE) Program, also called the Ohio Teacher Residency (OTR) Program, more affordable and accessible for beginning teachers. The Resident Educator Program, which began in 2011, is a two-year initiative that offers beginning teachers mentoring and professional development. The program was created to improve teacher retention and teacher quality, encourage continued professional development, and result in improved student achievement. As part of the program, teachers must pass the Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA).Once they pass the RESA and complete the other program requirements, the teachers become eligible for a professional teaching license, which lasts five years compared to the two-year resident educator licenses teachers receive as they begin their careers in the classroom. Most of the changes to the RE program made in HB33 (Edwards) will become effective Sunday, Oct. 3, 2023.
New bank subpoenas seeking 20-plus years of financial records from Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager are justified by a judge’s ruling that ordered an accounting of the effects of his breach of fiduciary duty to the school, attorneys for the state argue in recent court filings. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft ruled more than a year ago that Lager violated the law prohibiting a public official from profiting from a contract, based on ECOT’s contracting with for-profit companies also affiliated with him, Altair Learning Management and IQ Innovations.
Youngstown City Schools is beginning its 2023-2024 academic year with online learning after district teachers authorized a strike Monday. The Youngstown Board of Education, meanwhile, filed a request for the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) to determine that the strike is unauthorized. In its request for the unauthorized strike determination, the district said a fact-finding request is currently before SERB on whether the parties had exhausted dispute settlement procedures, alleging that striking while this is pending, violates state law.
The Biden-Harris administration has launched an updated income-driven repayment (IDR) plan it estimates could benefit over 20 million borrowers. The Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) plan is an income-driven repayment plan that calculates payments based on a borrower’s income and family size, instead of their loan balance, and forgives remaining balances after a certain number of years. Under the plan, a single borrower who makes less than $30,000 annually will not have to make any payments, and borrowers earning above that amount would save around $1,000 a year compared to other IDR plans, President Joe Biden said. The new program also prevents balances from growing due to unpaid interest as long as borrowers keep up with required payments. The application takes around 10 minutes to complete, according to Biden, and it allows borrowers to choose to have their income accessed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and automatically recertified every year, so most will not need to reapply annually, which will prevent borrowers from missing their required annual IDR recertification. Learn more about the program at www.studentaid.gov/SAVE.
Ohio State University’s (OSU) Board of Trustees Tuesday unanimously appointed Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. as its 17th president, effective Jan. 1, 2024. Carter currently serves as president of the University of Nebraska System, where he oversees four campuses of almost 70,000 students, faculty and staff, including an academic medical center. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun, and he holds education credentials from the Navy Nuclear Power School, the U.S. Air Force Air War College, the Naval War College and the Armed Forces Staff College. Carter is a retired vice admiral with 38 years of service. Carter earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also played ice hockey for four years. The Board of Trustees also announced that Peter Mohler will serve as acting president through the end of the calendar year. Mohler currently serves as executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. In addition, he is the chief scientific officer of the Wexner Medical Center. He has been with Ohio State since 2011 and serves on the university president’s cabinet.
The decade-old Ohio Student Association (OSA) released what it described as the “most comprehensive study to date” on Black student experiences at Ohio colleges and universities Thursday. “Ohio Black Student Equity Report” calls for urgent action by institutions of higher education in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision barring affirmative action and SB83’s (Cirino) pushback against critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. The 28-report reflects OSA interviews with 361 students at 12 public, four-year universities and one private university in Ohio. The top five participating institutions were Central State, Ohio State, Kent State, Cleveland State and Wilberforce. Black students shared their experiences with financial aid, university policing and other campus and state issues. “Structural barriers in higher education can’t simply be waved away,” OSA Executive Director Prentiss Harvey said in response to the Supreme Court’s Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard decision. The report finds that 60 percent of Black students have worried about their enrollment due to financial aid or money concerns, and that 35 percent felt they received inadequate help from their institution to understand aid packages.
Otterbein University and Antioch University recently announced a partnership to “promote our pluralistic democracy, social, racial, economic, and environmental justice, and the common good.” They said the Coalition for the Common Good is needed “At a time when divisive politics drives our nation and higher education is under attack for its work in building diverse, equitable, inclusive communities.” The new system, they said, is about meeting the workforce development needs of the region as well as “education for a more just society.”
The University of Cincinnati (UC) has launched a new School of Environment and Sustainability Studies (SEaS) within its College of Arts and Sciences. Professor David Stradling, interim director of SEaS, commented. “Finding solutions to the creation of resilient, healthful and just communities will be at the heart of the SEaS research mission, as they must be for the university as a whole.” The school aims to combine natural science, social science and humanities to create a transdisciplinary approach to environmental issues.
Franklin University announced that it has expanded its articulation partnership with Marion Technical College to provide access to the Franklin University Pathway Portal and a $298 tuition rate for eligible Marion Technical students and alumni. Franklin’s Pathway Portal is meant to streamline the transfer process. “Through this innovative tool, community college students and alumni from partner institutions gain insight into how the courses they have obtained through their associate degree work transfer toward one of Franklin’s 28 bachelor’s degrees to help find their best fit. Further, starting in fall 2023, those community college students and alumni of Marion Tech’s and Franklin’s other partner institutions who have opted into the Pathway Portal and meet eligibility requirements will receive a special $298 Pathway Portal tuition rate, helping provide a solution for those continuing their education affordably and transparently,” Franklin said.
Fewer employees will be eligible for performance bonuses, the maximum bonuses will be smaller, and payouts will drop in years when there’s no budget for benefit increases, the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) decided this month. The STRS Board of Trustees voted to update its performance-based incentive (PBI) policy for FY24. The system manages most of its assets internally and says outperformance of markets and investment benchmarks by its staff has a positive effect on system health. Retirees have been critical of the program, particularly because of the multi-year suspension of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) they had experienced until recently. The system also voted to approve its FY23 bonus distributions, paying out about $8.6 million to investment staff.
Ousted STRS board member Wade Steen has filed a motion for summary judgment in his bid for reinstatement, while the magistrate presiding in the case dismissed claims against all other board members but the one who replaced Steen, G. Brent Bishop. Magistrate Thomas Scholl III is overseeing the case in the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals.
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