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Ohio Teachers Eyeing Education Department Shakeup

 Ohio Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Dr. John Richard in a classroom at Buckeye Career Center in New Philadephia in 2019.
Buckeye Career Center
Ohio Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Dr. John Richard in a classroom at Buckeye Career Center in New Philadephia in 2019.

The deputy superintendent at the Ohio Department of Education who was expected to take over the reins on an interim basis when current Superintendent Paolo DeMaria retires in late September has resigned. That leaves educators watching carefully to see what happens.

Deputy superintendent John Richard was supposed to become interim superintendent on September 24 when Paolo DeMaria’s retirement begins. Instead, Richard is resigning to take a job as the head of a non-profit organization in Stark County.

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, said he talked to Richard about whether he’d be interested in the top spot at the education department.

“I don’t know that it was ever clear that John was going to necessarily be a candidate for that state superintendent position. In fact, I had spoke with him a couple of weeks ago and when I talked to him, he was not sure. And he told me he hadn’t decided if he was going to be a candidate for state superintendent,” DiMauro said.

DiMauro is the head of the largest union representing Ohio’s teachers and education leaders. They are interested in who is chosen by the state Board of Education, because the Ohio Department of Education determines standards and many protocols for Ohio’s K-12 schools. Still, DiMauro said he isn’t worried.

“I have confidence that in the short term, there will be other folks inside ODE who have the important experience to help transition this department to a new superintendent. But ultimately, it will be up to the state board of education, coming together, like they did when Paolo was hired. I don’t know if you remember but when Paolo was hired on a unanimous vote. You had very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans, that all recognized the strong leadership he was bringing to the table. I think if they take that spirit and that approach into the process this time, then we all will be winners," DiMauro said.

DiMauro said he has had a good working relationship with DeMaria and Richard.

That sentiment is echoed by Melissa Cropper, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the state’s two teachers unions.

“We are very sorry to see Superintendent DeMaria and Deputy Superintendent John Richard leave. They’ve been great advocates for public education and great partners to work with," Cropper said.

Cropper said she is concerned about the transition but hopes the next leader at ODE will continue to keep politics out of education policy.

“Being superintendent of public education in Ohio is a very important position and it’s not one that should be controlled by political ideology. It is a position where a person needs to be in touch with people who are doing this work on a day-to-day basis. So yes, we are always concerned when this position opens up that it will be replaced with a political person who is following the will of the legislature or a governor, no matter what the political party of that governor is, we need a person who is going to be responsive to the field," Cropper said.

Injecting politics into policy could be a valid concern. There are groups that are putting pressure on political leaders because they want the state’s education department to take stands on how racial issues are addressed in schools and on teaching sex education.

The State Board of Education is responsible for picking a replacement for DeMaria. Eleven of the members are elected by voters and eight are chosen by the governor. For years, governors and lawmakers have wanted more control over that board.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.