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Meet Brandon Simmons, the student activist turned Columbus school board candidate

Brandon Simmons in from of the downtown Columbis skyline
Brandon Simmons
Columbus school board candidate Brandon Simmons

A Columbus Alternative High School graduate who was critical of some of the district’s buildings during his time in school is now running for the Columbus Board of Education.

Brandon Simmons, 21, made local headlines in 2019 as he was the public face of a student-led effort to improve the conditions of some buildings. A high school junior at the time, Simmons and his peers focusing on building conditions helped start the public conversation on the issue that came front and center during the recent Columbus Education Association’s contract negotiations.

“I’ve sat in crumbling buildings. I’ve watched our teachers overworked and under-supported, and every year, I see our administration get more and more top heavy,” Simmons said.

Both building conditions and class sizes were addressed in the latest teachers’ contract. The deal calls for the district to install air conditioning in every building except Mifflin Middle School, which is set to be replaced. Regarding class size, the deal states that elementary school classes will be capped at 27 students per class. Class limits are now 35 for middle schools, and 34 for high school.

Simmons still thinks more needs to be done. “Our students deserve to be in the best classrooms we can offer, and our teachers deserve to be in a great working environment where they’re not over-stressed,” Simmons said.

A spokesperson for Columbus City Schools did not respond to requests for comment about Simmons’ remarks.

To help fund some of his initiatives, Simmons suggests cutting the salaries of some higher-level district executives or doing away entirely with the positions. That would likely only fund minor parts of his plan, and Simmons does not seem ready to talk about the potential of raising taxes to fund more construction and teachers’ salaries.

“I think what the board really has to do is take a hard look at our finances internally before we can come back to the voters and ask for more money,” Simmons said.

The district had planned to ask voters last November to approve a $680 million bond issue to build five new schools and a $4.7 million levy to fund ongoing maintenance at existing schools, but the school board voted in August to pull the levy from the ballot out of concerns that the public would be swayed by the labor fight with teachers.

Since graduating high school, Simmons has pursued a career in sales, but said his passion is public education. Currently, Simmons is on an extended gap year from Columbus State College, where he is majoring in political science. He said education and the school board in particular would benefit from more young people being involved in decision-making.

“The reality is that not a single person on that board understands what it’s like to be a Columbus City Schools student. They don’t understand what it’s like to sit in a classroom. They don’t understand what it’s like to be in a crumbling building. They don’t understand what it’s like to see our teachers overworked and under-supported, and they just don’t get it,” Simmons said.