Evaluation and endorsements of the Dayton School Board candidates

full disclosure and entanglements: I’ve been friends with Karen and Jim Gagnet for years, I’ve done work for them both since they opened the 2nd iteration of  Coco’s on Wayne Ave. I’ve printed materials for Jo’el Jones, Jocelyn Rhynard, Mario Gallin has lunched with my mother, her husband, TRRuddick is one of the most frequent commentors on my blog directly or via Facebook. All that said, I know, or have interacted with all of them over the years.

In my last year of going to school board meetings to speak, cover, review, reform, I’ve seen one absolutely steady presence, Mario Gallin. She’s ALWAYS there, in the back, with her Microsoft Slate, taking notes, paying attention. I’ve seen Jocelyn there a lot, Jo’el comes often, but isn’t always there the whole time. Of course Joe Lacey is there- with his hoodie. At one point we joked about starting a twitter account for his hoodie.

I have a reputation for being honest to a fault. The reason this has taken so long to write- is because I wanted to make sure I made the right choices, and for the right reasons. I’m going to explain what I’ve seen, and what I think we need more than anything to move the district forward.

The Dayton Board of Education meetings are out of control, they run 4 hours, and THEN can go into executive session. They are totally ineffective at advancing intelligent thought or direction for a district in constant turmoil. A large part of it is because we have 7 people on the board who think they have to share their thoughts on every subject. Unless what they say is either a policy question, guidance or direction for future policy or objective setting, and it requires an answer, or action to be performed, board members should be seen but not heard. First and foremost, grandstanding political types need not apply to my board of the near future.

Secondly, what is grossly missing is respect for the public, the employees, the leadership. Board members are paid a max of $5K a year, the person they hire- the supposed educational professional is paid $200K a year plus benefits. This is the person who should be running the district and the meeting, giving clear and actionable information and progress reports. These meetings need to flip. The Superintendent needs to run the meeting agenda- with the board approving or disapproving the agenda items (which are created by the Superintendent). Yes, the Board can sit up on their platform, but the Superintendent needs to be elsewhere- look at the city commission meetings for seating arrangements. If the board is voting on the superintendents recommendations- let the superintendent actually ask for the vote- so they understand who they are saying no to. This kumbaya stuff has to go.

Third, although all three should tender their resignations on Jan 2, 2018, or whenever the new members are sworn in, since the DEA has voted no confidence in the board and they’ve lead the district to the brink of destruction, there will be 3 remaining members, Dr. Robert Walker, Sheila Taylor and John McManus. I have to evaluate how the new candidates will interact with the old ones- to counteract a huge cat fight. Sheila Taylor is absolutely unpredictable, intellectually challenged and holds grudges and can be combative. Walker is a weak man, who let others bully him into believing that internal candidates were unacceptable for internal promotion, he believes he speaks from some sort of both moral and community authority, but, his input/guidance or even exhibited understanding of what is going on- is nonexistent. John McManus, is a new comer to Dayton, he didn’t have connections or name recognition and spent almost $40K to beat Nancy Nearny by 400 votes. He bought his printing from me, I helped advise him on how to run, and I consider him a friend. He’s by far both the most political member of the board, and also the board gossip- as in he’s always talking to other board members- outside of the meetings. This is actually a problem, and needs to stop. The Ohio Sunshine Laws actually prohibit polling of board members- and some could say McManus is walking on questionable ground. He’s also dangerously polite, lacking a real spine. When he takes a strong stand, he weakens it by curtsy. Of the three remaining board members, he’s the only one who deserves to finish their term, even though he has been involved in many of the bad decisions. When he asks questions, it generally demonstrates a solid understanding of what is going on.

Fourth- we need board members willing and able to demand accountability, across multiple skill sets, and issues. The district is a half a billion dollar operation- it’s not just teaching, it’s building maintenance, allocation of resources, HR, transportation, a food service operation, fiscal and legal compliance, janitorial, purchasing, athletics, marketing, IT, etc. To oversee this requires more than just “I’m a parent” or “I’ve been involved in the community” – corporate boards are usually populated by seasoned professionals who’ve had some success in life, leaders of people, experienced business thinkers, as well as people who understand that what they say, should have gravitas, and be words of wisdom. Shooting from the hip might work in Westerns, but, we actually need people who can actually identify the correct targets and aim and pull a trigger for maximum effectiveness in the middle of a fire-fight. (sorry my military background is sneaking in).

All this said, this is a political decision, and we have been presented with a group running as “The Slate” backed by Nan Whaley, picked from central casting with a black preacher, an Asian bureaucrat, a middle eastern refugee turned success story and a wizened white woman who overcame her hardscrabble upbringing to run successful businesses. They hired a “professional” political consultant, got a ton of endorsements, raised a bunch of money and expect the public to accept the package lock, stock and barrel. This has precedent, although on a much grander scale, when the business community put their money behind the “Kids First” slate of four powerful women, who would in turn get a levy passed that would bring $850M in new construction work to rebuild the schools. The new buildings did NOTHING to improve academic performance, and the internal culture of entitlement and mediocrity was allowed to continue to fester, which got us to where we are today; second worst district in the state.

Which brings me to my last qualifier: at this point, there is only one action that will be acceptable to turn this district around, and that’s to immediately install competent leadership that is willing to work with the board to clean house.

I am choosing candidates based on their stomach to do the following:

Fire Rhonda Corr for cause. Fire Hiwot Abraha for cause.

Hire, ranked in order of preference a new superintendent and possibly two, of the following three people to begin turning the district around:

David White, former DPS principal now in Trotwood Madison to run the district, or at least manage the operational side. He’s a wizard at bringing organizational controls to flailing operations.

Rusty Clifford- former Superintendent of West Carrollton schools. An advocate of year round schooling, a seasoned superintendent that knows the landscape and resources of the region, he can help Dr. Lolli manage the academic and instructional revamp of the district and work on rebuilding trust of the teachers and their union in focusing on excellence in classroom instruction.

The third choice, is a little more controversial, but would also be a seasoned hand that could quickly jump in, at least until we have time to find a long term solution, would be Jim Schoenlein former Kettering Superintendent. We need someone who knows how to run a district and a board, with a focus on academic excellence, with a diverse district. Again, teamed with Dr. Lolli, we’d have a clean start.

If a candidate has expressed an unwillingness to make this change, and is willing to continue with the Rhonda Corr rookie at the helm, experiment, they are unacceptable candidates.

All this being said, I have to look at what a functioning board would look like- and who would bring what skills to the table and how do we do it. You get to vote for up to four candidates, and remember, since there are 8 running, any vote for someone you don’t really feel is worthy- you are possibly pushing them ahead of someone you really want to win, so, voting for just 1, 2 or 3 candidates can be more powerful by not cancelling your vote out.

I am going to start with two candidates I feel are a totally unacceptable. If you think that either of these candidates is worthy of your vote, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of my endorsements.

Joe Lacey MUST NOT BE REELECTED AT ANY COST. He’s been a disruptive force on the board for his entire tenure. Not that disruption isn’t needed, it’s just that he’s been totally ineffective at swaying people to his side, or building alliances, and when he has built a coalition, it’s often been with wrong side. He actually brags about being the only no vote- when in fact, if he had any value at all, he’d have gotten others to go along with him, or found and helped others run and win. He’s been a problem for way too long and needs to go away permanently. Rewatch him trashing a parent in front of her child- and realize this man has zero respect for anyone and also know that’s he’s emotionally damaged and goes into histrionics if he thinks someone someone doesn’t like him because of his personality (way too often).

The Reverend William (Bill) Harris is part of the slate. His whole pitch has been “I’m working in Hilltop, and I think truancy is what we need to focus on.” For those that don’t know Hilltop, it’s a crappy public housing project on what should have been one of the prime pieces of land in Dayton. It’s been marked by violence, drug deals in the open, and crime. It’s been that way, it continues to be that way and it hasn’t changed thanks to the good reverend. Blaming truancy for our woes and making it his number one priority is demonstrated ignorance of the challenges facing DPS. Dr. Roberson made his entire pitch for the Superintendent position built around truancy and I dismissed him then too. Harris has said “I won’t be anyone’s puppet” as part of the slate- yet, that’s comically what he is. I don’t think he brings any of the critical thinking skills we need to this board, nor do I think he has the intellectual horsepower to move the district forward at a critical time. He’s Ron Lee 2. Pass, please.

The best choices for the board

DEA president David Romick’s face turns into a lemon when the idea of Ann Marie “Mario” Gallin returning to the board is broached. He says “She was terrible” the last time she was on the board- which was a while ago. In the time since, she kept attending board meetings and has worked at Ruskin- throwing herself into our own social experiment with wrap around services. She understands the actual problems in the classroom, the community and the interface. She’s well read, she talks about the dysfunctional nature of the board and the current agenda, and she brings the ability to actually question academic rigor in practices that are proposed. She’s a decent human being, and she’s not politically motivated. She’s not a big dollar candidate- which should also tell you she’s only interested in serving the kids best interests. She would be a calming, steadying, experienced hand on the board. You can’t go wrong voting for Mario.

Paul Bradley is the youngest candidate and part of the slate. He’s still wide eyed and optimistic. And while he’s not been to meetings, he knows what functioning government is supposed to do after working for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown for 6 years. His understanding of how federal programs work, how to interface with the community, his easy going, restrained personality makes him an excellent choice for the board. There are zero downsides to electing Paul. He’ll be awesome.

Karen Wick-Gagnet. I’ve known Karen and worked with her for a long time. Personally, I tried to talk her out of running, knowing that her dislike of confrontation and controversy would make this job a spirit killer for her. Not voting for Karen would be better for her well being, but bad for our district. She’s an amazing business woman, who’s been through boom and bust with her husband Jim. I’ve said before that if you want to see economic development in Dayton done on a budget- Jim is the best developer hands down. A big part of his success, has been his partnership with Karen. She’s the one who keeps things on point and running smoothly. She’s not a grandstander. She’s thoughtful, and talks about practicing mindfulness. I’ve watched her, and their businesses grow. I’ve watched her work for years- and if you know anything about restaurants- staffing is always tough, since you deal with people who tend to gravitate to the dramatic, with issues of alcoholism, drug use and drama- yet, she’s always been able to keep a steady work force, and attract some of the best talent in her restaurant. We’re lucky to be able to vote for someone who is doing it for the right reasons.

The next three are a vote at your own risk, although after a lot of thought, my choice is clearly the first, if you feel you have to cast a fourth vote.

Jocelyn Rhynard is a serious force to contend with. She talked about the dysfunction of the board meetings- which is the prime problem. She raised more money as an individual than anyone else. She sought and got endorsements. She surrounded herself with good people, and listened to them. I believe her heart is in the right place. So, what’s the reservation? She’s not my style of candidate. She holds things close, won’t take strong stands, hasn’t clearly said that she believe Corr to be a fundamental problem (although I know she thinks it), she attends board meetings and started a parents group. But, her emphasis on being a parent as qualification makes me ill. It has since the days when Dick Zimmer used to say he had 9 kids and 19 grandkids- as if the ability to fornicate was a skill critical to being elected (and I guess if you want to fcuk the public- it is). She also hedged when I asked her for the email from Marsha Bonhart- so I could verify it was sent to all, and the same. It was public record- and she held back. I worry about her not fully understanding that she’s there to represent us, in an open transparent manner. I worry about her doing a McManus and not being forceful enough at the right time. Yes, she came out the day after I posted about the Bonhart scandal- which to me, reeked of grandstanding. I don’t want that. But, she’s the best choice.

Jo’el Jones has been involved in “Neighborhoods over Politics” as has Shenise Turner Sloss. It’s an organization that had noble beginnings and potential, but got caught up in internal squabbles early on. Jo’el is a human wrecking ball- loud, demanding attention, and opinionated. She will grandstand. She’ll get in fights- on the campaign trail, her and Reverend Harris have not gotten along. She’s a disorganized hot mess most of the time. She’s known she’s been on the ballot since August- yet, is just now throwing herself into it at full force. Yes, she may be the voice of the community, or be tied in. She may have worked in the past for DPS, but, there may be a reason she’s not there now. I feel she’ll be a distraction and a carnival barker if elected. Another Hazel Rountree, and I don’t say that kindly- as I’ve found her to be the most ineffective board member ever. But, then again, if you want someone to get in a catfight with Rhonda Corr and sell tickets- Jo’el is your candidate.

Mohamed Al-Hamdani is a total wild card. I wanted to sit down and ask him real questions, hardball, and see what he says away from an audience, but he’s too busy being best man in Paul Bradley’s wedding this weekend. He’s definitely the lynch pin to “The Slate” and like another refugee, Dr. Adil Baguirov, moved into Dayton just in time to file. This guy has political aspiration signs coming out of every side of him- in neon, with strobe lights. This board run is his first step to his long future political career. And, he’s arrogant, by the truckload. Early on, I asked a question about the hiring of Burges and Burges and how much it cost- and why they didn’t buy local talent- and he tried to sidestep it and said they hadn’t paid them a dime. I don’t need to be lied to ever, and especially before you have been elected.

Mohamed thinks he knows it all. He has a smugness that rubs people the wrong way. He thinks he has all the answers. He probably reminds people of me in some ways- but, with the establishment nod. His campaign rhetoric has been full of bullshit about all the teachers that taught him- and his story of coming to America- all nice and fine, but missing any substance. He may indeed have all the answers, but, I’ve not heard them, and his testiness will bring back some of the rancor to the board that we can’t afford. He has a law degree- which would and might be handy, but, so does McManus- and it hasn’t kept us out of trouble. One of the biggest mistakes Americans make at the polls is thinking that being a lawyer makes you a good lawmaker- and that’s actually the opposite. Good lawmakers and only the best lawyers, understand that their profession is actually the art of compromise. Too many think it’s to win at all costs. Mohamed is a total wildcard. He may be smart, he may have a good story, he may even understand the issues, but I’d put Mario and Jocelyn ahead of him for my slate. He’s also been the one to say that if “The slate” is elected, they won’t disagree with each other as much in public- lending me to believe he’s planning on operating behind a curtain.

Congratulations. You just read over 3000 carefully chosen words about the 8 candidates for the Dayton Board of Education. The number of hours of research, candidates nights, talking to each candidate in person, going to board meetings, knowing the existing board members and the district- were all drawn into this piece. I’m sure there are lots of people who will say I’m wrong. That Candidate X is better suited than Candidate Y. I’m sure people will say “how could you be impartial, you’ve done business with them” etc. I don’t claim impartiality, I just share my thoughts and how I came to the conclusions I did.

In the best of all possible worlds, the board of tomorrow is John McManus, Mario Gallin, Paul Bradley, Karen Wick-Gagnet and Joselyn Rhynard- five people who can guide the district forward – and ignore the other two- Sheila Taylor and Robert Walker. If either of them are smart and resign- and the board can pick another candidate or two- they should open up to the public, and see who steps forward as well as consider adding Mohamed, although I think there are others who may be better suited. And although i think my best role would be to run the district marketing- with the should have been winning bid I submitted a year ago, I would also consider serving if asked. I’ve told this to David Romick, and I would have to have the DEA’s approval. Of course, I’ve made my vision for the district known- via my video, “There Ain’t no F in Dayton” and this blog- which many teachers have said has been instrumental in helping them get their message out about the incompetence of the central office.

My goal and dream- is for the Dayton Board Of Education to not need investigational oversight and constant course correction. My dream is to have a district that is performing at least at a “C” level on all measurements, because, I don’t believe every district can be above average, and for an urban district straight C’s would be an A.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!