Election 2019: Cincinnati Public School Board

Voters have a bevy of choices to fill four seats that are up for grabs on the board that oversees the 36,000-student district.

Oct 15, 2019 at 4:12 pm
click to enlarge Cincinnati Public School Board - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Public School Board

In addition to a levy renewal for the schools, voters in the Cincinnati Public School district will also need to choose how to fill four seats on the school board. The board serves as the public’s representatives who weigh in on big calls about how CPS budgets taxpayer money and many other overarching policy decisions about how the district is administered. 

There are plenty of important issues the board will need to wrestle with, including the implementation of its three-year strategic plan, which looks to prepare students for life via academic achievement, personal well-being and career readiness and to guide all CPS students into either higher education, employment or military service upon graduation. 

The board will also need to continue overseeing the implementation of Cincinnati Preschool Promise, an effort to extend preschool to lower-income residents in the district. 

Beyond that, the board will need to navigate the district’s continued growth, improve its bus system and safety concerns for students walking to school and continue progress in addressing school security and bullying issues. 

There are two races to watch here: one among six candidates for three seats up for reelection and another among three candidates fighting to fill an unexpired term. 

Among the six vying for the three open seats are three school board incumbents — Eve Bolton, Ozie Davis III and Carolyn Jones — and three newcomers — Marlena Brookfield, Heather Couch and Ben Lindy. 

• The current board members running for reelection: 

Bolton has served three terms on the school board. She is endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Cincinnati Women’s Political Caucus and other groups and has served as president, vice president and other roles on the board. 

Bolton has said that the district’s big challenges involve its growing enrollment and socioeconomic barriers many of its students face that she says have a big impact on the district’s state report card scores. She has acknowledged the district can do better in other areas, including improving its bus system. 

Davis, who was appointed to a seat last year vacated by resigning board member Lannis Timmons, didn’t collect enough signatures to get listed on the ballot this time around and is running as a write-in candidate. He is endorsed by the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, the Hamilton County Democratic Party and the Cincinnati AFL-CIO and has worked as executive director of the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation and in the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus. 

Davis was co-chair of Issue 44, the initiative that funded Cincinnati Preschool Promise. He has said he believes the program is living up to its promises, despite a slow start. 

Jones currently serves as the school board’s president. She is endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, Cincinnati AFL-CIO and others. She has cited the current state of school funding in Ohio — long ruled unconstitutional — as one of the district’s biggest challenges. She has also said that the district’s approach to transportation needs to be improved. 

• The challengers:

Brookfield has been an active voice in education issues as a member of the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition and other advocacy groups. She also last year completed the Cincinnati School Board School, a project funded by a People’s Liberty grant designed to prepare future school board candidates. Brookfield identifies school funding as one of the district’s biggest challenges and says she will be very active in engaging communities around public schools in the district. She identifies as a progressive and has been endorsed by Cincinnati Indivisible and other progressive groups.

Couch, a former school counselor at Covington Latin School and another School Board School graduate, has identified improving the district’s state report card grade as one of its biggest needs. Couch has served on her Local School Decision Making Committee for two neighborhood schools. Couch is endorsed by the Hamilton County Republican Party. 

Lindy, the executive director of Teach for America Southwest Ohio, has scored an endorsement from the Cincinnati Charter Committee. He sees making sure educational opportunities are consistent across CPS as among the district’s biggest challenges. Lindy’s affiliation with Teach for America — which places non-teachers in public schools at a lower cost for two-year apprenticeships — has raised some controversy from critics, in part because TFA is sometimes affiliated with charter schools that pull funding from public schools. 

Lindy has said he doesn’t think charters have worked well in Ohio and he is dedicated to public schools in Cincinnati. Still, his role in TFA and some $12,000 in campaign funding from TFA-allied group Leadership for Educational Equity has put him at odds with groups like the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, which last month voted to oppose CPS entering into contracts with TFA. The rift has led to some bitter fighting between Lindy and his supporters and TFA and charter critics. 

Three other candidates are vying for an unexpired term on the board. That term ends Dec. 31, 2021. 

Pamela Bowers is the incumbent and candidate endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party in that race. She’s a mental health and chemical dependency counselor with more than two decades experience and has scored additional endorsements from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, Cincinnati Women’s Political Caucus, the AFL-CIO and other groups. 

Gary Favors, who grabbed the Hamilton County GOP’s endorsement, is an intervention specialist at CPS’ Gamble Montessori High School, spent 12 years in the U.S. Army and has more than two decades experience in special education. He wants to push for better financial transparency, more efforts to attract qualified teachers and staff and expanded vocational opportunities.

Steve Megerle, an attorney, served as top aide for Cincinnati City Council member Jeff Pastor. He previously was a member of Covington’s City Commission from 2007 to 2009 before stepping down after a campaign finance violation related to his undisclosed co-funding of campaign ads against a gay candidate for city commission. Critics called those mailers homophobic.

Megerle has taken fire this election for a campaign ad picturing a black family next to "Elect Megerle for School Board." Critics have said Megerle who is white, is trying to represent himself as black. He, however, says that's a partisan attack and that there was no intention of implying he is African American with the ad.   

Citing CPS’ state report card grades, Megerle says the district is in crisis and should expand its vocational and technical training. He's advocated for stepped-up recruiting at historically black colleges to increase the number of minority teachers within CPS. Currently, the district's teachers are 70 percent white, while its students are 63 percent black. Megerle has also proposed homeowners' down payment assistance from the city for teachers who move to the district.