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Clevelander Fights To Retain Seat

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 5:20 PM

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The Senate has confirmed Governor John Kasich's latest appointee to the state school board. But the woman who sat in that seat just a few weeks ago is still fighting to keep it.

The Senate has confirmed Gov. John Kasich’s latest appointee to the state school board. But the woman who sat in that seat just a few weeks ago is still fighting to keep it, and Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports a well-known name has been brought in to help.

Senators voted along party lines to confirm Angela Thi Bennett, a lawyer from East Cleveland who favors school choice, to the state board of education.  She replaces retired Cleveland teacher Marian Harris, who was appointed to the board by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. 

Democratic Senator Tom Sawyer of Akron stood up to speak against the appointment saying it’s not about the qualifications of Bennett or Harris - it’s about whether there is a vacancy on the state school board. “That question, that matter of whether or not the term expired is very much open to question.”

But it’s not, said Republican Gary Cates of West Chester - the Senate never confirmed Harris because her paperwork was never received. “I believe the Attorney General’s office determined that the appointment of Miss Harris was not valid, and as such that’s what created the vacancy here.”

And that’s at the core of the lawsuit that Harris has filed with the help of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the union to which she belongs.  The union brought in a big gun to help bring attention to Harris’ case - the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “This is not about the paper.  This is about the power to control the state board of education and be able to remove superintendents.”

Jackson says the lack of diversity in Gov. Kasich’s cabinet and the proposed bill on collective bargaining as examples of what he calls a power grab by Republicans in Ohio and across the country.  And OFT president Sue Taylor says if this situation were the other way around - if a Democratic governor were trying to unseat a Republican appointee - the teachers’ union would still be angry.

“We believe in fairness and due process for everyone.  To find out two years later there was supposedly a glitch in the paperwork, are her votes nullified?  So we would be concerned about that no matter who the state board member is and no matter who the governor is.”

Harris has filed suit in federal court to keep her seat till the end of next year.

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