State Board of Education May Drop Requirement for Art Classes

Ohio school board (L to R) Sarah Fowler, Debe Terhar,  Superintendent Richard Ross, Sen. Peggy Lehner (photo Andy Chow)
Ohio school board (L to R) Sarah Fowler, Debe Terhar, Superintendent Richard Ross, Sen. Peggy Lehner (photo Andy Chow)

The Standards Committee updates rules about every five years. But this year it wants to eliminate the so-called 5 of 8 rule. That states for every 1000 students in a district, the local school board must hire the equivalent of 5 full time service personnel. Districts had a choice of these 8 options: elementary art teacher, elementary physical education teacher, counselor, nurse, librarian, elementary music teacher, social worker, and visiting teacher.

Dropping that requirement has upset members of those professions. The same goes for state school board member Deborah Cain of Uniontown.
“I find that, myself, very concerning. And there are some things I feel that should be part of the curriculum no matter what the size of your school is.”

Outgoing school board president Debe Terhar inserted a change in the rules that expands those 8 so-called service personnel positions to include 16 other options such as athletic director, transportation supervisor, and food service director. Board member Tom Gunlock says he has long heard complaints from school leaders about “unfunded mandates” from the state and he wants to leave the choice up to them.

“Local districts know their students and what their needs are more than we do and so it should be left up to local schools boards, local superintendents to decided what’s best for their students and give them the flexibility to do so.”

The public reaction to the changes and has been loud and negative.

“Yeah” said Gunlick, “ I’ve gotten what, 4500 emails.”

The committee didn’t just expand the list of service personnel positions - it killed the requirement that any of them be hired. Committee Chairman Ron Rudduck of Wilmington says it won’t make a big difference anyway in whether a district hires a librarian or a music teacher.

“I’ll tell you the truth, a lot of the superintendents I talk to, especially the young ones, didn’t even know there was a rule called the 5 of 8. So it leads you to believe it wasn’t involved in their decision making to begin with.”

Rudduck points out that Ohio law already requires each school district to include art, music , and physical education in its curriculum. Although he acknowledges state law does not require a minimum number of those classes or teachers. And local superintendents know that..
“It happens a lot when districts fail levies, unfortunately, the first positions that are cut are these education service personnel positions.

Art teachers, counselors, librarians and others fear that dropping any staffing requirement may be read as a lack of respect for those subjects or positions. Committee vice-chair Sarah Fowler of Ashtabula.

“That is what I’ve heard on the flipside is that by changing the current rule it allows districts to say ‘Well these positions aren’t important to us and these ones meet the rule. So we’re good.’ And that it perhaps categorizes levels of importance to us.”

State board member Deborah Cain has been a teacher and a local school board member. She’s afraid districts who do offer art and music will use general teachers and not those who are specialists in teaching those subjects.

“If there are people who just want to look at the bottom line, financially, which I understand you have to - that’s part of a superintendent’s and local board members’ job. But they also need to look, not only at the bottom line, but also at what’s best for kids and hopefully those two match up .”

The full board is expected to consider an amendment to the rule change on Tuesday. Their final vote comes in the spring. By then, several new members will have joined and others will have retired.

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