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3 questions for Cincinnati Public Schools board candidates

Zack Carreon
/
WVXU

Three Cincinnati Public School Board seats are up for election this year. Incumbents Ben Lindy — the current board president — and Board Member Eve Bolton are both running to hold onto their seats. Current Board Member Carolyn Jones will not seek re-election, leaving the door open for at least one new candidate to join the board.

Educators Bryan Cannon and Kendra Mapp are seeking to fill one of those slots, along with conservative candidate Paul Schiele.

CPS' board is set to face a number of challenges in the near future, as Ohio's second-largest district continues to recover from the pandemic and works to find solutions to issues like transportation delays and chronic absenteeism.

WVXU reached out to all of the candidates on the ballot and asked each of them three of the same questions. Answers have only been edited for clarity.

Ben Lindy

Provided
/
Cincinnati Public Schools

CPS will lose COVID relief funding next fiscal year. What should the district prioritize and work to maintain? Where should the district look to make cuts?

We should work to maintain investments in mental health wherever possible. When it comes to making cuts, I believe in meaningful, rigorous engagement with the community. For me, that means (a) convening representative groups of stakeholders, (b) showing them the different ways we have of making those cuts, and then (c) getting their take on the trade-offs.  Our final decisions need to reflect what we hear in these conversations.

What can you do as a board member to make CPS schools work better for students, improve attendance, and raise the graduation rate?

The board has two core responsibilities: (1) hiring an outstanding superintendent and then (2) holding that superintendent accountable for a small number of measurable goals that reflect the values of our community.  We've done a great job on #1.  We now need to focus on #2.  We need to stay at the altitude of accountability for outcomes (vs. micromanaging the administration).

Are there areas where you think the district isn’t doing enough for students, teachers, and/or the school community?

Absolutely.  We aspire for a city and a country where every child — regardless of race, income level, or zip code — has access to an excellent education, and that is just not the case for too many families. We need to make sure that every school produces strong academic outcomes and provides children with pathways to economic mobility and a future of real, meaningful choices.

Eve Bolton

Provided
/
Cincinnati Public Schools

CPS will lose COVID relief funding next fiscal year. What should the district prioritize and work to maintain? Where should the district look to make cuts?

The influx of federal dollars related to the COVID Emergency and Response was welcome and critically needed. As those dollars end, major adjustments will be needed in the following three fiscal years '25, '26, '27. It is not a matter only of keeping or cutting the ESSER spending priorities.

Both strategically and tactically, the Board and Administration have a number of options as the ESSER flood recedes. We can absorb ESSER dollars into the General Fund or redirect those dollars into relevant grant funding. It's possible that ESSER funds are committed for contracted services or equipment beyond the one fiscal year. Regardless there are over $90 million in the FY 24 General Fund that will not be available for the FY 25 General Fund Budget.

That all said, as not only one board member but Finance Chair, I would posit that in FY 25 we will see reductions in Student Special Services and any programs that are not directly related or occurring in the regular school year. I believe as well our several years of extreme expenditures in expansive initiatives in Professional Development, Curriculum Adoption, and Transportation can be suspended or even reduced for at least the '25 and '26 fiscal years.

I do believe I am in a distinct minority that our best dollars spent would be in prioritizing class size reduction K-12, attaining nationally recognized student-to-counselor and student-to-social workers standards 4-12, and continued health and nutritional services at each school

What can you do as a board member to make CPS schools work better for students, improve attendance, and raise the graduation rate?

Generally speaking, board members must represent the community; secure and manage the resources enough to educate our students; direct the superintendent; and oversee the management of the district. If we do that, the schools will work better for students.

We can improve attendance, which is in crisis, by correcting inadequacies in transportation, [and] developing a mass communication media campaign to prioritize the families' role in getting students to school. As for our graduation rates, I believe both at district-wide and school-by-school, our graduation rates are very good. It's only on the Ohio Report Card that our rates are judged as failures. They are not. However, some improvement in graduation could be achieved by increasing our career tech opportunities.

Are there areas where you think the district isn’t doing enough for students, teachers, and/or the school community?

The areas in which we do not currently do enough for students, staff, and school communities are in the areas of: 1. Providing smaller class sizes, 2. Enforcing an effective and fair discipline code, and 3. Organizing the district in such a way that equitable and accessible programming is available to each and every family regardless of their address.

Bryan Cannon

Provided
/
Bryan Cannon

CPS will lose COVID relief funding next fiscal year. What should the district prioritize and work to maintain? Where should the district look to make cuts?

In a recent CPS budget meeting, it was estimated that the district must cut approximately $80 million from the current school budget due to the loss of COVID funds. Based off of my 22 years of school administration experience, here are some steps I would take to determine what the district maintains and cuts:

1. Prioritize programs or initiatives based on their alignment with the district's strategic plan and vision for educational equity. Identify those that have shown the most promise and potential for long-term success.

2. Review the impact and outcomes of the programs and initiatives funded by the American Rescue Plan. Assess their effectiveness in achieving the district's goals and priorities in addressing equity in education. If programs and initiatives are not providing a return on their investments then they should be first to go.

3. Evaluate the sustainability of each program or initiative without COVID funding. Consider factors such as financial resources, staff capacity, community support, and the long-term benefits to students. Determine if the district budget can support effective programs and initiatives.

4. Collaborate and seek input from various stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community/business members. Gather their perspectives on the programs and initiatives and use their insights to inform decision-making. Have them supply a list of cuts.

5. Consider alternative funding sources or partnerships to sustain valuable programs or initiatives that may not be viable without the COVID funding. Explore possibilities for collaboration with other organizations, grant opportunities, or reallocating existing resources.

6. Make informed decisions based on the collected data, stakeholder input, and the district's goals and priorities. The board should carefully weigh the pros and cons of continuing or discontinuing each program or initiative and make choices that maximize educational equity and long-term impact.

7. Communicate the decisions to all relevant stakeholders, providing a rationale for each choice. Transparency is key in ensuring understanding and support from the community.

What can you do as a board member to make CPS schools work better for students, improve attendance, and raise the graduation rate?

As a board member of CPS schools, I can use my knowledge gained from earning my Ohio Superintendents License and the completion of Ohio's own School Board School, to make a significant impact on student outcomes by focusing on policy and governance, resource allocation, and community engagement. By setting clear expectations and goals, developing effective policies, consistently monitoring progress, allocating resources equitably, investing in professional development, expanding support services, building partnerships, promoting parent involvement, and addressing community-specific needs, I can contribute to creating a better educational environment for students, improving attendance rates, and raising the graduation rate.

The State of Ohio Education Department says the Cincinnati School District is not "up to par." Cincinnati received 2 out of 5 stars on the 2022/23 Report Card that was released last month. Three major points led me to this below-standard grade. CPS graduation rates and student proficiency rates are some of the lowest in the states. Although CPS has increased the graduation rate from 21/22, it reports that 1 out of every 5 seniors not graduating in 4 years. 20% of students eligible to graduate did not receive their diploma.* The attendance rate for CPS shows that almost half of the student population has been identified as chronically absent, which means half of the 36,000 students missed 18 or more days last year. The English and Math Achievement indicators on the report card show that most white and Asian students score proficient in English and Math. Whereas only 40% of our Black, Hispanic, English Learner, and Special Education student populations are scoring proficient.* That is the majority of the total 36,000 student population.

When students attend school, they have the opportunity to learn. Although not directly in the role of School Board Member, because of my school leadership experience, I would provide my knowledge to the district staff on how to increase school attendance. I have a comprehensive plan that has proven to increase student and staff attendance. I could share ideas on how to incentivize attendance, how to utilize district staff to actively connect with families to remediate attendance barriers and collaborate with community partnerships to provide additional support to encourage school attendance. I could also offer the district staff ideas on how to increase student achievement.

*Reporter's note: WVXU fact-checked CPS' Ohio Report Card stats and found 1 out of 5 CPS students do not graduate in four years, but 83.3% of students graduate within five years, which puts the percentage of students not receiving a diploma at all at 16.7%. Meanwhile, about 40% of Black, Hispanic, English learner, and special education students are not scoring proficient in English, while about 50% are not scoring proficient in math.

Are there areas where you think the district isn’t doing enough for students, teachers, and/or the school community?

As a current high school teacher and teacher union member, one area of concern is the achievement gap among students. The district serves a diverse student population, including students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. Unfortunately, there is a persistent achievement gap between different groups of students, particularly in terms of academic performance and graduation rates. CPS is not doing enough to educate its Black and Brown students. The district should allocate more resources and implement targeted interventions to address this gap and ensure that all students have equal opportunities for success. I would collaborate with district staff to ensure that all students are getting what they need to be successful.

Another area where improvements can be made is in teacher support and professional development. Teachers play a crucial role in shaping the educational experience of students, and it is essential to provide them with the necessary resources, training, and support to excel in their profession. I know firsthand that training and professional development should be tailored to staff's needs. The district could do more to offer ongoing specialized professional development opportunities, mentorship programs, and a supportive work environment that promotes collaboration and growth.

Additionally, community engagement and involvement are vital for the success of any school district. While Cincinnati Public Schools have made efforts to engage with parents, community organizations, and local businesses, there is still room for improvement. Strengthening partnerships with community stakeholders can lead to increased support for schools, enhanced resources for students, and a greater sense of belonging within the school community.

Kendra Mapp

Provided
/
Kendra Mapp

CPS will lose COVID relief funding next fiscal year. What should the district prioritize and work to maintain? Where should the district look to make cuts?

A critical way of determining the budgetary priorities from the COVID relief funding should be considered based upon the Equity and Excellence in Education Board Policy 2255 which states, "Allocate annually the District's many financial, capital, and human resources equitably." Decisions regarding the budget should directly align and communicate the outlined plan to accomplish the values, objectives, and operations of the district.

I think that it is beneficial for the Board and Treasurer to work collaboratively, to continue to do a thorough audit on outcomes to assess the return on investment (ROI) when considering what stays and goes from the budget. Some areas that I would work to prioritize are: staff positions, comprehensive social-emotional/mental health supports, transportation, and a curriculum that encompasses holistic learning.

What can you do as a board member to make CPS schools work better for students, improve attendance, and raise the graduation rate?

As a board member, I would work to ensure that our learning environments are affirming, respectful, supportive, inclusive, and equitable. Studies continue to reflect the importance of meeting the fundamental needs of physical, social, and emotional security; to optimize an individual's fullest potential. When these needs are fulfilled, both students and staff alike develop a positive mindset toward learning and work.

Once students have acquired the self-confidence to succeed, they develop pride, make meaningful connections, and take ownership of their education to excel in rigorous coursework that promotes college, career, and life readiness. Equally, student involvement motivates the staff to further their professional development and implement creative learning strategies.

I believe that the accountability to ensure improved attendance, successful performance outcomes, and achievement for all of our students within the district is a shared objective between all stakeholders. Hence, I would work to establish trust, positive regard, and bilateral communication throughout our district; to yield mutual respect, clear understanding of expectations/responsibilities, regular progress monitoring, and equal ownership to uphold, champion, and meet the aligned vision and goals for student success.

Are there areas where you think the district isn't doing enough for students, teachers, and/or the school community?

CPS proudly serves as a positive example within public education, by pioneering the development of the first equity policy. Most recently, advancements have been made to advocate for a safer learning environment for students, staff, and community members. The district has become more intentional in their efforts to actively listen to the concerns regarding inequities and have been working to put tangible plans in place to address problem areas.

However, there is continued room for improvement, specifically in regard to the academic rigor, early literacy, graduation rates, enrollment, resources, districtwide support, and funding; particularly in our neighborhood schools. As a Board Member, I would address the recognizable divide to establish efficacy with the policies, build community within the district, and ensure equitable access to high-quality education for all students. To effectively do this, collectively the district must be diligent in making every learning environment a place that is regarded as "A School of Choice" that attends to the needs of all; especially our most vulnerable students.

Paul Schiele

Did not respond.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.