By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MADEIRA - The impact of new federal and state mandates is just starting to be felt in Greater Cincinnati schools, but they have already altered school board races, say veteran school board officials.
President Bush's sweeping No Child Left Behind education legislation and Ohio's own education reforms have led to more accountability for public schools. Those wanting to win a seat on the governing boards of local districts have had to adjust their campaigns.
"I do find I need to explain things more. All the reforms are very complex," said Madeira school board president John Gilster during a break in his campaign for a third term on the district's board of education.
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School board campaigns in Greater Cincinnati suburbs are still generally low-key efforts, featuring little money, plenty of handshakes and a few yard signs, Gilster said.
But schools are now beginning to feel the brunt of many of the president's 2002 education reform package provisions, which will be fully installed in 2004. Most important, he said, many of the required mandates have been imposed without funding.
"There are too many unfunded mandates," said Gilster, whose district of 1,500 students is being forced to cover an increasing array of student diagnostic testing, teacher certification and special needs programs with a waning budget.
He cites new requirements that call for three more tests for students each year, in addition to the state's proficiency testing and those exams already administered by the district.
Gilster is competing with Mickey Beyersdorfer and Kam Mislch for two open board seats.
"It's become a massive job to be a board member," said Rob Delane, director of development for the Ohio School Board Association and himself a former school superintendent. "The federal and state governments are expecting more and there is more and more expected of school districts."
John Pennycuff, a 14-year school board veteran and Winton Woods Board of Education president, said local "hot-button issues" are the usual campaign fodder for board races.
That may change, he said, as the new mandates begin to alter Ohio's schools in 2004.
"Unfunded mandates are a growing threat and it's a threat that the local population does not take the time to understand," said Pennycuff, who is one of three Winton Woods candidates - along with Priscilla Franklinand Cynthia Lee-Richardson- seeking two open seats in the northern Hamilton County district.
Some special needs programs mandated for physically, mentally or behaviorally impaired students can cost up to $80,000 for a single student, he said.
Cindy Fackler is a Loveland Schools parent of five children. She considers her school board vote to be as important as any other vote she'll cast.
"School board candidates need to be aware of these mandates," she said. "I'm deeply concerned about these mandates coming down and no money coming down with them."
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