Board Vacancy Draws Great Interest

Board Vacancy Draws Great Interest
Posted on 02/09/2018
Image of Akron Public Schools LogoUpdate on search for new member

(courtesy Theresa Cottom, Beacon Journal)

The Akron Board of Education planned on interviewing every person who applied for the vacant board seat this Saturday. But when 57 applications rushed in by the deadline last week, the task became nearly undoable.

“We had significantly more interest than we anticipated,” said Patrick Bravo, the president of the school board. “We’re excited to see that so many people are interested in being part of Akron Public Schools … It’s going to be a very difficult decision but a very important one.”

The school board is extending its planned timeline to choose a board member to fill the vacancy left by past member John Otterman, who resigned last month amid allegations of drug use and a possible overdose.

A wide range of people applied in the 10-day period, including former teachers, past municipal court judges, local actors, past city and county council members, a mother and daughter pair, and more.

Among them is Tom Sawyer, who has been in public service for more than 40 years, serving on the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate, in the U.S. Congress, and as the mayor of Akron.

But before all of that, Sawyer started as a teacher in Cleveland.

He said his roles since have been focused on education issues. Even while in office, Sawyer served on educational committees on the state and federal level. He called education the “single most important arena where I could make a contribution” to the community.

“I have dealt with such a wide range of education issues in such depth that I just really believe that I could bring a kind of experience to the board that would be a lasting asset to the work of Akron Public Schools,” Sawyer said.

Another applicant is the Rev. Byron Arledge, who recently announced his retirement after 45 years of serving as the president of Pastoral Counseling Services.

“After you retire, it’s like, OK, what would God have me do with the rest of my life? What would be my next great thing?” said Arledge on Thursday. “One of the greatest things in my life was the opportunity to serve children in Akron.”

Arledge served two terms on the Akron Board of Education more than 30 years ago.

Arledge said he spent his time both on the board and working at Pastoral Counseling Services focusing on mental health support for children, especially those with special needs. He said he also worked closely with the administration and the teachers union during his time on the board, which he wants to do again.

Some other community leaders who applied include: David Lombardi, a past Akron Municipal Court judge; Eufrancia Lash, a director at Alpha Phi Alpha; and Tenille Kaus, the Equal Employment Opportunity compliance officer for Summit County.

The board vacancy was created when Otterman resigned Jan. 22, just days after police found him after he overdosed in a car and had to administer four doses of the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone, to revive him. Police say they found marijuana and the powerful painkiller fentanyl in the car with Otterman.

The school board has 30 days from Otterman’s resignation to replace him, which would be no later than Feb. 21. The new board member would serve the rest of Otterman’s term through 2019.

Bravo said the last time the board had a vacancy and opened it up to outside applicants, they received just shy of 25 applications.

With that figure in mind, this time around, the board planned on interviewing every candidate this Saturday to have a decision by Monday. The deadline to apply was last Thursday.

But the amount of interest sent that timeline out the window.

“I don’t think anyone I’ve spoken with … has the appetite go to through 57 interviews if we can narrow it down first,” Bravo said.

Bravo said board members plan to meet this Saturday to narrow down the list. Then, the tentative plan is to conduct interviews the following week and have a decision that Monday, which is just two days before the board’s deadline.

Bravo said Thursday that the board isn’t yet considering anyone in particular; but members are aiming to add diversity, looking for a “diverse range of education, experience, involvement with Akron Public Schools and involvement with the community.”

Bravo said the board is also taking the neighborhoods where each candidate is living into consideration. A point of tension for some community members who closely follow the board is the fact that most members live on the northwest side of Akron.

“We’re looking for a board member who will complement the skill set that’s there and will bring their own unique perspective,” Bravo said. “We have a lot of really good initiatives and good things going for us right now, and it’s going to be important for us to find somebody who can help us move that forward.”
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