05/31/2013 02:52 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

News Genius and Our Schools: A New Model of Open Government


The Springboro Board of Education angered local residents after posting contract proposals in the midst of negotiations with the teacher's union, but the recent attention surrounding the board's decision to include creationism on the list of "controversial issues" has overshadowed the efforts of the president and other members of the board to privatize Springboro schools.

Dr. Kelly Kohls, the president of Springboro Board of Education and head of the Warren County Tea Party, held the first annual conference of the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council late last year in order to provide a "conservative alternative" to the Ohio School Boards Association. Secretary of State John Husted delivered the keynote address on "The Future of School Choice," followed by dinner with Seth Morgan, president of Americans for Prosperity, to show his organization's support for school choice in Ohio. The conference included workshops for Charter School Development Programs, and breakout sessions from policy analysts who focus on education, to help school board members draft policies and create budgets that support charter schools in their districts.

Earlier this year the Board voted 4-1 to hire the Callender Law Group to investigate the benefits of "conversion schools" in the Springboro School District. While the issue was ultimately tabled, it's unlikely that Springboro has heard the last of charter schools. Ohio Gov. John Kasich's 2013 School Funding Plan includes the expansion of publicly funded private school vouchers along with additional funding for charter schools. The state is also one of five in the nation with controversial "parent trigger" laws that give parents the ability to petition for under-performing schools be closed or converted to a private school. Given the school board's multiple attempts to put creationism on the books, it's more likely that the charter school debate is just getting started.

When Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) assessed the effectiveness of charter schools in Ohio back in 2009, they found that "math gains for students attending charter schools were significantly below their traditional public school peers." More recently, Gov. Kasich signed into law a bill that would replace the current rating system with an A through F grading system. While the Ohio Department of Education estimates that about three-quarters of schools would see their grades drop at least one level, StateImpact Ohio found that "more than 70 percent of charter schools would receive F's" under the new evaluation guidelines.

So if it isn't higher grades they're after, what other choices could the board be looking for? Critics have charged that the charter movement has shifted it's focus away from "smaller schools" to privatizing education and limiting the rights of their employees. Education historian Diane Ravitch estimates that upwards of 95 percent of charter schools in the United States are non-union, which has motivated "an increasing number of teachers at charter schools" to restore their collective bargaining rights. Could all this talk of "The Future of School Choice" simply be a means of limiting the collective bargaining rights of our school teachers?

Thanks to the folks at Rap Genius, the community now has open access to the Springboro Board of Education Contract Proposals, which includes the full text of the original contract along with highlighted annotations for each proposal. Opening the contract negotiations helps local residents to learn more about the proposed changes, including base salaries for teachers and Fair Share fees, by asking questions and sharing their concerns in an open forum. This affords representatives and education experts the opportunity to explain their impacts in plain English. Open contract negotiations also allow other organizations to share their point of views with the community, and possibly even propose a few changes of their own!

If you're interested in checking out all the choices that are available through open contract negotiations, head on over to Rap Genius to get involved in the conversation, and help support open government in our local communities.