Law changes who serves on WCCC board

MARIETTA – There could be extensive turnover ahead for the governing board of the Washington County Career Center due to a provision in Ohio’s biennial budget bill that changed who can serve and for how long.

House Bill 59 not only set the state’s spending plan for 2014 and 2015, but affected many other areas of state law. When it comes to membership on Joint Vocational School District boards, the new law limits members to two consecutive three-year terms and requires them to have certain business experience.

“Members … shall have experience as chief financial officers, chief executive officers, human resources managers or other business, industry or career counseling professionals who are qualified to discuss the labor needs of the region with respect to the regional economy,” it says.

It would also not require board members to live in the district, but says at least three-fifths of the members “shall reside in or be employed within the territory of the joint vocational school district.”

The Washington County Career Center board consists of seven members – one from each of the six public school districts in the county and one from the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center board. School boards can still appoint their own members to the Career Center board, but only if they have the business background dictated by the law.

The changes would keep at least two current board members – Karen Burton from the Marietta City Board of Education and Fort Frye Local Board of Education President Johnna Zalmanek – from serving again, they said recently.

“I like it the way it is with each school board having their representative to the career center,” said Burton, a retired teacher. “I’m not saying the people they appoint wouldn’t do a nice job, but sometimes they don’t understand how the schools work.”

The term limits could also affect some of the longer-serving board members like board President Larry Holdren and Vice President Neil Huck, although no one would have to step down until their current term expires.

Career Center Superintendent Dennis Blatt could not immediately be reached for comment.

The amendment was introduced by state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield. In an email Friday, he said the purpose was to respond to the rapidly changing workforce needs in the state.

“And the governor’s budget proposal required all new and existing career tech programs anywhere in the territory of the JVS (that will receive approximately $120 million statewide in the next two years) be approved by the local JVS boards and planning districts,” Widener said. “Therefore to eliminate the potential conflict of interest posed by board members approving their own programs, they now will appoint a representative that’s an employer in their district.

“This will still maintain a connection to the local districts while putting employers in direct oversight of the management and job-training programs offered at all public schools, JVS, community schools and charter schools,” he said.

Beverly resident Tammy Bates, a former Fort Frye Local and Career Center board member, said she understands the rationale for wanting people in touch with the regional economy, but she is concerned the requirements could limit the pool of potential career center board members.

“I don’t know too many CFOs that have the time to do that,” she said.

Bates said keeping in touch with the needs of local employers is a responsibility of the Career Center’s superintendent and other administrators as well.

Charlotte Keim, president of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said the career center has advisory committees for its programs made up of local businesspeople, but it does make sense to seek more input from the business community.

The fact that someone could be appointed to the board who works but does not live in the district doesn’t concern Keim.

“I think if somebody has a vested interest in the community, whether they live here or not, if they (meet) all the other qualifications, so what?” she said, noting the chamber board has members from outside Washington County.

Career Center representatives in other parts of the state have said in published reports they are hesitant to have non-residents voting on issues like property tax levies.

Keim echoed Burton’s concern about not having educators in the mix. Again, she pointed to the chamber’s board, which has representatives from retail, manufacturing, education and more.

“We work very, very hard to make sure we have our directors represent as many different sectors of our community as possible,” she said.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said the Career Center alterations were added late in the budget negotiations and he’s willing to listen to suggestions about how to change them. He’s concerned portions of the new regulations may take away the discretion of local school boards.

“I think there were elements of it that sounded positive, but overall … I think it’s an overreach,” Thompson said.