Education Works trying to set up candidate forums

MARIETTA — Education Works SEO, the Marietta community organization that put together candidate forums last year ahead of the November elections, is working toward doing the same thing for this year’s November election.

At a local meeting Tuesday night, Teresa Porter said she had reached out to the candidates seeking to replace Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, as the 95th District representative in the Ohio House. She said the Democratic nominee, Dan Milleson, had indicated he was interested but the Republican, Don Jones, had not responded. Porter said she sent both men messages through the email utility on their campaign websites.

“It’s important that whoever is elected knows that there are people who expect education to be the priority,” she said.

Last year, Education Works held well-attended forums for the seven school board candidates and for state representatives and the state senator.

Thompson can’t run again because of term limits, and Porter said she’s concerned because both the candidates to replace him are from Harrison County, which could mean Marietta might take a backseat in the sprawling district. District 95 is a geographically irregular district that includes northern Washington County, all of Noble County, western Belmont County and all of Harrison and Carroll counties.

Milleson, 29 and a Democrat from Cadiz, operates an insurance agency. Jones, a Republican, is from Freeport, a school teacher and operates a farm equipment dealership.

Porter said she hopes to have the forum organized for sometime in September. She plans to include a report from a bipartisan legislative working group that is nearly finished examining Ohio’s public education funding system, which has come under fire in recent years for inequity and ineffectiveness, with a state Supreme Court decision over two decades old that found it violates the constitutional rights of Ohioans.

“They started in December, with the goal of coming up with new ideas,” she said. “One thing that has come through consistently is that Ohio funds schools with leftover dollars, residual money after roads and other things are taken care of.”

Chris Porter, one of three people in attendance at the meeting, said Education Works has made representations to state lawmakers on numerous issues, including revising the grant system for purchasing buses and the use of lottery funding intended to support the state’s public schools.

“We did have an impact on the formula for buying buses,” he said. School buses cost up to or more than $100,000, and most Washington County districts have to replace at least one of them a year.

Julia Biehl, who works at Putnam Elementary School, offered suggestions on ways to reach the public about the forum in September, including Facebook, printed notices that can be sent home with school children and announcements in the newspaper.

“We might set up tables at First Friday and the farmers market,” she said.

Porter said the group will continue to lobby lawmakers.

“It’s wonderful when superintendents and treasurers go to Columbus and lobby,” she said, “but it would be great if average citizens went up to testify.”