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Both candidates for Ohio education boss have made missteps

Wire • Mar 7, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Gov. John Kasich's education adviser disclosed a 2009 drunken-driving conviction as part of the Ohio Board of Education's search to find a new state superintendent.

Richard A. Ross, a top Kasich aide and former longtime superintendent of Reynoldsburg schools, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence after an arrest in Powell on July 3, 2009. He is one of two finalists to be the state's next schools chief. The other, acting Superintendent Michael L. Sawyers, was reprimanded in 2010 for misusing the district's credit card while he was superintendent for a school system in northeastern Ohio.

The state's 18-member school board will pick between Ross and Sawyers next week, and it doesn't appear that either man's misstep will affect the vote.

"I certainly do not view a single violation of that manner as a bar to this position," said school board member C. Todd Jones of Ross' arrest and conviction.

Jones said he was made aware of Sawyers' reprimand when the board appointed him last summer to temporarily replace Superintendent Stan Heffner, who left abruptly amid accusations of misconduct.

"I was fully briefed at the time and viewed the matter then to be fully resolved," Jones said. In a statement, Democratic board member Stephanie Dodd, whose district includes large portions of Franklin County and other central Ohio communities, said she has enough information "to make a decision on who would be the best candidate for Ohio's children, regardless of the specific incidents mentioned."

Several other school board members did not respond to messages seeking comment. The board is to conduct final interviews on Monday, and Jones said he views both men as "strong candidates for the position."

Ross disclosed his conviction to a consultant working for the search firm aiding the state school board in its superintendent search. Ray and Associates of Iowa conducted interviews with seven out of 30 applicants, put the answers into notes form and submitted them to the board.

"I own it," Ross said, according to the interview transcript, which was obtained by The Dispatch through a public-records request. "My scarlet letter ... I'm a better person for it."

Ross spent a few hours in jail, had a three-day jail sentence suspended, paid a $450 fine and received a six-month suspension of his driver's license.

Ross, who had already vacated his post as Reynoldsburg's superintendent before the drunken-driving arrest, did not return a message seeking comment. But Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor's office was "aware of it."

Sawyers was reprimanded by Perry Local Schools in Lake County for using the district's credit card to make $858.19 of personal purchases in 2010. He has admitted the incident publicly many times, including in an August interview with The Dispatch.

Asked whether either incident in the two men's pasts should disqualify them for the post, Sawyers said: "I am not going to pass judgment on anyone else, but in my case, no. I am only responsible for my actions."


By Joe Vardon - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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