Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s Education Commission could clearly fill a necessary role in coordinating services throughout the city as long as they don’t alienate too many people along the way.
Beyond the Columbus City Schools, the Columbus area has many educational and community services for children that are fragmented and often a challenge for families to navigate. These services might only be coordinated if they are willing to turn over their public/private management to a city oversight group such as the mayor’s commission. The Columbus Zoo, the Columbus library system, Columbus Parks and Recreation, COSI, and even COTA, to name a few, offer a huge number of educational opportunities to local children throughout the school year and even the summer months, but they generally act independently of one another and Columbus area schools.
Coordination of these services with the local schools to ensure alignment of curriculum and age-appropriate services will not occur unless the entities all come together under a single agency or commission such as could conceivably occur under Coleman’s group. With the schools having the primary responsibility for educating Columbus’s children, the Columbus City Schools (CCS) would seem to be the hub around which all local educational entities, including all local charters, should revolve. In this scenario, CCS and the CCS Board of Education would need assume a greater role and greater responsibility for helping to coordinate the educational services and needs of students with these entities. The non-school entities will need to voluntarily commit to aligning their programs with the curriculum and services that are provided by the school system, and the oversight would best be coordinated by a non-CCS Board of Education entity instead of increasing the responsibility of the elected school board.
A (theoretically) objective outside Commission could best mediate the relationships between the CCS, the other service providers, and then, pending significant changes in state law, the oversight and coordination of services provided by charter schools and, in some ways, local private schools. Charters would also need to cede much of their oversight to a commission that would help coordinate educational services, including the oft-discussed issues of transportation. Current state laws dictate busing requirements that CCS must provide to their own schools, as well as local charters and private schools. While the Mayor’s Commission has previously alluded to a need to privatize these services, the reality is that providing the schools greater flexibility to become more creative in creating transportation routes (one of the largest operations in the entire district and even the entire city) would likely result in a more efficient process of delivering students to their destinations.
Some charters have complained about the length of time students spend on a bus as they traverse the city, but the truth is that when students elect to attend a school on the other side of the city, a bus ride of over an hour will be the natural result, just as it is a long drive for many teachers who cross the city to reach their work location. A way to reduce such travels to desired programs would be top replicate the high-quality, desirable program in other places throughout the city, requiring the schools and/or other entities to cede their personal ownership of a “stand-alone program” for the benefit of the city’s children.
A willingness to cede ownership and organizational oversight, whether it’s the libraries, charters, CCS, parks and recreation, or any other community resource seeking to help children, and turn over coordination of services to a central Mayor’s Commission seems like a stretch with so many cooks in the kitchen(s), but may be the only way Coleman’s stated vision can be realized.
The commission’s role should not be one of taking over any single entity, especially the school system at the center of the city’s educational services, but instead needs to be one of coordinating services through the willingness of all of the city’s educational service providers to cede their individual efforts and personal egos for the benefit of the city’s children.