By Michael D. Pittman, Staff Writer
Thursday night’s 4th Ohio Senate seat debate was a job interview for three of the four candidates seeking the position.
Democrat Kathy Wyenandt and Ohio Rep. George Lang and West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong, two Republicans running, were quizzed at the Benison Event Center on their top priorities if they win election in November and how they’d help Butler County keep growing.
Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, is also seeking the Republican nomination for the 4th Ohio Senate District seat, but she declined to participate due to a conflict.
They were also asked how they would work with the Butler County school districts and the Ohio Department of Education to address recent issues around EdChoice, the state’s school voucher program. Senate Bill 89 would require Ohio to pay for school choice vouchers, but not based on school rankings from the state report card.
Lang, R-West Chester Twp., said that “EdChoice, as it exists today, is broken” and believes parents should have a choice in where to send their child to school. However, he said EdChoice only benefits two classes of people: the wealthy and highly intelligent.
“We are asking the public schools to compete with handcuffs and shackles,” said Lang, adding private schools can be selective in who they admit. “We put that pressure on the public schools and then we burden them with the … school report card system that is broken.”
Wyenandt, of Liberty Twp., said it’s good to have accountability and standards, and has no problem with parental choice in educating their child.
“What I do have a problem with is spending public tax dollars and sending (children) to a private institution where there are no standards that are the same (as public schools),” she said. “… (Private schools are) not being held to the same academic standards, which means they’re not held to the same ridiculous report cards, and so that’s an issue.
“If the state wants to look at spending taxpayer dollars to go toward a private institution, then that’s a different story but it shouldn’t come as a punishment to public schools.”
Wong admitted he’s “not a school authority,” but he said he has met with school officials within the Lakota Local School District. He said there are “a lot of pros and cons” with EdChoice in Ohio, and he said he is “open for discussion” on the issues.
He then talked about how many schools have physical needs with their buildings, either being razed or renovated.
“(In the) Lakota school system, there’s at least 10 schools are on the chopping block where we have to fund them or consolidate them, and this is a serious issue,” he said.
Lakota schools spokesperson Lauren Boettcher no schools are on a chopping block, but 10 buildings have been identified as “deficient or borderline” based on the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission’s “condition rating.” She said the district is developing a plan to address the buildings, but no decisions have been made.
Infrastructure was also a big topic for the candidates, and Wong said he would push regional cooperation for projects, similar to what West Chester Twp. has done with the Butler County Engineer’s Office.
“I’m always for regional cooperation, such as our infrastructure,” he said. “(Collaborative work) is definitely a positive, and cooperation with all the regional governments, and I’m definitely for that.”
Lang said there are very few things he wants to see done by government, and infrastructure is on that short list.
“Our infrastructure in Ohio is not in good shape,” he said. “If we think we can attract business and build the kind of state the three of us (candidates on the dias) want to build with crappy infrastructure, we’re kidding ourselves.”
Wyenandt said talent and infrastructure drives economic development. She represents Butler County on the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board and said “we struggle for funding.”
“The state doesn’t invest nearly enough in the 61 transit authorities that we have around the state,” Wyenandt said.
“Transit brings economic development. People need to get to jobs, businesses want to come where there’s good transportation so employees can get to work.”
Early voting for the March 17 primary begins on Wednesday.