School Board President Gary Baker drops hammer on Columbus school facilities debate

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Columbus school board President Gary Baker’s gavel took a beating Tuesday as he attempted to shut down two dissident board members pressing for an immediate discussion of a facilities-panel recommendation that was summarily dismissed by an abrupt board vote last month.

“Gary, give it a break,” complained board Member Mary Jo Hudson about Baker’s persistence on preventing discussion of the facilities report until next month so that newly hired Superintendent Talisa Dixon can participate. “You don’t have to shut it off all the time.”

“You are out of order,” Baker replied, pounding his gavel.

The arguing was residual fallout from an unexpected and sudden vote Nov. 7 to disregard most of a citizen task force’s recommendations about what the board school do with various schools and facilities, including closing Linden-McKinley High School and four other buildings. Hudson and member Eric Brown, who also received his share of gavel strikes Tuesday, continued to press for that discussion, which Hudson said was abandoned in “a Perry Mason surprise.” 

“It was a vote without that prior discussion,” Hudson told The Dispatch after the meeting.

The board voted then to keep open all its buildings and continue studying a few other recommendations, including how to use the former North High School campus in the University District. The North building is now being fought over by community backers of two different programs: Columbus Alternative High School and Dominion Middle School.

“We wanted to devote time to it,” Baker said after Tuesday’s meeting, explaining his decision to prohibit discussion of the report. “It’s critically important. We wouldn’t want to just tack it on to the end of a board meeting.”

Baker said Hudson’s concern that postponing debate until next month would eliminate the chance for changes next school year was untrue. The task force recommendation to move Dominion to the North campus wouldn’t have taken effect until 2020-21 anyway, he said. And despite concerns expressed again Tuesday by district residents that Dominion’s attendance boundaries may be shrunk, Baker said no one on the board or the task force has ever recommended doing that to ease the Clintonville middle school’s overcrowding.

In other business Tuesday, the board swore in new member James Ragland to fill the seat formerly held by Dominic Paretti, who abruptly resigned in September over allegations that he sent late-night sexually explicit text messages to female colleagues who worked with him as an aides to Democratic state lawmakers.

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