Mary Jo Hudson to quit Columbus school board, work for change 'from the other side'

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Saying she is fed up with the ruling majority of the Columbus Board of Education, Mary Jo Hudson submitted her resignation Friday effective Dec. 31 and issued what sounded like a warning that she would work “from the other side” to try to bring change to the board governing Ohio’s largest school district.

“I don’t think we can have any governance change within,” Hudson said. “I can’t be part of that change from within.”

Asked whether she would work toward a new form of governance to replace the elected panel, Hudson wouldn’t elaborate: “Today I’m focusing on leaving the board, but not leaving service.

“But I can’t continue serving.”

Hudson’s departure follows a particularly acrimonious school board meeting Tuesday in which board President Gary Baker, gavel in hand, repeatedly shut down her attempts to force a board discussion of a largely scuttled facilities task force recommendation that included closing several schools, including Linden-McKinley High School. Asked whether the board’s decision not to close under-enrolled schools was the straw that broke the camel’s back, Hudson replied after a pause: “Yes.”

In a three-page resignation letter, Hudson took aim squarely at Baker and the three board members who largely back him: Vice President Michael Cole, and members W. Shawna Gibbs and Ramona Reyes.

While the district needs “strong professional leadership … sadly, what we’ve seen instead is a group of individuals operating without the needed expertise, data or hard facts,” the letter said. “Likewise, our current leadership model uses tight-fisted, bare majority rules that disdain rather than promote outside-the-box thinking.”

Baker declined to directly respond to Hudson’s criticism.

” I had a very good conversation with her this morning, very passionate conversation,” Baker said. “I’m obviously saddened to see her go.”

Hudson leads the two most important board committees, the Audit Committee, which oversees the work of the district’s internal auditor, and the Finance and Appropriations Committee, which she took over only weeks ago after the sudden departure of member Dominic Paretti, who was accused of sending lewd late-night texts to female co-workers at the Statehouse, where he worked as a Democratic aide.

Asked whether his conversation with Hudson included her plans to affect change from outside the board, and whether she told him whether she would support a state takeover of the district, Baker said he didn’t know, but “I don’t think she has that in mind.”

Hudson came to the board in early 2014 after serving on former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s “Education Commission,” a well-financed campaign backed by the Downtown business community that many saw as an attempt to wrest control of district from the elected school board.

Hudson replaced board President Carol Perkins, a strong supporter of former Superintendent Gene Harris, who stepped down after the district data scandal, in which administrators manipulated attendance records in an attempt to boost state report card scores.

Hudson, an attorney, is a Democrat who led the Ohio Department of Insurance from 2007 to 2011. Before that cabinet appointment, Hudson served as a Columbus City Council member from 2005 to 2007, focusing on jobs and economic development. She made history in 2004 by becoming the first openly gay person to be appointed to the city council, and again in 2014 by serving on the school board.

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