State board unanimously OKs new Ohio schools superintendent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A former adviser to Republican and Democratic governors was named Ohio’s new state superintendent Wednesday, in a striking unanimous vote by the state board of education.

The 19-0 vote for Paolo DeMaria was characterized as the start of a new era of cooperation for the often fractious board. After the vote, the board welcomed DeMaria with a standing ovation.

“I feel more enthusiastic now than I ever have during the last seven years with regard to the future of the Department of Education and with my colleagues on the board,” said board member Ann Jacobs. “I really feel as if we’ve kind of turned a corner and that we can work together in a considered way.”

Currently a consultant, DeMaria is a well-regarded education policy expert in the state. He worked in state government going back to the 1980s, serving as an adviser to the state Senate and to former Republican Govs. George Voinovich and Bob Taft and as state budget director. He also served as vice chancellor of the Board of Regents during Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration, and he worked previously at the Education Department.

DeMaria said he’s excited to get started in the job and to bring together teachers, administrators, school boards and parents “to create the great future we want for our students, and then, consequently, for our communities and our state.”

He becomes the permanent replacement for former superintendent Richard Ross, who retired Dec. 31. Lonny Rivera has been serving as interim superintendent.

Ross’ final year was marked by increasing tensions with the board. Disagreements flared over whether he had roles in a scandal in the state’s charter-school oversight office and in legislation calling for a CEO takeover of the Youngstown schools.

Ross’ predecessor in the job, Debe Terhar, had also experienced rocky board relations, particularly with Democratic members who tried unsuccessfully to get her to resign.

Several board members Wednesday credited Chairman Tom Gunlock for making the selection process for Ross’ successor inclusive and respectful, and two said they had prayed for a consensus vote.

“I think it was Monday night or maybe last night, it really just hit me — we should pray for a unanimous vote,” said board member Sarah Fowler. “I really wanted to see a unanimous vote that was enthusiastic, that we could support, and today was an answer to prayer.”

Seven of 44 candidates for the job were selected as finalists and interviewed in closed door sessions Monday and Tuesday. Board members said the entire finalist field was highly qualified.