Once again, there’s a new state schools superintendent in charge - he’s a former state budget director who’s worked for two governors, the state Senate and in the Department of Education. And things could be different with this new state schools chief.
Paolo DeMaria came ready to greet staffers at the Ohio Department of Education on his first day. “I bought 300 donuts and we were down in the lobby starting at 7:30 just to welcome all the staff,” DeMaria said.
And DeMaria has his hands full right away – new federal regulations that replace the No Child Left Behind Act, new testing to replace assessments that state lawmakers scrapped, and working with a state school board that the interim superintendent said was marked by what he called “political sniping”. DeMaria was selected unanimously, but said he knows that support might not last. “I think I’ve made it clear that we’re not always going to agree. But some of the fundamentals we’ll always agree on," DeMaria said. "We always want to be working toward having the best education system we can possibly have. We always want to be working to support students and creating the conditions where students can succeed and be ready for college careers and life, and those things can fundamentally unify us.”
DeMaria also said he’s confident the state will get a $71 million grant to charter schools that was delayed by the feds because of problems with data in the application from the state’s former charter school chief, who resigned after admitting to scrubbing bad grades of online charters. DeMaria said the feds have given the state new requirements before it will receive the grant, which he’s confident will come through. “We’re in the middle of the process of conducting and completing our first round of sponsor evaluations. I think when that’s completed, things will proceed," DeMaria said. "And so I’m expecting that we will have smooth sailing within a fairly short time period.”
DeMaria is the fourth superintendent to take the helm of the Ohio Department of Education in the last five years. The agency gets nearly $16 billion in this current two year budget to oversee education for 1.6 million students in 3,600 public schools. But the agency has been widely criticized, most recently by Auditor Dave Yost, who blasted ODE’s oversight of charter schools by saying it may be "the worst run state agency". DeMaria said he welcomes the attention. "I’m open to the people who’ve scrutinized and have questions about what we’re doing. Part of my job here at the front end, as you can imagine, a new leader coming in, is to take time to evaluate the organization, to listen to people, to understand the various functions that we have,” DeMaria said.
DeMaria also needs to work out details of his compensation. He asked to be paid $180,000 a year – less than the board’s allowance of up to $250,000. DeMaria said he wanted a salary in line with other agency chiefs, but he’d also like a bonus of $20,000 if certain goals were met. The board will hear DeMaria’s proposals on that at its meeting in July.