Leadership vote reveals tension, division on Dayton school board

Dayton Public Schools’ board of education started 2019 by tweaking its leadership in a split vote that revealed ongoing tensions on the district’s elected board.

In votes that are unanimous in most districts, Dayton’s school board voted 5-1-1 to keep William Harris as president and voted 5-2 to make Jocelyn Rhynard vice president for 2019. Harris and Rhynard both just finished their first year on the school board, along with Mohamed Al-Hamdani and Karen Wick-Gagnet, who ran on the same ticket as Harris, endorsed by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

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School board member Sheila Taylor voted against both appointments. John McManus, who was board vice president in 2018, abstained from the Harris vote and voted against Rhynard’s appointment.

At a Dec. 11 school board meeting, Taylor had expressed reservations about Harris’ first year as president, largely because the district’s strategic plan is not finished, despite being a priority since last winter, just after the new board majority was elected.

Tuesday night she said Harris and Rhynard are good people and care about the district, but she argued that they lack experience, adding that Harris has not followed procedure at board meetings.

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“For me, the bottom line comes down to the fact that his lack of experience and understanding of the workings of a school board have hindered the board’s progress,” Taylor said Tuesday.

Harris said board members don’t see eye-to-eye on everything but will work for consensus for the best of the district.

“I think there was some miscommunication between some board members regarding leadership and it spilled over. We’re trying to iron it out,” Harris said. “We may disagree on a few things, but we’re going to press on. There’s a learning curve for all of us, and there certainly was for me stepping into the (president’s) role. We’re just trying to move the district forward.”

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At that Dec. 11 meeting, Wick-Gagnet had publicly suggested Rhynard for the vice president role. McManus, the sitting vice president, appeared taken aback, saying the board needs to work as a team, but division on the current board is making people feel like they’re on “separate teams.”

He then told the rest of the board that he would not seek the vice presidency again. But he added that no one had even asked him whether he wanted to continue that role, following that statement with a long, silent glare at the newer members of the board before continuing.

After Tuesday night’s vote, he said he was blindsided by the move to make Rhynard vice president.

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“Had my successor indicated to me that she wanted my job, I would have been the first to nominate her to replace me,” McManus said. “I respected her greatly. I even helped her get elected. Being blindsided by your friends is never easy, but I wake up every day grateful for the opportunity to serve the children and families of Dayton. I’ll work for my constituents and no one else, and I’ll work for them every single day that I have the honor to do so.”

Rhynard said she didn’t want to engage in public fighting over the positions.

“I’m honored that the board has entrusted me with the vice presidency,” she said. “I’m focused on working with all members of the board to support and strengthen public education in Dayton, and I’m grateful for their support in my leadership role.”

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