Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley played a significant, hands-on role in the formation of the task force studying Dayton Public Schools facilities, according to documents obtained via public records request by the Dayton Daily News.
Whaley was one of two people, along with new school board member Mohamed Al-Hamdani, who made contact with community leaders in December to confirm whether they would serve on the task force.
And on the evening before the task force was announced, Whaley personally wrote the press release announcing the creation of the group.
“I completely disagree with folks who would say the city and schools should be separate. They should be together as much as possible frankly, because that helps both of them,” Whaley said, adding that she’s happy with the newly elected school board and acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli. “It’s not an issue of seeking control; it’s an issue of aiding them.”
Whaley has long made education a top focus — launching her City of Learners effort on the day she took office as mayor in 2014, and urging passage of an income tax increase in 2016, with some money dedicated to expanding high-quality preschool. Last fall, she pushed DPS officials to get more involved in her City of Learners group, and she endorsed a slate of four candidates in the school board race — three of whom were elected.
“I think the future of our workforce and the future of our city is tied unmovably to education,” Whaley said. “Every mayor that’s doing anything to move their community forward is involved in it. We cannot move the city forward quick enough without it.”
On Dec. 12, Lolli first told the school board at a public meeting that DPS might need to close about three schools. Lolli has said that in the days that followed, it was Whaley who suggested a joint city-schools task force might be a good way to address the issue. In the past month, Lolli has repeatedly mentioned a desire to build better business and community relationships.
The Dayton Daily News asked both the city and the school district for emails and other public documents related to the creation of the task force currently studying DPS facilities. We received hundreds of pages tracking the origins of the group.
An email from Whaley on Dec. 27 showed that she personally reached out to confirm that certain task force members would participate — Bryan Bucklew of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, school board members William Harris and Robert Walker, Tim Kambitsch of the Dayton Metro Library, and Ron Budzik of the Dayton Business Committee.
By that date, almost three-fourths of the task force had been assembled. Whaley said this week that she saw the task force as more than just an answer to a narrow problem. She said it was also a vehicle to get community and business leaders re-involved in Dayton Public Schools.
“That’s why I got really involved. I thought this would be a good opportunity to get the schools to have some partners,” Whaley said. “The only way you can move any organization forward is through partnership, especially in Dayton. I thought this would be an opportunity for the new school board and the new superintendent to get to know key leaders in the community.”
A series of emails in early January show Whaley, Lolli and City Manager Shelley Dickstein suggesting ideas on the task force launch and principles, and openly encouraging others to edit their work.
On the evening of Jan. 3, about 12 hours before the press conference announcing the task force, Whaley sent out a draft of the press release, which she wrote herself, asking Lolli, Dickstein and task force co-chairs Jeff Mims and Al-Hamdani for input. The document would be released the next morning with minimal changes.
Joked Dickstein, “Nice job Nan. After you’ve tired of politics you could do public relations work as an exit!!”
The task force’s first meeting Jan. 9 was canceled after a dispute over open meetings law, but the city and school district response to our records request showed that in the next 48 hours, there were no text messages on the topic and only one significant email. That was a message to task force members from Al-Hamdani and Mims, stating that the city’s attorney provided a legal opinion saying the Ohio Open Meetings Act did not apply to the group.
“In order to be most effective and have our limited time be put to best use, our gatherings will be for members of the task force and pertinent staff presenting information only,” the email said. “It is critical that all task force members employ the utmost confidentiality during these gatherings and with regard to our working group discussions.”
A week later, the task force reversed that approach, opening its Jan. 24, Feb. 20 and March 6 meetings to the public.