Heads Are Rolling at ODE Over Charter Schools

by Scott Allan Pullins


I know David Hansen.  I worked with him both when he was at the Ohio Manufacturers Association and then at the Buckeye Institute.  He was always a strong supporter of the school choice movement and most probably felt some assurance that he was overseeing that office at ODE.


David got caught up in an issue about how scores should be calculated with online schools and after pressure from State Senator Peggy Lehner , he resigned in July 2015.   Less than a month later, enter Diane Lease, the new ODE Chief Legal Counsel. Since her arrival, heads have rolled at ODE, especially when the individuals have even hinted at fairness towards charter schools and the school choice movement at large.


First to the chopping block was Richard Ross, the Superintendent of Ohio Schools. Not satisfied with Hansen’s scalp, the anti school choice cabal demanded more.  So Richard Ross retired at the end of 2015.


Next up was Jessica Voltolini, ODE’s Director of Legislation & Policy.  Text records obtained from ODE by the Cleveland Plain Dealer show that David Hansen texted Jessica to complain about how State Senator Peggy Lehner was undermining charter schools.  Jessica was also one of two ODE officials present in a key meeting with legislative staff and online schools where the schools allege that they were promised a delay of attendance audits, only to have the offer reneged on just days later.  Jessica took a job with another state agency in June of 2016.


In October of 2016, 3rd Rail Politics learned that two former close associates of David Hansen, Joni Hoffman and Frank Stoy were forced out at ODE.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer confirmed recently that they both were retiring.


Cody Loew was the ODE Assistant Director of the Office of Budget and School Funding. On September 7, 2016 he gave a key deposition in the ECOT litigation where he confirmed that he was the author of the determination letters to online schools on the attendance issue.  Despite that importance, 3rd Rail Politics reported on November 30, 2016 that Cody was gone too.


Finally, 3rd Rail Politics can now confirm that James W.  Sheppard, the former ODE Chief of Staff, has also departed this embattled agency.  Sheppard, a licensed attorney, is a new associate at a major Columbus law firm as of this month.


The Ohio General Assembly is slowly waking up to the fact that there is something deeply wrong at ODE.  On August 23, 2016 the Columbus Dispatch reported on a heated exchange between State Senator Bill Colley and ODE Chief Legal Counsel Diane Lease.


The acrimonious relationship between the Department of Education and GOP lawmakers was on full display before the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR). Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, fired thorny questions at Diane Lease, the department’s chief legal counsel, for several minutes. Coley, R-West Chester, was a replacement on the committee for another senator who said he was on a family vacation.


“Had the department had its act together, you could have complied with all the rules of JCARR…without imposing rules that have a retroactive effect,” Coley told Lease.


Lease referred to a “compressed timeline” in getting rules together for the October evaluations. “We believe we are doing what is required under the legislation. We don’t believe it’s retroactive.”


Coley replied, “I’m a trial lawyer. Don’t do that to me.” Earlier, he said the rule “ demonstrates the height of arrogance.”


The GOP committee proceeded to block, at least temporarily, new rules sought by ODE on how charter school sponsors are to be evaluated.