Members of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education are appointed, not elected like most public school districts in Ohio and nationwide. CMSD had elected board members until 1998 when a state law handed the power to appoint the nine members to Cleveland’s mayor. 

The CMSD board makes district policy decisions, promotes parent and community involvement, approves the district’s budget and hires the school district CEO with the concurrence of the mayor.

Mayoral control of CMSD has roots in decades of administrative dysfunction in the district. This included several federal court cases where judges concluded that the elected school board participated in the unconstitutional segregation of Cleveland public schools. You can read more here about the history of mayoral control of the CMSD  board.

In recent notes on a CMSD board meeting, Cleveland Documenter Kellie Morris asked about the mayor-appointed board selection process and how parents of school children or concerned citizens can be involved.  We’ll try to answer those questions here: 

What criteria does the mayor use in selecting candidates for appointment to the school board?

The mayor cannot appoint just anyone to a board position. State law requires that the mayor choose from a list of candidates selected by a local nominating panel. Additional qualifications for the mayor’s selections, according to state law, are:

  • All members must be residents of the school district
  • At least one of the members must be a resident of a part of the district outside of Cleveland (Bratenahl, Linndale, Newburgh Heights, and parts of Brook Park and Garfield Heights).
  • At least four of the nine members must have significant expertise in education, finance or business management.
  • Employees of the school district and elected public officials may not serve on the school board.

The presidents of Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College also serve as non-voting, advisory members of the board.

How can those interested in serving on the school board be nominated?

Since the board positions are appointed, not elected, becoming a nominee is more like applying for a job than running for office. 

When a board position opens, the city posts an application that any resident of the school district can fill out and submit for review by the CMSD nominating panel. 

The nominating panel is composed of 11 volunteers selected according to the following breakdown.

  • 3 members must be parents or guardians of children attending the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools. They must be appointed by the District Parent Advisory Council, which is a group of representatives from each school’s Parent Advisory Council.
  • 3 members are appointed by the mayor.
  • 1 member is appointed by the president of Cleveland City Council.
  • 1 teacher is appointed by the collective bargaining representative of the Cleveland Teachers Union.
  • 1 principal is appointed through a vote of CMSD’s principals.
  • 1 representative of the business community is appointed by an organized collective business entity selected by the mayor. Currently this is the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
  • 1 president of a public or private institution of higher education located within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

According to Kevin Burtzlaff, CMSD board attorney, the members of the panel often nominate candidates for multiple board openings. There are no term limits or restrictions on how long someone can serve on the panel, and appointing authorities can replace their appointed panel members at any time.

Are there board term limits? How long is a term?

A board term is usually four years. However, if a member leaves, the mayor may appoint a new person to serve for the remainder of the former member’s term. 

There are no term limits set by law for CMSD board members. Once their term is up, board members become eligible for reappointment, according to Burtzlaff. Board members are not paid for their service. 

The longest serving member currently on the board, Louise P. Dempsey, has served six consecutive terms. She was first appointed in 1998.

Are any parents of current CMSD students on the board right now?

Yes. Currently, three board members have at least one child enrolled in a CMSD school and one is the parent of a CMSD graduate. You can see who is on the board now and read their bios on the CMSD Board of Education webpage.

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.