Akron's Sawyer considers run for state school board

Akron's Sawyer considers run for state school board
Scott Stephens - Plain Dealer Reporter, Aug 10, 2006
The State Board of Education, long a political backwater, could receive national attention this fall for at least one race.

Tom Sawyer, the former Akron mayor and 16-year congressman, said he is seriously considering running for the state board seat now held by Deborah Owens Fink.

The district includes Summit, Ashtabula, Portage and Trumbull counties.

Sawyer, a Democrat, confirmed he is being courted for the run by the Ohio scientific community. He said he will make a decision soon. The filing deadline for the Nov. 7 election is Aug. 24.

Owens Fink is a Republican and University of Akron marketing professor.

She drew the ire of much of the Ohio science community for pushing science standards that included a critical analysis of evolution, Charles Darwin's widely accepted theory that life descended from common ancestors.

Critics said the language Owens Fink advocated was essentially intelligent design, the concept that life is so complex that a higher being must have had a hand in its creation.

Virtually all science groups agree the concept is warmed-over creationism and a vivid example of the religious right's attack on evolution. Supporters contend the disputed language simply encouraged critical thinking in students.

In February, the Ohio board dropped the controversial lesson plan from its offerings for 10th-grade biology teachers. The action came just months after a federal judge ruled that teaching intelligent design in the schools of Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

In July, a version of the disputed language resurfaced and is expected to be debated at next month's board meeting.

"The scientific standing of Ohio's curriculum is important," Sawyer said. "It [science] is also important as a stalking horse for other issues that affect Ohio's schools."

Owens Fink could not be reached for comment. But a supporter, Hudson chemist Robert Lattimer, said he was surprised Sawyer was being courted for the run.

"The board got rid of the language back in February, so I'm not sure why the Democrats are that anxious to replace Deb," said Lattimer, who served on the writing team that wrote the science standards.

The battle over how to teach the origin of life on Earth drew national attention last week in Kansas, where voters ousted the conservative majority on the state school board, who favored subjecting evolution to critical attack.

The controversies over teaching evolution in Kansas and Ohio have persuaded scientists to get involved in politics, said Case Western Reserve Professor Patricia Princehouse, a member of Help Ohio Public Education. HOPE consists of scientists and public education advocates who are recruiting candidates - including Sawyer - to run for the state board.

"When it becomes an issue in a campaign, the pro-science people almost always win," Princehouse said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

sstephens@plaind.com, 216-999-4827