From Pentagon to roller coasters to education: Local man joins state school board

Walt Davis of Warren County was appointed to the state school board by Gov. Mike DeWine in June 2021. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
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Walt Davis of Warren County was appointed to the state school board by Gov. Mike DeWine in June 2021. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Walt Davis, 78, of Warren County, has worked in theme parks, led aviation program at Sinclair

Warren County’s Walt Davis is the newest appointee to Ohio’s state school board, bringing his experience at the intersection of business and schools to his new role.

“You talk about a combination of skills — it’s everything from the battle staff in the Pentagon, to building roller coasters, to running a big business, to being a professor,” Davis said of his background.

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The 19-member state school board helps to govern K-12 education policy for Ohio schools, in concert with the state legislature. Eleven members are elected and eight others are appointed, with annual compensation averaging just under $10,000 per year.

Davis said he is a decades-long member of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, serving on that group’s education committee for 30 years. He said his appointment to the state school board came out of that work.

“(The Chamber) said the governor’s office asked us for some names of people who might be interested in serving on the state school board,” Davis said. “Here I am, peacefully retired, 78 years old, sitting on my farm watching the corn grow. I said sure, thinking, what are the chances, right?”

Davis, who lives between Lebanon and Monroe, was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine on June 30. He participated in his first monthly state school board meeting Monday and Tuesday, drawing compliments for his questions on the newly passed school funding bill.

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Davis said 20 years ago, he was part of Gov. Bob Taft’s blue ribbon commission on school finance. In the past decade, he was part of a committee studying financial literacy standards for Ohio’s K-12 schools, an issue that has been revived.

“I thought that was dead, but then I was talking to state Sen. Steve Wilson … and now it’s Senate Bill 1 this year,” Davis said. “I’m watching that with fingers crossed and hope it goes through. It’s very badly needed.”

Davis, whose training is in engineering, spent 11 years in war planning with the Air Force before coming back to Ohio. He worked as director of park services at Kings Island, then helped build The Beach Waterpark across from KI, before becoming vice president of roller-coaster company Togo International.

After that, he ran the aerospace program for the Warren County Career Center, then spent five years as chairman of Sinclair Community College’s aviation technology department, until 2012.

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Davis said he was reluctant to discuss specific education issues immediately after being appointed, but added he thinks he’s getting up to speed pretty quickly.

His first state school board meeting included a contentious debate over the board’s approach to equity and systemic racism. Davis voted with the more politically conservative board members in support of John Hagan’s resolution criticizing Critical Race Theory.

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