For two incoming Ohio state legislators, an important task will be to address public universities and their financial well-being as they enter office in the middle of a pandemic.
Rep. Gail Pavliga and Sen. Jerry Cirino won their elections against their respective Democrat opponents on Nov. 3 and will assume office on Jan. 1. Pavliga will represent Ohio House District 75 and Cirino will represent District 18 in the Ohio State Senate.
“I’ve always been very active in my own community,” Pavliga said, “but I decided to take a little bit more of a county-wide approach and see what people are looking for and felt like I was the right person for the job.”
In addition to her work in politics, Pavliga is a professor at Malone University and a clinical Christian therapist. Pavliga obtained her master’s degree in counseling/family studies from Kent State and her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Akron.
“If you look at what a person in a public office such as a state representative does, first and foremost, they’re there to listen to their constituents,” Pavliga said. “I believe that being logical and having common sense is just something that’s going to be very useful for our district.”
Pavliga said her expertise as a professor has prepared her for office.
“I want to focus on higher education,” Pavliga said, “first with being able to get our schools funding and making it a priority in our district.”
Kent State has seen a decline in enrollment in 2020. Pavliga addresses the economy in the surrounding communities to help universities.
“We have to keep our businesses open and be rigorous in safety to do so,” she said.
Pavliga also looks toward the vaccine to get things safely reopened.
“In the legislature, we don’t really have a Plan B right now,” Pavliga said. “If we can get students back in the classroom, that crisis can be averted. We can’t be planning for something that hasn’t happened yet.”
Cirino will rely on his knowledge gained from serving as chairman of the board of trustees of Lakeland Community College and a board member of Lake Erie College to address public universities in the pandemic.
“Universities are going to have to make adaptations,” Cirino said. “In Lakeland Community College, enrollment is way down. I think what’s going to happen is that the universities and their boards will have to take a look at things like a business. When you have fewer and fewer customers, you can’t keep running your business the way you always have been.”
Cirino credited his work in business as a skill he will bring to office. He is the founder and retired CEO of SourceOne Healthcare Technologies in Mentor before deciding to run for the state senate.
“I have run companies with an excess of $1 billion in revenue in the medical space,” Cirino said. “I’ve always had an interest in public policy, but I was busy running companies.”
Cirino stated serving one term as a county commissioner for Lake County was a good place to start and exercise that interest in public policy.
Political science professor Daniel Hawes said both the state government within its power and federal government should “step up” and provide aid now.
“I think the state is in a very difficult position because the state constitution requires that they maintain a balanced budget,” Hawes said, “which means that they cannot run deficits like the federal government.”
Hawes specializes in public policy and public administration and is the coordinator for the Master’s of Public Administration Program. He also teaches classes at Kent State such as public administration, American politics and public policy.
“I think the federal government, in whatever stimulus bill they are working on, really should include state and local provisions in there,” Hawes said, “because states are somewhat constricted in terms of what they can do because of those constitutional mandates.”
Even with these restrictions, Pavliga and Cirino said they are dedicated to addressing higher education while in office.
“As a college professor, I have a special affinity for higher education and it has absolutely brought me to where I am today,” Pavliga said. “My goal would be that, post-COVID, we continue to bring the best educational experience as possible to the students to prepare them for the workforce.”
Bronwyn Wain is a politics reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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