Friday, December 14, 2001

Court picks suit mediator

School-funding answer asked of man with Cincinnati background

By Brian Clark
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A Wisconsin law professor with a Cincinnati background was picked Thursday by the Ohio Supreme Court to try to end the state's school-funding lawsuit.

        Howard Bellman, a Toledo native with bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Cincinnati, will try to mediate a settlement in the decade-old case.

        “I'm a product of Ohio, and I'm a product of the public education of Ohio and for some reason that makes me eager to be helpful,” Mr. Bellman, 64, said.

        The high court picked Mr. Bellman after it agreed to reconsider a controversial Sept. 6 ruling that threatened to force the state to spend an extra $1.2 billion a year on schools. The court has ordered the state and a coalition of more than 500 schools to meet with Mr. Bellman to resolve the case.

        “We're happy the mediator was appointed,” said Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding. “His long tenure and experience in mediation is a plus. We're anxious to get the issues on the table.”

        Attorney General Betty Montgomery also is preparing for the talks.

        “The state has every intention to sit down with the plaintiffs and the court-appointed mediator, Mr. Bellman, and make a good faith effort to resolve this decade-old case,” Ms. Montgomery said according to a statement.

        Mr. Bellman has more than 35 years of experience as a mediator.

        Included in that was work resolving teachers' strikes that he says gives him experience in issues related to school funding and educational quality.

        “I'm not claiming to be an expert, but this is not alien territory,” Mr. Bellman said.

        Joseph B. Stulberg, a professor at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law and director of its Dispute Resolution Program, called the choice“an outstanding appointment ... ”

        “He has the experience to mediate these kinds of multiparty, public policy situations,” Mr. Stulberg said, who has known Mr. Bellman for 20 years.

        Mr. Bellman expects to begin reviewing the court cases early next week.


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