COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The state board of education will retain its powers after midnight – but perhaps for not much longer than that. 

A scheduled overhaul of the state’s education agency hangs in the balance of a judge’s ruling, as a temporary restraining order blocking the changes is set to expire. That temporary restraining order will remain in place, a magistrate ruled Monday evening, while she ponders whether to approve a longer block on the changes from taking effect.

But a lack of clarity has led the state to believe that, regardless of the restraining order, the Department of Education will “cease to exist” when the clock strikes midnight, Gov. Mike DeWine said at a news conference Monday evening. So the new department created by law will operate in its place.

The changes, passed as part of the state’s biennial budget, rename the department the Department of Education and Workforce and transfer most powers of the state education board to a governor-appointed position. About two weeks before the changes were slated to take effect, seven members of the education board sued to block the overhaul, claiming it violated multiple constitutional provisions.

A judge placed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the establishment of the new department and the transfer of power, but DeWine said the plain language of the judge’s ruling does not prevent the Department of Education’s dissolution come Tuesday. That dissolution would leave a large void, DeWine said, and the “potential for chaos.”

“As governor, I’m not going to let this situation get worse,” DeWine said. We believe, based upon what our lawyers tell us, that the new department can, in fact, function.”

The Department of Education and Workforce will operate Tuesday, DeWine said, but he will not appoint a director, nor will powers be stripped from the state board.

You can watch DeWine’s full news conference below.

Hours before DeWine’s news conference, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued in Franklin County Court Monday that the judge should place a preliminary injunction on the overhaul while the lawsuit proceeds, citing irreparable harm to students and families should the changes occur. 

The school board, a 19-member body of elected and appointed members, currently evaluates curricula, oversees the distribution of school funds and implements policy. Should those powers move to a single, executive cabinet position, the plaintiffs argued, citizens’ power to directly influence educational rulemaking would be eliminated. 

Under questioning and cross-examination, the plaintiffs’ three witnesses – all parents, one state board member and a member of the Toledo school board – described how the education changes would harm their families. Local school districts would no longer have a direct line to change through elected board members, they testified. Parents worried about curriculum or testing would have no representatives with real authority to address concerns. 

“We will lose staff members because they will be afraid to teach. We will lose students because we can’t protect them, and we will lose development-building and skills because we won’t have funds to stabilize programs anymore,” testified Sheena Barnes, member of the Toledo school board. “So, we will lose a lot if state board members lose their powers.”

But the state has argued that disgruntled board members had months to bring forth a legal complaint and were privy to the department’s regular communication, meetings and memos about how the Department of Education overhaul would be implemented. To pause the changes now would cause logistical problems, the state’s sole witness, testified – and bring uncertainty for students and families.

And as a practical matter, testified Department of Education chief of staff Jessica Voltolini, the existing Department of Education will dissolve, whether there is another department to take its place or not.

“All provisions regarding the Ohio department of Education, regarding [the budget] are repealed effective midnight tonight,” Voltolini said.

Both parties have until noon Wednesday to submit proposed findings of fact and law to the magistrate, and the restraining order is set to expire Thursday. The magistrate’s decision will need the judge’s approval before taking effect.