By Kalea Hall
and ROBERT CONNELLY
An independent investigation into a public spat between Austintown schools Superintendent Vincent Colaluca and school board member Harold Porter found that Porter bullied Colaluca, violated board policies and had “conflicting business interests.”
On Tuesday, The Vindicator received the results of the investigation completed by HR On Call Inc. and documents related to the investigation through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The investigation was into allegations that Colaluca and Porter made against each other. Colaluca alleged Porter used verbal aggression and intimidation in emails, that Porter spread lies and rumors about Colaluca and that Porter made a threatening comment toward Colaluca after a board meeting.
Porter contended Colaluca publicly harassed him, discredited him and violated executive-session protocol.
“It is what it is,” Porter said about the investigation. “I’m just going to let it go at this point. I think if there were anything to it, they would do some action to me. My attorneys do have it. I’m sure we’ll have some kind of response next week.”
According to the investigation report, dated Feb. 21, 2014, HROC conducted interviews and analyzed the board of education’s policy and emails during its investigation. The dates of the interviews are not disclosed.
Board President Kathy Mock would not comment on the investigation.
“I just need everyone to follow our policy,” Colaluca said. “That goes from me down. Everyone has to follow board policy, state law and federal policy.”
A formal harassment complaint was filed after Porter reportedly went to another board member and made a threatening comment about Colaluca after an Oct. 22, 2013, board meeting.
Colaluca said in the school harassment complaint that Porter told the other board member he would like to “punch [Colaluca] in the face.”
However, Porter told police he said, “You better tell him to stop or I’m going off on him.”
In addition to that incident, Colaluca also noted harassment tactics by Porter beginning in May 2012. Those tactics included “verbal aggression and intimidation via electronic emails.”
An email correspondence between Colaluca and Porter began in May 2012 in regard to student bullying incidents. In one of those emails Porter sent to Colaluca and the board, he wrote, Colaluca “totally ignored a serious matter.”
He also wrote, “Even after this incident occurred I still defended you when people were contacting me asking if they can petition for your resignation.”
In the follow-up email, Colaluca asked the board where he stood with them and said he was approached by the Mahoning County Educational Service Center for the assistant superintendent position. He said that job would pay $106,000 a year, but said he did not want to leave Austintown.
In a September 2012 email, Porter first addressed a board member, then Colaluca, insisting on the superintendent’s resignation, and sent the email to the entire district staff.
On that same day, the board met and a petition demanding Colaluca’s resignation was circulated through the crowd of those attending. Porter’s signature was on the petition.
In an email dated May 9, 2012, to Tom Lenten, principal of Austintown Elementary School, Porter requested that his children be placed with a specific teacher. The investigation looked into Porter’s role as a board member while having Austintown businesses and a wife who is a teacher in the district and as a parent of five children attending Austintown schools.
Porter runs Austintown Bounce Inc. and is a partner in a T-shirt business and did business with the district in the past. Once Porter became a board member, he was restricted from doing business with the district under board policy. The report said a review of Porter’s business records show that most of his dealings with the district occurred before he became a board member or during the first few months he was a member in 2012. Porter reportedly was unhappy with not being able to do business with the district after he became a board member. Once the policy was made clear to Porter, district officials thought this became a nonissue.
The investigation also looked into the comments Porter made at an Oct. 22, 2013, board meeting when he referred to Colaluca as a “dictator” and called him out for wearing a Boardman shirt at a football game between Austintown Middle and Boardman Middle schools.
Colaluca told the board he felt bullied by Porter and that Porter had violated the board policy.
HROC found Porter violated board policy in May 2012 and in other incidents since “all of the powers of the board lie in its action as a group.”
The report also states Porter violated the board-staff communications policy and the board member code of ethics “by personally assuming unauthorized authority and criticizing Mr. Colaluca and other administrators publicly in his series of emails. His tone in these emails was unprofessional,” according to the report.
It also found the tone of the content in the emails sent by Porter was verbal bullying.
In regard to an email sent in September 2012 and his actions at a September 2012 board meeting, the investigation found Porter “committed a serious violation of the board member code of ethics” by sending an email to all district employees criticizing Colaluca and calling for his resignation.
The report also found “Porter’s critical comments” about Colaluca at the Oct. 22, 2013, board meeting were “inappropriate public criticisms of Colaluca in violation of the board member code of ethics policy.”
The investigation also concluded Colaluca accurately cited board policy at the Oct. 22 board meeting.
“Mr. Porter’s inappropriate behavior has been an ongoing intentional pattern which ... has created an intimidating, threatening and abusive work environment for Mr. Colaluca as an employee,” the report states.
When it comes to Porter’s allegations that Colaluca discredited him by stating he used his board position for personal gain, the investigation found “evidence provided indicates that Mr. Porter had conflicting business interests that were primarily in the January to June 2012 time frame and appear to have lessened since then.”
Porter also contended Colaluca violated executive session; however, the report found that Colaluca did not.