By Denise Dick
and Amanda TONOLI
City schools CEO Krish Mohip hopes Austintown schools’ loss is his district’s gain.
Colleen Murphy-Penk, Austintown transportation director, will begin Wednesday as chief of the city schools’ troubled bus transportation system. Two of her employees are going with her.
Mohip said he talked with people in Columbus and across the state who know school transportation.
“I found out she’s one of the best in the state,” said Mohip, city schools chief executive director.
Two more Austintown transportation employees – an on-board supervisor and one to help with technology – are following Murphy-Penk to the city schools system, the CEO said.
YCSD posted the three positions on its website.
“She was far and away above anybody else,” Mohip said of Murphy-Penk.
Murphy-Penk has been with Austintown schools since 1988. Her last day with that district will be Tuesday.
“It’s just time for a change,” Murphy-Penk said. “I saw the job posting and I heard the negative publicity, and I felt bad for the drivers. There has got to be a lot of really great people there and kids and families who are suffering. I saw the posting and I thought, ‘I’ve done a lot of great things in Austintown. I’m up for the challenge.’”
Since the start of school, city schools parents have complained about students not being picked up for school, bus rides that are too long and bus drivers who don’t follow proper procedures.
This past summer, the Ohio Department of Education released an audit of Youngstown schools’ transportation department that found incomplete driver and vehicle maintenance records, nonexistent vehicle-repair records and no documentation of required bus driver training.
The state decertified all of the city schools’ bus drivers, requiring them to retake the required training and secure background checks. Not all of the drivers were able to complete the training before the school year started Aug. 22, so the district relied on Community Bus, a private company, to help with transportation.
Mohip declined to talk about the employment status of Winnie Timpson, who formerly served as transportation chief.
Murphy-Penk’s annual YCSD salary will be $65,000. In Austintown, she earned about $50,000 annually.
Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said he takes it as a compliment when other districts hire Austintown employees.
“We are the training zone for Mahoning County administrators,” he said. “We are happy for her if it improves her life. ... We are happy for anyone who moves on and up. Now we just have to march on.”
Kathy Mock, Austintown school board president, said although she is happy for Murphy-Penk to be moving on and up in her career, she is sad to see such a good employee go.
“She’s been a longtime, dedicated, knowledgeable employee, and we wish her well in her future endeavor,” she said.
Colaluca said he is acting as the transportation director until the position can be filled. He encourages anyone “looking to make good money ... to call Austintown schools about applying for the position.”
Murphy-Penk is no stranger to challenges in school transportation.
“In 2013, I lost over 40 drivers,” she said. “They lost their benefits, so there was no incentive to be here.”
Murphy-Penk said she recruited drivers, trained drivers and even drove a bus.
“I have built a tight network of drivers,” she said. “I have a highly trained team of people who are probably the most amazing professionals I’ve ever worked with in my life.”
She’s eager to join YCSD so she can develop a plan to address problems.
“My blood runs yellow and I love what I do,” Murphy-Penk said.
Bus drivers are some of the most safety-conscious people Murphy-Penk knows.
“They are tenacious people. They really are,” Murphy-Penk said.
“Think about it: They’re brave enough to sit with 50 kids behind them” maneuvering a 30,000-pound vehicle onto highways with other motorists, she said.
Mohip said he believes Murphy-Penk will provide sustainable solutions to YCSD’s bus problems, but it won’t be a quick fix.
Problems have dogged the transportation department for the last 10 years, he said.
“I’m confident she’ll be able to put those processes and procedures in place” to address the issues, Mohip said.
Buses and bus drivers play a significant role in making a school system successful.
“A bus driver is the first person [from the district] those children see in the morning,” the CEO said. “And they’re the last person they see at the end of the day.”