Austintown schools’ chief staying because of critics

Opponents of Austin- town schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca have made no secret of their desire to see him gone. Yet, as fate would have it, many of these same individuals are the reason Cola-luca is staying put.

The eight-year superintendent was on the verge of being hired by the Mentor Board of Education when the district’s parents, students and staff showed up at the meeting and protested the decision.

Their comments persuaded three of the five board members to withdraw the offer that had been made a day earlier.

Ironically, the opposition to Cola- luca’s hiring was prompted by comments posted on a Facebook page titled “Flip the Austintown Board of Education.” Many of its supporters were among the 2,000 or so residents who signed a petition last year urging the board not to extend Colaluca’s contract for another three years.

The superintendent did get the contract extension, and that has exacerbated the situation in the township.

Three of the critics are running for school board in the November general election: David Daichendt, Robin Krempasky and Omar Jadue. They are vying for seats held by Alex Benyo, president of the board; Kathy Mock; and Ken Jakubec.

Thus the irony of what the anti- Colaluca faction did with its public criticism of the superintendent. He will be around for three more years – unless he feels the urge to apply for another job and this time receives the full support of his critics.

On May 27, Vindicator reporter Justin Wier, who has provided extensive coverage of the upheaval in the Austintown schools system, had a front-page story headlined “Austintown schools chief fires back at his critics.”

Wier quoted Colaluca saying, “There’s a small group that thinks they’re the voice of the community. But really the voice is 30,000 people, not a small group of people.”

Grabbing headlines

However, what the critics lack in numbers, they make up for in publicity. They have found a way of grabbing headlines by their continuing attacks on the district’s open enrollment policy.

Despite an objective study that debunked many of the claims made by the foes of open enrollment, the issue galvanizes the opposition to the superintendent and the board of education.

According to the study by Karen Larwin, a Youngstown State University professor, open enrollment in area school districts either makes no difference in student achievement, or student achievement improves.

Nine of Mahoning County’s 14 school districts accept students from outside their boundaries, which means they are raking in millions of dollars. That’s because $6,000 in state funding follows each student who decides to enroll in another system.

The analysis also found that the Austintown district enjoys the largest boost in revenue in the county. It has 776 open-enrollment students who bring with them $2.4 million in net revenue.

It is noteworthy that those derisively labeled outsiders make up 15 percent of Austintown’s student body – a number that’s below average. By comparison, the Lowellville school system’s 316 students through open enrollment represent 54.7 percent of the total.

As for the argument put forth by some Austintown residents that Youngstown students are adversely affecting test scores or creating behavioral problems, Colaluca had this to say: “Our students, no matter where they come from, are successful.” An analysis of the data conducted by the administration confirms the study conducted by YSU’s Larwin.

But if the findings of the open- enrollment evaluations aren’t persuasive, here’s a practical reason the program has the support of Austintown’s superintendent and board of education: money.

It has been 21 years since residents of the district approved a new operating levy. In that time, taxpayer attitudes toward the funding of public education in Ohio have changed.

As recent elections have shown, it is becoming increasingly difficult for school districts to win voter approval for new tax levies. This at a time when state funding for public education is an iffy proposition, at best.

In Austintown, opponents of open enrollment and of Superintendent Colaluca must clearly explain their plans for the future should they succeed in getting rid of both.

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