Community conflict and controversy have molded the race for three seats on the Austintown Board of Education into one of the most heated general-election contests in the Mahoning Valley this fall.
Hot-button issues on the effectiveness of the large suburban district’s relatively liberal open-enrollment policy and on the quality of leadership from Superintendent Vincent Colaluca have divided the community sharply in recent years.
Those issues also should serve to galvanize high voter turnout in this largely sleepy election elsewhere in the Valley.
Each of the candidates in the race demonstrated a sincere commitment to the betterment of the school district. Each appeared before The Vindicator Editorial Board for endorsement consideration. They are:
Incumbent Kathy Mock, who is seeking her third term on the school board.
David Daichendt, chief operating officer and vice president of Micro Doctor, a computer services and networking company in Warren.
Omar Jadue, a nuclear engineering specialist for FirstEnergy.
Robin Krempasky, a retired teacher who spent 30 years in Austintown’s schools.
Don Sherwood, co-founder of Alcyon Wealth Partners, an independent financial advisory firm in Austintown.
Kimberly Smrek, a self-employed accountant.
After lengthy consideration, The Vindicator endorses Mock, Sherwood and Smrek.
‘FLIP THE BOARD’
Four of the candidates – Daichendt, Jadue, Krempasky and Sherwood – have been endorsed by a group called “Flip the Board.” It formed in opposition to the three-year extension to Colaluca’s contract last year despite community opposition, including a petition with 2,000 signatures against his rehiring. But of those four, only Daichendt and Krempasky have actively taken part in Facebook Q&As and a public forum sponsored by the group last month.
Daichendt presents himself as a “change candidate,” seeking to improve the “mismanaged” open-enrollment system in place. He also contends the district is overstaffed, communicates poorly with parents and the public and suffers a disconnect between the administration and staff over improving academic performance.
Krempasky shares some of the same platform goals. She also blames the open- enrollment policy, which has brought in 725 students from outside the district this school year, as part of the reason behind the flight of about 365 resident Austintown students this year to other districts.
Jadue told the Editorial Board he believes the open-enrollment policy needs to be thoroughly reviewed so that the board and community can make well-reasoned decisions on its future. He also said he would strive to build stronger community trust to overcome “many financial, organizational and morale challenges” in the district.
Among those three candidates, Jadue struck the Editorial Board as having the firmest footing in constructively moving the district ahead in the coming four years. Although we are not endorsing him, we’re confident the school district would be capably served if he were elected.
We choose instead to endorse the remaining challengers – Sherwood and Smrek – based on their longstanding involvement with the district and on their measured approaches to addressing the major hurdles confronting the district.
Smrek, who gained much knowledge in leadership posts on school-levy and bond- issue campaigns in the district, supports open enrollment. “It’s not going away; 80 percent of districts in the state have it,” she said. She added, however, that she would work to redefine the policies and procedures of the program to better serve all Austintown students.
Sherwood, who’s been active in the Austintown Touchdown Club for 15 years, shares many of the same goals as Smrek. They both seek to improve relationships between district staff and leadership, citing an unusually high rate of turnover among teaching staff in recent years.
We also endorse the incumbent Mock for her valuable experience in the post and for her record. She and her fellow board members did listen to the community in scaling back open enrollment this school year. She stands up for Superintendent Colaluca and his contract renewal because of the skills he brings to the post. “Vince is a good visionary person,” she said.
Others, including the Mentor Board of Education, found strong suits in him as well. The Mentor board had agreed to hire him as superintendent – until district residents learned of the emotional community opposition to him in Austintown.
Regardless of whom is elected Nov. 7, 2018 will be a challenging year for the new Austintown Board of Education. We believe that Mock, Sherwood and Smrek can best work cooperatively to meet and tackle those challenges.