Talk about schools was not public meeting

By Amanda Tonoli

atonoli@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

A Youngstown Board of Education member called a Feb. 9 private meeting at East High “an egregious act.”

The meeting, called by Brian Benyo, Youngstown’s Academic Distress Commission president, was open only to those who received an invitation, Benyo said.

But school board member Jackie Adair said Tuesday the fact that the board of education was not invited was just another way to “marginalize” it.

“The meeting was described to me as a meeting of stakeholders,” she continued. “Are we who live in the city and pay property taxes not stakeholders? Who are they [Benyo and ADC member Jennifer Roller] to hold a private meeting in a publicly supported facility [East High]?”

Brenda Kimble, school board president, was in attendance at the Feb. 9 meeting by invitation from Larry Ellis, Youngstown Education Association teachers’ union president.

“I was not invited by Brian Benyo,” Kimble said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Mr. Benyo called myself, Judge Theresa Dellick [of Mahoning County Juvenile Court] and the Rev. [Kenneth] Simon [community leader and pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church] ‘uninvited guests.’”

A Vindicator reporter waited outside the meeting door Feb. 9 after being told it wasn’t a public meeting. The Vindicator recognized other members of the public, who were also uninvited guests, who attended the meeting.

Kimble said that if the meeting were one of stakeholders, she saw no reason for Ron Iarussi, Mahoning County Educational Service Center superintendent, to be there.

Further, the board’s representative member on the ADC – Vincent Shivers, Kimble’s appointee to the ADC – was not invited to the meeting, Kimble said, and the purpose of that was to not have a quorum so the meeting wouldn’t fall under open meetings laws.

Benyo on Tuesday night said he would not comment on the board members’ claims.

But Benyo did say: “When the meeting was adjourned, it was recognized and discussed as a private meeting and not meant for public discussion. The school board’s president turning it into public consumption is counter to the goals of the meeting and continues to represent the kind of distraction that holds the district back.”

Both Benyo and Kimble agree, however, that the purpose of the meeting was to create better avenues of communication within the district.

“The purpose was to attempt to establish better dialogue with some stakeholders,” Benyo said.

It was also discussed during the Feb. 9 meeting that Benyo is no longer satisfied with The Vindicator’s coverage of the Youngstown City Schools, Kimble said. Benyo declined to elaborate on that.

In other business, board members united in a six-person vote of “no” to a proposed 100 percent tax abatement for Hallmark Student Housing on Lincoln Avenue.

Board member Dario Hunter was absent from the meeting.

Board member Ron Shadd said given the school district’s projected spending deficit, he can’t rationalize approving the abatement. “I cannot see us in a position to give away our dollars for this project,” he said simply.

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