•From 2006 to 2011, the Youngstown City School system was under state-declared fiscal emergency.
•In 2011, the state stepped in to place Youngstown in academic emergency.
•The emergency gave rise to creation of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission. Under state law, the commission has significant control over the operation of the district.
•The first such commission disbanded in early 2015 after a new state law was enacted that created the Youngstown Plan (House Bill 70). Under this plan, developed by a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders, passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich, a new five-member academic commission was created. The law’s purpose is getting failing school districts out of academic emergency.
•The centerpiece of the Youngstown Plan is appointment of a district chief executive officer by the new commission. The CEO will have total authority over the district – and will be paid by the state.
•Brian Benyo and Laura Meeks are appointed to commission by state Superintendent Richard Ross in May 2015.
•Barbara Brothers selected by then-Mayor John A. McNally for commission in November 2015.
•Jennifer Roller is appointed to commission in December 2015.
•Benyo selected as chairman in December 2015.
•Teacher Vince Shivers appointed by Youngstown Board of Education in April 2016.
•Laura Meeks, former president of Eastern Gateway Community College, resigns from the commission in May 2016.
•Commission selects Youngstown’s first CEO Krish Mohip in May 2016.
•State Superintendent Richard Ross appoints John Richard in May 2016.
•John Richard resigns in late 2016.
•Nick Santucci sworn in by the commission in August 2017.
•Benyo and Roller resign from the commission March 2.
•State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria assigned Richard, who is now state deputy superintendent, the responsibility of supporting the work of the academic distress commission until a new chairman is designated.
Source: Vindicator files
Departures come with criticism of House Bill 70
By Amanda Tonoli
The surprise resignations Friday of Brian Benyo and Jennifer Roller as top leaders of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission came with sharp opinions from them of the struggling process to save city schools.
Benyo, as chairman, was critical of the local “politicalization of House Bill 70” and the “very clear union opposition” is holding back its success.
HB 70, enacted in October 2015, put the current academic distress commission in place overseeing school district CEO Krish Mohip. Both are now in place in the city.
“The largest disappointment I have and continue to see is the element of fear, uncertainty and energy being directed [negatively] at House Bill 70 after three years into this process,” Benyo said.
Roller, as vice chairwoman, said the state’s commission structure is flawed and needs enhancements.
Roller outlined some concerns with the commission structure in her resignation letter including bettering transparency, creating a more “solid vision for the district, complete with goals and measurement tools” and getting “subject-matter expertise on a wide range of issues facing the schools including assessment and budgeting.”
While Benyo had been talking quietly of his announcement that came at 10 a.m., Roller’s resignation about three hours later was unforeseen. Even some in city schools administration were unaware, when contacted by The Vindicator, that Roller had resigned.
Roller’s resignation letter to state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said she will continue to serve Youngstown City Schools and the community through her work with the Raymond John Wean Foundation – for which she is president.
Benyo said, “It’s something that has been on my mind for some time. Now is just the appropriate time to step down. It’s been an interesting endeavor trying to bring about positive change in education in Youngstown. ... For anything to succeed in turning around – any plan – in improving education, one ingredient is a collective desire and effort to bring about that change, and I’m not sure we’ve accomplished getting to that point here in Youngstown.”
Benyo said he will continue to manage Brilex Industries.
“I do hope the efforts undertaken so far continue to show progress,” he said.
DeMaria now has to appoint two new members and a chairperson to YADC. He issued a statement after Benyo’s and Roller’s resignations, saying he appreciates the duo’s commitment to their positions during their time on the commission.
“[Benyo] played an integral part in taking the necessary steps to improve educational opportunities for Youngstown’s children,” the statement says. “We thank him for his service and wish him well.”
He added: “Jennifer is a dedicated advocate for the Youngstown community, and we’re grateful for her work on the commission. We look forward to the continued support of the Raymond John Wean Foundation under her leadership.”
Mohip expressed regret at the resignations of Benyo and Roller.
“I want to thank Brian and Jennifer for their service and dedication to the Youngstown City School District, its employees and most of all, its students,” he said in a statement.
DeMaria has assigned state deputy Superintendent John Richard, who was once a commission member, the responsibility of supporting the work of the academic distress commission until a new chairman is designated.
The state placed Youngstown in academic emergency in 2011. The emergency caused the creation of the academic distress commission.
That first distress commission was disbanded in October 2015 when HB 70, also known as the Youngstown Plan, was enacted. The law’s purpose is to get failing school districts out of academic emergency.
Under the plan, developed by a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders and approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich, a new five-member academic commission has been created. The five-member commission was made up of Brian Benyo, Laura Meeks, Jennifer Roller, Vince Shivers and Barbara Brothers.
Benyo, Meeks and Roller were appointed to this commission by state Superintendent Richard Ross in 2015.
Brothers was selected by then-Mayor John A. McNally for the commission in November 2015. Vince Shivers was appointed by the Youngstown Board of Education in April 2016.
Meeks, former president of Eastern Gateway Community College, resigned from the commission in May 2016.
Richard was appointed to the commission by state superintendent Ross in May 2016 and resigned later that year.
Nick Santucci, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce education and workforce development director, was sworn in by the commission in August 2017.
Santucci said he’s beyond grateful for Benyo and Roller’s efforts to help make the city schools better.
“I anticipate and look forward to my new colleagues – whoever they may be,” he said. “My focus as an individual member is to continue to do whatever is necessary for the students. We are just going to keep moving forward.”
They will move forward with two meetings involving HB 70 discussion next week.
The Youngstown Board of Education House Bill 70 Committee will host a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at New Bethel Baptist Church (old sanctuary), 1507 Hillman St.
Discussion will involve how HB 70 has impacted Youngstown City Schools and public education.
Invited guests include William Phillis from the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, Warrensville Heights City Schools, Lorain City Schools, East Cleveland City Schools, state school board members and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich.
In addition, the now-three-member Youngstown Academic Distress Commission is set to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Choffin Career and Technical Center, 200 E. Wood St.
Dario Hunter, Youngstown schools board member, commended Roller for her service to the community – while echoing Roller’s sentiment about the need for transparency.
“Leadership of the Academic Distress Commission has so far rejected attempts to collaborate with the board,” he said. “When key stakeholders fail to work together, it’s ultimately the children who suffer. I hope that new leadership will be more open to the possibilities for communication.”