Youngstown school commission resignations draw state's scrutiny

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A review team is coming to the school district in the next few weeks after the resignation of three Youngstown Academic Distress Commission members and the possible departure of the district CEO.

“As a result of a number of the changes that are happening, we’ve put into place, from the [Ohio] Department of Education, some boots on the ground to get a review team up here in the next two to three weeks,” said John Richard, the state education deputy superintendent.

He was recently sworn into the ADC per his appointment by State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria. “I will be interested in the report with the review team,” Richard said.

As of Wednesday, Youngstown’s ADC lost three of five of its members, all within the last week – Barbara Brothers, the mayoral selection to the commission, former ADC chairman Brian Benyo and vice chairwoman Jennifer Roller.

The two remaining ADC members are Nick Santucci and Vincent Shivers.

Richard was appointed in the interim to assist the ADC to carry out its normal business.

The commission is a result of House Bill 70, enacted in October 2015. The law put the commission in place overseeing school district CEO Krish Mohip in an attempt to save an academically struggling school district.

Mohip may also leave Youngstown, as he is a finalist for the superintendent position in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado.

Other than his mention of the review team from

the ODE, Richard said during Wednesday’s meeting at Choffin Career and Technical Center that Mohip’s candidacy for the superintendent position wouldn’t be addressed as it is a personnel matter, which is a matter not open to the public.

“We are aware this is something that happens in any school district,” he said. “We will stay engaged with the situation as that proceeds one way or another. This commission is committed to have any conversations it needs to.”

At the beginning of the meeting, several teachers sporting red clothing in solidarity expressed concern about the state of the schools.

Their concerns included a continuing discipline problem, lack of direction from superiors and stress from the newly reconfigured special-education program. The program has special-education students in the classrooms for more time than they used to be during the school day.

Mohip told the audience he is not abandoning the system.

“I am disappointed the board [of education] and community members haven’t gotten over that HB 70 is here,” he said. “It’s about building sustainability and a sustainable future for this district, and I feel we have a solid system in place. We have conditions we created where learning can occur and the right people [are] in place.”

During the meeting’s regular business, Mohip and his leadership team gave explanatory reports about a number of programs implemented in the district.

Amanda McGinnis, deputy chief of school improvement and programs, gave a student update of the after-school program in which 1,660 students take part in for three hours each day Monday through Thursday each week.

The program provides students with a snack and dinner, as well.

Mohip also dedicated part of the meeting to discuss the budget and the cost to set what he calls a “strong foundation” that resulted in spending about $8 million over budget.

Because the district has a beginning balance in fiscal year 2018, which began July 1, 2017, of $24.1 million, it will not go into debt. The $8 million overage will deplete the $24.1 million to $16 million.

The $24.1 million carry-over is a result of a cash balance that accrued at the end of each fiscal year for at least the last four years when the district brought in more revenue than it spent, district officials said.

The district’s 10.7-mill emergency levy, which voters originally passed in 2008 and renewed in 2012 and 2016, generates $5.2 million annually for four years.

“We spent this money because of the severe needs in this district,” he said. “We can’t not fix them.”

But the excess spending was not without a plan to better the financial system in the long run, Mohip said.

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