Austintown school board throws caution to the wind

The inexplicable decision by the Austintown Board of Education to appoint Tim Kelty head principal of Austintown Elementary School is all the more puzzling given the reaction from district Superintendent Vince Colaluca.

Colaluca, who is no stranger to controversy himself, refused to endorse Kelty, whose personnel file reveals a history of inappropriate behavior.

When asked by Vindicator Reporter Amanda Tonoli about Kelty’s promotion to elementary school head principal, the superintendent pointed out it was a “board decision.”

Colaluca provided some insight into his feelings with this statement:

“What ever the board of education votes, it is my job to support it.”

Why is the superintendent reluctant to embrace the decision of the board of education?

An exclusive story by Tonoli on the front page of Saturday’s edition provides the answer.

Here’s what Kelty’s personnel record as assistant principal of Austintown Elementary School shows:

During the 2015-16 school year, he threatened a second-grade student with a knife when disciplining him in his office. A teacher witnessed the incident.

During the 2016-17 school year, he “used racial language after leaving a phone message to a parent.” He thought he had hung up the phone when he used the slur.

In September 2017, he issued an out-of-school suspension to a student that was not documented, resulting in an unexcused absence.

In December 2017, he suggested that four fellow staff members take off their tops.

He gave a gift of “sex dice” to a teacher at a staff party. The faces of the dice featured the names of body parts or actions, rather than the traditional numbers.

How egregious was Kelty’s behavior? Board of education members obviously concluded that what he did was serious enough to warrant an independent investigation.

The assistant principal was placed on paid administrative leave while the probe was conducted.

As for the findings, here’s what board President Don Sherwood said: “ … the board had an independent investigation done to review concerns [about Kelty] and once that was completed the board felt some concerns were corroborated and addressed issues through corrective action.”

Sherwood added this: “The board is confident those similar issues will not reoccur. It’s been over 11 years that Mr. Kelty has been with the district and the board is confident he can lead us on from here.”

It is noteworthy that the personnel file obtained by The Vindicator’s Tonoli shows that Kelty frequently used profane language around students, parents and staff and had little involvement in the individual education programs and evaluative reports of students and staff.

Yet, Sherwood said he and his colleagues believe Kelty is a good leader and that what occurred in the past will not be repeated.

That confidence was evident May 15 when the school board promoted Kelty to the position of head principal. His annual salary of $84,411 remains the same as it was during his tenure as assistant principal.

Given that Kelty was spared any punishment for his misbehavior – paid administrative leave isn’t a hardship – the message the board of education delivered by his promotion is absolutely the wrong one.

If threatening a second-grader with a knife, using a racial slur, giving sex dice as a gift, or asking fellow staff members to take their tops off don’t violate standards of behavior, the public is left to wonder what constitutes a fireable offense.

What’s notable about the board of education’s promotion of Kelty is that it exacerbates the dissension in Austintown over the operation of the district.

Emotionally charged issues such as open enrollment and the leadership of Superintendent Colaluca were front and center in the November election.

A Facebook group known as “Flip the Austintown Board of Education” supported two candidates who ultimately won, Sherwood and Robin Krempasky.

The third winner was Kathy Mock, who is in her ninth year on the board.

The “Flip” group is committed to getting rid of Colaluca, but that would be a costly proposition given that his contract was renewed last year. It runs through June 2020.

What would also be a costly proposition for the school district is if Kelty, as principal of Austintown Elementary, repeats the kind of behavior detailed in his personnel file, resulting in a lawsuit.

The board of education has thrown caution to the wind.

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