It’s long been no big secret that the relationship between the recently retired chief administrator of the Mahoning Valley’s second largest school district with his chief policy-making panel has been strained at best.
Yes, for years now, tensions have run high between Austintown Local Schools Superintendent Vincent Colaluca, who entered early retirement May 31, and the district’s board of education. The impact of that divisiveness on the district has been anything but constructive.
That’s why this week’s hiring of former Girard City Schools Superintendent David Cappuzzello to replace Colaluca holds promise for constructive change in the 4,800-student school district.
We’re pleased to see the hiring process play out as quickly and as transparently as it did. Cappuzzelllo bested 16 other publicly-announced candidates, many of whom had impressive credentials.
Cappuzzello’s employment also comes at a critical time as the district faces a number of gnawing challenges, including its declining enrollment, its long-term financial stability and the future of its open-enrollment policy.
Given the unanimous vote by board members Tuesday to appoint Cappuzzello, we’re hopeful a new era will dawn in more productive board-superintendent relations.
That would be a welcome change from the oftentimes unproductive relationship between Colaluca and some members of the board and Austintown community. Dissension reached a boiling point in the run-up to the November 2017 school-board election, in which a Facebook campaign called “Flip the Austintown Board of Education” took strong root; it was committed to selecting board members bent on giving Colaluca the boot.
For his part, Colaluca largely maintained a professional demeanor even as he applied for several superintendent or chief administrative positions in other Northeast Ohio school districts. He exits the district with the board buying out the final year of his contract at a cost to taxpayers of $120,814 and an agreement that prevents board members from making disparaging comments about him, particularly in potential job references.
COLALUCA’S POSITIVE IMPACT
Despite the controversies Colaluca has endured in the latter years of his 10-year tenure in Austintown, we’d be remiss to ignore some of the positive imprints he’s made on the large suburban school system. Most notably, under his leadership, the district has continued its 23-year-long tradition of not seeking additional operating revenue from local property taxpayers. He also oversaw the successful reorganization of the district that included the shuttering of five elementary buildings and the opening of a centralized school campus.
Nonetheless, Colaluca’s optimal effectiveness has been compromised in recent years as divisions with the board and the community widened.
The arrival of Cappuzzello, who officially takes the helm Aug. 1, offers a real opportunity for a much more cohesive working relationship with the community, school personnel and the board.
And fortunately, the 31-year veteran teacher and school administrator appears to have his finger on the pulse of key concerns in Austintown.
Cappuzzello told The Vindicator he plans to first target the district’s five-year forecast and work to stabilize finances in the long term.
That is perhaps his greatest challenge. Austintown, like many districts, is witnessing a steady decline in enrollment, partially through declining birth rates and partially due to migration outside the system.
For several years, Austintown distinguished itself as the largest school district among the five dozen in the three-county Mahoning Valley. In recent years, however, its enrollment has fallen while Youngstown City School District’s has begun to rebound.
That attrition has translated into the layoffs of 16 teachers and about 30 other staff members for the coming school year, the largest reduction in force in over 10 years. One of Cappuzzello’s immediate challenges therefore must be to ensure any streamlining of educational operations does not impact the high quality of education for which Austintown residents have grown accustomed.
Cappuzzello also is likely to face a tough balancing act with the hot-potato issue of open enrollment. The need for additional revenue the policy satisfies must be balanced against sentiment against open enrollment that has driven some students living in Austintown to enroll elsewhere.
Through those and other quandaries, we’re hopeful that with Cappuzello’s vast warehouse of experience in educational administration and with more open lines of communication with the school board, Austintown schools can continue and expand upon its reputation as one of the most academically strong and fiscally responsible public districts in the Valley and the state.