By AMANDA TONOLI
Three remaining candidates for the Youngstown City Schools’ chief executive officer position have experienced traffic, performance and foreclosure issues.
Youngstown Academic Distress Commission members will meet this week to interview the candidates to become the district’s next CEO.
Candidate Steve Thompson of the Willoughby-East Lake City School District was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol in 2014. Candidate Justin Jennings of the Muskegon, Michigan City School District was placed on an improvement plan by his school board in 2018 due to performance issues.
Local candidate Andy Tommelleo experienced foreclosures of properties beginning in 2009.
John Richard, YADC chairman, said the commission was aware of Thompson’s DUI, but not Jennings’ improvement-plan issue.
As for the DUI, Richard said it is one aspect of a bigger picture the commission is reviewing.
“I think we feel confident that he [Steve Thompson] has learned from it, but I’m not going to speak for him,” Richard said. “Is that a concern? Absolutely. Do we feel it should prohibit him from being interviewed? We do not.”
Richard said everything about each candidate is going to weigh into the commission’s decision about the next CEO.
“That being said, you’re going to find something about virtually any candidate,” he said. “What we will be doing is weighing everything that comes to us.”
Here is information about each candidate:
Tommelleo, of New Castle, works as a consultant for the state support team of the Ohio Department of Education in a Canfield Mahoning County Educational Service Center office. He makes between $80,000 and $90,000 annually.
His focus is to support school systems and try to close the achievement gap and work with students with disabilities. He was hired to focus on career tech centers.
Tommelleo attended Youngstown State and Slippery Rock universities, Westminster College and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and obtained degrees in counseling, business administration and education.
He applied for the Youngstown CEO position because he saw opportunity “to do something significant – not just for the school, but for the Youngstown community,” he said.
He added he has a desire to work in urban communities.
“With the background I’ve had over the last five years that state support has given me, [I’ve had] an opportunity to be involved in a variety of opportunities to work with people I’ve really learned from,” he said.
Tommelleo also has a connection to Youngstown.
“I’ve been working with different facets of the Youngstown district,” he said. That helps him with trust.
“Trust is a critical piece to this position and transition,” he said.
In 2009, however, he placed his trust in the wrong investments in buying properties that were not good investment decisions, Tommelleo said. Mahoning County court records show Tommelleo was involved in five court-ordered foreclosures of Youngstown-area properties in mid-2009. The unpaid amounts on the various mortgages – all first recorded in 2006 or 2007 – ranged from $30,985 to $40,093, and all totaled about $172,632.
“I went through the bank and did all the proper procedures, followed all the recommendations and, ultimately, that was the result,” Tommelleo said, adding the foreclosures have been cleared.
Jennings, currently the superintendent of Muskegon schools, makes $185,000 with a $12,000 car allowance, both annually.
He sees himself as a “turnaround administrator” in his career and said the Youngstown position would be a good fit for him.
In 2018, after his first year as superintendent, the Muskegon school board requested Jennings’ resignation. He was placed on an improvement plan put in place because of less-than-desirable student achievement noted in the board’s summary of Jennings’ review in February 2018, according to an Aug. 7 MLive News story.
According to the story, Jennings was required to “make changes to hiring practices, allowing board members to participate in interviews for administrative positions and shifting reference checks to human resources officials.”
The same board members that placed Jennings on the plan have agreed that he has improved.
“When we first evaluated him, there were some board members that felt he was not quite doing what he needed to do,” said Cindy Larson, Muskegon schools board of education president. “In the next year, he followed it, [and] since that time, he has met our expectations.”
Zachary Anderson, a board member who called for Jennings’ resignation in May 2018, said despite having issues with Jennings over the years, Jennings has made many strides and has done a good job overall.
“He accomplished all of the goals in his improvement plan, and that’s why he was rated effective at the end of 2018,” Anderson said. “He’s turning himself around, probably to be expected of any first-time superintendent.”
Larson said she feels Jennings is what they need in the Muskegon school district.
“He would be wonderful [in Youngstown]; he would do an excellent job,” she said.
Jennings said he grew from the experience and that his methodology is to always be on the side of what’s best for students.
“It’s not what politics entails, but I’ll already come out on the right side – the side of our scholars,” he said.
Jennings said his plans for Youngstown include bringing unity back to the community and establishing a connection between the board, commission and superintendent.
Thompson is the Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools superintendent who makes an annual salary of $174,000. He has been a superintendent for 15 years.
But there is at least one blemish on Thompson’s 15 years as superintendent: In May 2014, he was cited for driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Obviously, it was a major lapse in judgment – probably one of my most regrettable times in my life, for sure,” Thompson said. “It was also probably the most growth I’ve ever made from a personal perspective. It made me sit back, evaluate who I was, what I was doing [and] where I was going.”
Thompson was punished at Willoughby-Eastlake with the forfeiture of 20 days of pay and an added provision in his contract indicating he couldn’t have another alcohol-related incident or he could be fired.
“It is not going to happen again,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, people can look at my whole body of work based on assessment and what I bring to the table.”
And he said he brings to the table a desire to face head-on the issues in the Youngstown schools.
“I think Youngstown offers an incredible challenge,” Thompson said. “It’s also a great opportunity to take part in what used to be a phenomenal city that I think is rising back – it’s evident in the revitalization and what’s happening in downtown Youngstown and the stuff at Youngstown State University led by Mr. [Jim] Tressel.”
Thompson said he is mindful of the fact that teachers, staff and the community have been through a lot.
“I want to be a servant leader, not as a person saying, ‘Do this, do that,’ simply because I carry a title,” he said.
The commission’s special meetings will be at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Both meetings will begin in the library at East High School, 474 Bennington Ave.
Members will then go into executive session to conduct the interviews. There will be no public comment segment during the meeting. Two members of the Youngstown Board of Education will participate in the candidate interviews.
The commission will select one of the candidates later this month or early May to replace current CEO Krish Mohip, who is paid $170,000 annually.
The candidate can make between $170,000 and $190,000.