Youngstown schools CEO looks for collaboration
YOUNGSTOWN — City schools CEO Justin Jennings seeks to work more cooperatively with the board of education by establishing working committees that will allow input in developing the district’s strategic plan.
He said during 2020 more efforts will be made to involve the board with committees established by the administration and the Academic Distress Commission.
“We are already doing that with our finance committee and will be doing it with curriculum and building and grounds committees,” Jennings said Wednesday. “They will see what we are doing, so if something happens and we will transition, what is being done will continue.”
His primary task since arriving in Youngstown late last summer has been laying the foundation needed to make permanent change, regardless of whether he remains the district’s CEO under Ohio’s House Bill 70 or if other changes are made by the Ohio Senate.
“We have to work together,” Jennings said. “I’m only going to be able to do my job with their support. We are getting there.”
Jennings emphasized his administration has not yet established a strategic plan for the district’s future.
“We have a strategic emphasis,” he said. “We are working with the plan that existed before we arrived here. We are working to establish a series of community open houses in which we will deal with specific groups — parents, teachers and staff — to really look at not just right now or two or three years down the road, but what the future looks like.”
Jennings said his administration is working closely with Eastern Gateway Community College, and Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, to develop a successful kindergarten-through-college graduate program.
What’s being examined, he said, is: “What are the essential academic skills our students need to develop beginning in the first grade, each year through their graduation from Youngstown Schools, into jobs and through higher education programs?”
Brenda Kimble, school board president, said she is pleased that the CEO wants to work more closely with the board, but added he wanted to work more closely when he arrived and promised that he would attend board meetings and make sure his staff members would attend.
“It did not last long,” Kimble said. “They have not been coming to our meetings. The treasurer has to come because of state law, but other members of the administration have not.”
“I believe what has changed is the success we’ve had in getting the court to delay the appointment of a new (mayor-appointed school) board under HB 70, until the Supreme Court rules on the complaint about the law,” she said. “They did not expect us to be here, so they thought they could ignore us.”
District Treasurer Arthur Ginnetti said over the last five months, the district’s revenues have been greater than its spending.
Board of education member Jacqueline Adair questions how the district has reduced its spending.
“Much of it has been a matter of timing,” Ginnetti explained. “We have received property and real estate tax money that assisted.”
Ginnetti said the district may have deficit spending in January due to the month having three pay periods, instead of two.
Adair wants to know what specifically has been done to reduce spending.
“I am hoping for specifics on how we’ve curtailed spending,” she said. “Because if we have significantly curtailed spending and there is discussion about a levy, then the question is whether we really need a levy.”
Jennings said all purchasing is now going through his office, so he has greater control on how money is being spent.
“We are more conscious of what money is being spent on and we are making sure it is being spent in the classroom,” he said. “We are not using general fund money for adults, it has to do with the kids.”
Jennings is encouraging the administration and the board of education to each draft separate resolutions opposing the expansion of Ed Choice in Ohio.
“It hurts the public schools when our scholars (students) can just be pilfered and public money can be used to fund private schools,” Jennings said. “What this is going to do is to eventually eliminate our public schools.”
Jennings says the discussions, so far, have focused on urban school districts, but the expansion of the EdChoice program is now having an increased effect on rural school districts.
Jennings emphasized that legislatively having the administration and the school board working together is better.
“It is not just EdChoice,” Jennings said. “To really make changes we have to work together.”