Dispute cost district $16,000

AUSTINTOWN – An investigation into allegations made by a board member and the superintendent of Austintown Schools cost the district more than $16,000.

The investigation was conducted by HR On Call Inc. at the request of the district’s legal counsel, Walter Haverfield LLP.

The board initiated the investigation on Nov. 7, 2013, to examine allegations that Superintendent Vincent Colaluca and board member Harold Porter acted inappropriately toward one another.

The 17-page report dated Feb. 21, 2014, showed a number of allegations spanning from May 2012 to October 2013 that include threats and harassment. Also included in the report was email correspondence between Colaluca, Porter and other board members and faculty.

HROC’s findings state that Colaluca’s harassment / bullying complaint against Porter was valid.

The investigation found that Porter’s actions violated other board policies on a number of incidents; that Colaluca did not violate executive session rules by contacting then-trustee Rick Stauffer regarding an issue at Austintown Middle School; and that Porter and other parties need to develop a positive working relationship moving forward.

According to the report, in a May 22, 2012, email sent to Colaluca, Fitch principal Christopher Berni and director of instruction Dave Mullane, Porter states in part, “I have had 4 reports of bullying incidents that have not been addressed to the satisfaction of parents … What is going on? ZERO tolerance!! I expect follow up to my email and I will treat this as if these are my own daughters being affected.”

Colaluca’s response included copies to all of his administrators: “First, As a board member you need to tell parents to contact the administration. There is proper protocol to follow, watch (sic) was reviewed by our district attorney with all board members. Parents that do not like a result of a situation, should not call a board member, they need to contact the Central Office. Secondly, you have no authority to demand an administrator to do anything. That is my job. Finally, Please do not email administrator again with this type of tone. You can email me with any concerns.”

Porter’s next email to Colaluca, also with copies to Colaluca’s administrators, stated: “Then do your job!!”

Another email from Porter sent 13 minutes later, again copied to the administrators, stated, “Oh I am so sorry mr. Colaluca. Please forgive me I would never want to step on your authority. But since you involved all these people all bets are off!!”

Twenty-one minutes later, Porter emailed an apology to Colaluca and the administrators stating that he “stepped over the line and handled things wrong. But when parents come to you and students with tears running down their cheeks telling me these stories there is no way I will sit idol (sic). This is my fifth month so I am still learning. I realize I could have handled this different,” according to the report.

The report states that Colaluca said he felt it was appropriate to include all administrators in his response to Porter “given the seriousness of this May incident and the tone of Mr. Porter’s email.”

On Sept. 17, 2012, Porter sent an email to district employees citing a series of concerns and calling for Colaluca’s resignation: “I am requesting that he immediately submits his resignation to the board and we unanimously accept IT WITHOUT HESITATION. This man is a liability to our school district. We have no chance for any future levies with him as dictator I mean superintendent.”

On Sept. 18, 2012, Colaluca hand-delivered a letter to the board prior to its meeting that stated in summary: “I am sad and disappointed that rather than meet with me face-to-face in a professional manner, Mr. Porter chose to publicly make false and defamatory statements about me to the entire administration, staff and to the press. The conduct … violates the District’s contractual and legal obligations. If Mr. Porter has specific, valid concerns about my performance, he is required to address them through proper procedures – and I invite him to do so,” the report states.

During the board meeting, eight attendees as well as Porter signed a petition “to demand either the resignation and or termination of Mr. Vincent Colaluca as Superintendent of the Austintown School system effective immediately.”

Porter made a series of statements criticizing Colaluca’s job performance and decisions made by the board, and made a motion calling for his termination, the report states. The motion did not receive a second and board President Tom Stellers made a statement that “Colaluca has served this district admirably and has been highly rated throughout his tenure,” according to the report.

In an Oct. 22, 2013, board meeting, Porter criticized Colaluca for wearing a Boardman shirt to an Austintown / Boardman Middle School football game. “He cited former dictators Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gaddafi and said dictatorships come to an end when people rise up. He said that politicians and diapers have one thing in common: They both should be changed regularly and for the same reasons. He closed his remarks by saying, ‘The status quo has to go,'” the report states.

Colaluca cited board policies prohibiting the public criticism of employees that he believed Porter violated. Colaluca filed a harassment / bullying incident formal report on Oct. 23, 2013, stating that following the board meeting, Porter told fellow board member David Ritchie that he wanted to “punch me in the face,” the report states.

A police report alleging the same was filed by Colaluca on Oct. 29.