Board still feels pressure

Some in Austintown still disapprove of superintendent

AUSTINTOWN — At a well-attended Austintown Board of Education meeting Wednesday, officials broke down the district’s state report card after numerous people last month said they are so displeased with the way the district is heading they want a new superintendent.

The school board did not bring up Superintendent Vince Colaluca’s contract at the meeting, which Kimberly Clark said was disappointing to her and other parents who wanted to see Colaluca’s contract end after eight years. Clark said her children are friends with open enrollment kids, and she has no problem with them, but does have issues with the way the program is being managed, traffic and overcrowded classrooms. She was applauded after her comments.

Many of the same faces at the October meeting were present Wednesday but without signs with slogans like “No vote Vince.”

Colaluca’s contract is valid through July and would automatically renew in March if the board takes no action. The board tabled a vote last month in the face of overwhelming objections.

Much of the focus has been on the state’s rough report card grades and a state audit that said the district could save money by reducing open enrollment to cut the school population, which could save more than $760,000 if the district cut jobs and closed buildings in conjunction with lower enrollment.

The audit states the district lost $25,600 by teaching 686 open enrollment students in 2015 because of the different ways open enrollment and in-district students are funded by the state and local sources.

Clark said she and others want the audit’s recommendations taken to heart and for Colaluca to be more straightforward about statistics.

Colaluca said the district relies on the more than $4 million open enrollment brings the district, and cutting back to 125 open enrollment students to save $25,000 — or cutting students, staff and buildings to save $760,000 — doesn’t make sense financially and could lead to the elimination of extracurricular activities or Advanced Placement classes.

Erica Avery of Youngstown said Wednesday she is “the face of open enrollment.” While living in Youngstown, she said she sent her two boys to Austintown schools, and they did well. The boys are now attending universities in Ohio, Avery said.

“As I saw in the last meeting a lot of innuendos were raised that suggested open enrollment is the cause of the whole problem. People are uninformed and don’t understand or do not want to understand the information being presented to them,” Avery said.

People want to blame open enrollment for the district’s problems, Avery said, but students from outside the district aren’t taking anything away from students born in the district, and they are there to learn like the rest.

The Mahoning County Educational Service Center superintendent and Kim Davis, curriculum director for the center, both spoke about the changes Ohio schools have endured with educational standards over the last 15 years.

She said the Ohio School Report Cards are confusing to everybody and take time to digest, learn how to succeed within the categories and implement the changes. In the throes of the the first year of results from the newest set of standards is a bad time to make any drastic changes to the way a district operates, Davis said.

The district had a poor showing in the system, going from “B” to “C” to “D” in the performance index over three years and maintaining an “F” in the gap closing category for the same three years, the report cards show.

Davis said the system is more complicated than an “A” or “B” and it takes time to learn the new system. Many schools in Ohio scored in the lower grades, but she said she expects every district will start to get the hang of the system and start improving. Part of her job, Davis said, is to study the data, find helpful data points in success stories elsewhere and implement them.

“It takes time,” Davis said, noting the system needs to stabilize.