School board powerless to reinstate popular principal

Staff supports rehiring McGuffey’s Dorbish

By Sean Barron


Those who want to see House Bill 70 repealed and local control of the Youngstown City Schools brought back have strong advocates in Heather Shields and Katherine Buonavolonta.

“She always said that [William Holmes] McGuffey [Elementary School] is a family and she was the matriarch,” Shields said about Principal Cathy Dorbish, who was one of 14 principals, secretaries, administrators and other employees to have received reduction-in-force notices earlier this month as part of the district’s reorganization efforts.

Shields, a McGuffey Elementary fifth-grade teacher, and Buonavolonta, a retired 35-year special-education teacher who worked 15 years at McGuffey, urged the board of education during its meeting Friday to reinstate the popular 31-year principal.

The two women were among about 30 teachers and school personnel from McGuffey Elementary and other city schools who attended the meeting to support Dorbish.

The educators also advocated for House Bill 154, which in effect would overturn HB 70, known as the Youngstown Plan that Gov. John Kasich signed into law in July 2015.

HB 70 allowed a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire Krish Mohip as the district’s chief executive officer and gave him complete control over all instructional, operational and managerial decisions.

Justin Jennings will become the next CEO after Mohip leaves at the end of the month.

Toward the end of 2018, the district cut 18 positions. The latest round of staff reductions is an effort to consolidate certain duties and save the district about $1.95 million in salaries and benefits, according to a news release earlier this month.

That does not sit well, however, with Shields and Buonavolonta, both of whom touted Dorbish’s long, consistent track record of creating a positive school environment, having a willingness to grow and being a highly skilled leader.

“This move is taking 20 steps backward,” Buonavolonta said in her testimony during the meeting.

The group of educators also passed out fliers that listed a series of what they see as faults with HB 70.

Since the bill was signed into law, stakeholders no longer have influence on district policies and procedures, test scores have not improved while some have gone down and, perhaps the largest point of contention for the group, the CEO has unchecked power to lay off, fire and hire personnel at his own discretion regardless of years of service, they contend.

Nevertheless, as processes and procedures have improved, the district has been able to winnow down certain positions, so both rounds of cuts are part of that, Denise Dick, the district’s communications and public-relations director, said Friday.

“The decisions aren’t about individuals. They’re about positions,” said Dick, who added that for months, school board members and others in the community have complained the administration has been too top-heavy and have called for certain salary reductions.

“You don’t get to have it both ways,” she added.

Board President Brenda Kimble and other members said while they sympathize with and support efforts to reinstate Dorbish, they are powerless to act because the district remains under state control.

Kimble, along with several other board members, urged attendees to contact Gov. Mike DeWine and other elected officials to voice their support of HB 154.

Board member Ronald Shadd complained that HB 70 provided no oversight regarding how district money is being spent.

Earlier this week, the Republican-led state Senate Finance Committee voted to advance Ohio’s two-year operating budget for a full Senate vote, but without considering HB 154, which passed in the Ohio House by a 82-12 vote in early May.

If passed, the bill would restore local control of school districts, get rid of academic distress commissions and end state takeovers of schools. The House version, however, does contain language of HB 154.