Kettering superintendent resigns

Kettering City Schools Superintendent Jim Schoenlein resigned Monday, effective immediately, two weeks after the school board accused him of violating Ohio school levy law, ordering employees to do the same, and refusing to work cooperatively with district treasurer Steve Clark.

The school board met for more than two hours Monday morning at Trent Arena, using most of that time to discuss the terms of an agreement that would include Schoenlein’s resignation.

The board approved an agreement to continue Schoenlein’s pay and fringe benefits through August, with Schoenlein giving up any right to sue Kettering City Schools. Schoenlein’s contract, which was to expire July 31, 2015, calls for an annual salary of $130,000 plus benefits.

School board attorney Janet Cooper said the school district did not waive its right to take legal action against Schoenlein. That’s because the state auditor’s investigation of Kettering Schools is ongoing, and the district doesn’t know what the findings will be.

School Board President George Bayless read a statement supporting Schoenlein’s five years as superintendent.

“We all agree that Dr. Schoenlein has worked tirelessly for what he believed was in the district’s best interests,” Bayless said, touting Schoenlein’s knowledge of curriculum and support of teachers and students. “The parties agree that this parting is in the best interests of the school district, and the board looks forward to moving forward in maintaining educational excellence in the district.”

Schoenlein made a short statement to the Dayton Daily News 90 minutes after his resignation.

“We made great progress in Kettering City Schools in the past five years,” Schoenlein said. “We exceeded all expectations. I’m looking forward to doing that with some other school district.”

Kettering Schools’ state test scores have been the district’s best ever under Schoenlein, and the district has ranked in the top 10 in the state for student growth each of the past two years.

But the school board’s May 20 pre-disciplinary notice spelled out several problems with Schoenlein’s tenure.

In two separate cases, the board said Schoenlein intentionally excluded Clark from financial matters – one a state-ordered review of why the district employed a high number of aides, and the other a study of how much the district had saved in budget cuts, to be used in helping convince voters to support a levy.

Each time, when Clark was finally involved very late in the process, he pointed out that Schoenlein’s figures didn’t match the district’s financial records, leading to angry responses from Schoenlein.

The school board’s May 20 letter to Schoenlein summed up the situation: “The board expects the treasurer to take actions to protect the district, and if it comes to a choice between protecting the district and making you ‘absolutely furious,’ the board expects the district’s protection to take priority. We also expect the superintendent to support that expectation. We are, quite frankly, appalled that you appear to disagree.”

The letter said the board believes Schoenlein has placed the district “at legal and financial risk.”

Like Schoenlein, Clark can point to a record of achievement, having received the state auditor’s award with distinction three of the past four years.

Last week, Clark defended himself to the school board for several hours, with the board taking no action. Bayless said Monday that the district’s investigation of Clark is ongoing.

The district criticized Clark for failing to work cooperatively with Schoenlein, saying at times his motive seemed to be protecting himself or undermining Schoenlein. But Clark was not accused of any levy improprieties. In fact, the allegations letter against Schoenlein says Clark “made numerous attempts to limit campaign activity to appropriate times or forums.”

Asked if the school board should shoulder any of the blame for these problems, Bayless admitted that the board “probably should have intervened earlier” regarding levy campaigning on school time. Bayless served as levy treasurer in 2013, and former board member Jim Trent served as both levy committee co-chair and levy treasurer in 2010.

But Bayless said the school board did its job in urging Schoenlein and Clark to improve their relationship, specifically mentioning the issue in their 2012 evaluations and following up with them after the fact.

The next school board meeting is at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the board office, 3750 Far Hills Ave. Bayless said both Clark’s case and the search for a new superintendent could be discussed at that time. Former Vandalia-Butler superintendent Christy Donnelly is currently Kettering’s interim superintendent.

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