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Dayton school board extends Lolli’s contract, with raise

By Jeremy P. Kelley, Dayton Daily News

Dayton’s school board voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the contract of Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli for another two years, through July 2023, with little comment from the board.

Lolli has led the district since November 2017 — first as acting superintendent when Rhonda Corr was put on leave, then formally after she was given a three-year contract in March 2018.

The public comments before the board’s vote were a mix of criticism and support for Lolli.

A handful of parents and community members asked the board not to keep Lolli. They cited severe staff turnover, continued busing and special education problems, low staff morale, and said students and families have not been listened to.

On the other side, Ruskin Elementary Principal Bryan Ertsgaard read a letter of support for Lolli from more than a dozen DPS elementary principals, citing her “unparalleled curriculum knowledge.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley sent in a statement praising Lolli for her many partnerships with the city. And a collection of union leaders urged the board to extend Lolli’s contract, saying she has worked hard, built good relationships with employee groups and made tough decisions.

In the middle was teachers union president David Romick, who did not explicitly advocate for or against Lolli’s extension. But Romick said the layoffs Lolli triggered during remote learning in the fall — which other local school districts did not do — set a negative tone for the year. He said decisions on hybrid learning and teaching from home led many teachers to lack confidence in district leadership.

The board was about to vote on the contract with no comment at all, when Vice President Will Smith spoke up and said a vote that important “warrants some discussion.”

“It’s about sustaining our district. We have to get to a point where we’re moving as … this DPS family,” Smith said. “What do we need to do, where are some of our gaps at, what does equity look like from top to bottom in our district? … We do have a lot more work to do.”

No other board members responded or commented, and the vote was 7-0 in favor of the extension.

Lolli thanked everyone who spoke in support of her extension. Near the end of the meeting, Lolli spotlighted recent improvements in academics, health services, staff pay and more. But she said there’s still much work to do on attendance, graduation and equity.

“These among other issues must be addressed,” Lolli said. “We remain accountable to ensure our students are receiving the very best education daily, so that their futures are bright. I will continue to have high expectations for our students and staff, so we all can be part of the rise in student achievement and success.”

The new contract will make Lolli the first superintendent locally with an annual base salary more than $200,000 per year, at $205,000 plus several significant perks, including a $35,000 annuity. Her existing three-year contact had a base salary of $175,000 annually.

Near the end of the meeting, board member Gabriela Pickett said the district could not afford to lose Lolli’s steady leadership during the chaos created by the COVID pandemic. She cited “clear signs of improvement” under Lolli, and she voted for the salary increase because it moved Lolli’s pay closer to that of Ohio’s other big-city school districts.

Lolli came to DPS as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in August 2016. She took over the top job just before midnight Nov. 21, 2017, when school board president Robert Walker called and asked her to, because Corr was being forced out. Her three plus years as superintendent have been full.

That 2017-18 school year was tumultuous for DPS. It began with a narrowly avoided teachers strike, included a school-closing task force, featured Lolli fighting with then apologizing to the state athletics association over a basketball eligibility scandal, and ended with DPS ranking dead last among the state’s 608 school districts in academic performance on state tests.

In 2018-19, Lolli’s first full year as superintendent, she continued making massive changes to curriculum, staffing and teacher training. DPS’ state report card grade climbed from an “F” to a “D” that year, and the district’s test score index made a small jump ahead of a few other districts.

In 2019-20 under Lolli, the district opened an in-school health center, increased staff pay to address teacher recruiting problems, struggled to solve issues with mental health services, committed to spending millions of dollars for facility upkeep, and tried another model, since dropped, to address student busing and attendance issues.

The 2020-21 year of course has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the district getting computers and internet access for students in need, and taking criticism for stopping classes between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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