John Mitch Balonek tells supporters in the gallery he loves them as he is escorted out of the courtroom.
A former Scott High School teacher was sentenced yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to three years in prison for having sex with a 16-year-old female student.
John "Mitch" Balonek, 48, was told by Judge Denise Ann Dartt he violated the trust the victim's guardians and others placed in him and the Toledo Public Schools to educate and care for their children.
"When something like this happens, it creates a breakdown in the system and a lot of mistrust that can be very unhealthy," the judge said.
A well-liked instructor among students and an unsuccessful Toledo City Council candidate, Balonek, of 2631 Sherbrooke Rd., pleaded no contest and was found guilty April 16 to sexual battery in connection with a relationship he had with the student, who has since turned 17.
The student, who was not present in court, was removed from Balonek's English class at the high school in November at the insistence of the girl's foster mother, who became aware of inappropriate conduct between the girl and Balonek.
Judge Dartt said the guardian's request should have been a warning.
"That would indicate to me that there had been some concern. That should have been the trigger that this has got to stop. But it did not," the judge said.
The foster parent went to the school district with concerns about the defendant after learning the victim had dinner at Balonek's home, and after finding the girl with Balonek in his car while it was parked outside the guardian's home.
Sylvania Township police found Balonek in his car with the girl Jan. 7 in an empty parking lot of a business in the 7100 block of Granite Circle near the University-Parks Trail.
He and the girl were not wearing shoes, and they were putting on their clothes when officers found them. The officers found a used condom in the back of the car.
Both Balonek and the victim admitted to police in separate interviews to having a sexual relationship, which began about a month earlier.
In asking the judge for leniency and mercy, Balonek said he made a terrible and costly mistake and assured the court it would not happen again.
"I betrayed the trust of my students and my profession. It was very unprofessional the way I acted. I deeply, deeply regret my actions. If I had to do it over again, I would have made different choices," he said.
The defendant's wife and children were among his supporters at the hearing. They appeared visibly upset with the punishment imposed by the judge.
Balonek could ask the court for early release after he completes six months of the sentence. His early release would be up to Judge Dartt.
Balonek was suspended by the school district without pay Jan. 10. He resigned from his $46,000-a-year job May 3.
The resignation is to go before the school board for approval at its next scheduled meeting, on June 7.
Balonek finished with 4,928 votes as an independent candidate for council in Toledo's primary election last September, placing him 13th among 16 candidates. The top 12 vote-getters in the primary election went on to battle for the six at-large seats in the November election.
Balonek is the second area high school teacher convicted of a sex crime involving a student this year. Nicole M. Long, who was an English teacher at Ayersville High School in Defiance County, was convicted of having sex with a 17-year-old male student in her home in Defiance.
Long, who pleaded guilty to sexual battery in Defiance County Common Pleas Court, was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
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