HAMBURG HIGH SCHOOL
Allegations of defamation characterized a considerable portion of Tuesday’s (August 14) contentious meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board, as both district officials and community members criticized the actions of specific individuals.
In statements Tuesday during a fiery public session that followed a similarly disagreeable slate at a July 17 special meeting, Board Member Holly Balaya asked that the district consider introducing a policy that enforces the resignation of any person found to be in violation of district regulations that forbid school officials from mentioning or insinuating of names of specific individuals on public message boards or Hamburg’s district website. Board Member Sally Stephenson had filed at the July 17 meeting misconduct charges against attorneys of Harris Beach, which represents the Hamburg School District, also introducing a resolution stating that an allocation of more than $400,000 in district funds over the past two years to Harris Beach were essentially a misuse of taxpayer dollars.
The district had brought a lawsuit against Stephenson for allegedly, illegally taping a private executive session at a district meeting in September 2010.
Audience member Chris Cerrone, a social studies teacher at Hamburg Middle School, suggested that alleged emails sent between officials in the Springville School District and those in the Hamburg district could have contained slanderous material regarding employees in Hamburg schools, which he said can be construed as a violation of privacy.
The exchanged emails, Cerrone said, should be released for interpretation, to – if for no other reason – dispel the notion of such alleged defamation, adding that he believes that at minimum, Springville officials had committed violations by mentioning his name.
“We need some consistency here,” said Cerrone, himself a resident of Springville.
Hamburg High School teacher Martha Kavanaugh furthered allegations by stating that she had been the subject of alleged defamation in a public letter Cavanaugh said was authored by Board President Dr. Joan Calkins. The letter, Kavanaugh said, contains material that implicates the Hamburg High teacher was engaging in criminal activity such as taunting police officers, suggestions she said are completely untrue and lacks basis.
“You’ve taken this to another level and destroyed my reputation,” Kavanaugh said to Calkins, alleging that she has been harassed by the district and moved between teaching positions several times. “I will not tolerate my name (being mentioned) on the district website. Your personal agenda against me will stop.” Kavanaugh went as far as to say that Calkins should resign from the board. She added she will continue teaching in the Hamburg district during the 2012-13 year.
The board voted during agenda action items to approve the denial of grievance brought from the Hamburg Central Teachers Association. When the motion to deny the grievance was announced by Calkins, Kavanaugh laughed in mock reaction. The district had included Kavanaugh in the lawsuit for her role in allegedly participating in distributing the taped executive session.
Other audience members suggested that attacking district officials in an unbridled manner is not proper. District resident Blair Webster, speaking to Stephenson, said that conducting what he stated to be a “violent and vicious” Internet blog of district criticism is inappropriate. Also, Jo Ann Johnson, who described herself as Hamburg High English teacher from 1975-90, said community relations have been a major issue for the last two years in Hamburg, mainly due to illogical actions and statements made by individuals against the district. Johnson added that she “applauds” district officials in trying to maintain the private nature of executive session material, stating, “I can only hope that the good community members of Hamburg support (district officials) in this matter.”
The board voted to approve personnel changes on the agenda, with one item being the increase of $5,800 in annual salary for the district clerk, a hike said by district Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch to be included as part of the clerk’s expanded duties for 2012-13. Such duties are stated to entail notable hours required and added on top of the already full-time status of the position. It was also said that the salary raise comes through the transfer of monies from a position that had previously handled such duties that will now be given to the district clerk.
Other approved items included the board approving a new policy regarding concussion management in the district, as well as a resolution to incorporate both the town and village police departments in Hamburg to work with school officials in bringing about community awareness of drug and alcohol abuse. Achramovitch said the policy regarding concussions involves Bulldogs sports teams and Athletic Director Greg Witman, incorporating related data gathering, analyzing and benchmarking in prevention and treating of such occurrence. Meanwhile, the latter resolution makes note of both police departments within Hamburg being available to use resources – notably the Town of Hamburg PD’s narcotics unit – in helping the FCSD address the issue of drug and alcohol usage by students.
School officials will be expected to seek law enforcement assistance in furthering along a community forum that will inform parents and locals about trends regarding substance abuse by students, along with common signs and symptoms.
“We can’t do enough for our kids,” Stephenson said about prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
Also Tuesday, the board approved the creation of two full-time teaching positions in the area of elementary education, one servicing the first grade level at Charlotte Avenue Elementary, and the other at fifth grade in Armor Elementary. It was stated that swelled student enrollment within the two elementary classes had created the need for such positions.
Several audience members spoke in favor of additionally adding another position and accompanying class section of third grade at Charlotte Avenue Elementary, stating that the existing classes include as many as 25 students. Creating a learning environment with more-manageable class sizes, two parents stated, would be beneficial in responding to required state testing, which is slated to be initiated to students in the level of third grade.
Achramovitch said that although the district does not have additional staff at its current disposal to install at the requested areas, Hamburg officials are constantly studying enrollment trends that would create the need for a retroactive staff member to be brought along. The superintendent added that the district is always seeking alternate ways to provide new learning opportunities for students.