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School board candidates for May election come forward

HAMBURG — Three candidates, including one incumbent board member, have expressed interest in two Hamburg Central School District Board of Education seats that will be up for election, this May.

The candidates’ interest was expressed, during the Jan. 23 Hamburg Educational Information meeting, held at The Hub on McKinley Parkway.

Current Hamburg School Board Member Thomas Flynn, as well as community members Cam Hall and Candy Ditkowski, all parents of district children, spoke about why they are planning to run for these school board seats.

Flynn and Board Member Holly Balaya’s seats will be up for election, this May.

Hamburg Educational Information member Edward Piazza said it is not this group’s aim to endorse candidates; he added that considerable legwork is required for the candidates. He said that a community-based election committee will likely be needed for each candidate.

Flynn was described by several leaders of Hamburg Educational Information, including local attorney Daniel Chiacchia, as being “a voice of reason” on the current board, which has been embroiled in various controversies and lawsuits, during the past couple of years.

Currently in his third year on the board, Flynn has been involved with the Erie County Association of School Boards Legislative Committee and has attended the last two annual state school boards association seminars.

He had originally joined Hamburg’s Budget Ambassadors, a small group of community members. With a business background as an employee of M&T Bank, Flynn said that it is his goal to help the board get past its previous problems and bring about a productive future, citing his prior motion made at a recent board meeting to produce a request for proposal search for new district legal representation.

“I think we’re making headway,” Flynn said, regarding recent meetings’ actions. “I’m going into [this process] with an open mind. I would like to see good decisions made with developing board members in a positive way, and to keep pushing the resources we have available.”

During the school board’s Jan. 14 meeting, Hamburg officials had voted to approve the appointment of Hodgson Russ LLP as the primary district attorney, replacing James Tresmond’s firm, which had been hired amid controversy at a special meeting in July.

Tresmond and the board had agreed to terminate the firm’s contract, effective Dec. 31.

Flynn said that, despite the district’s past troubles, there is always hope of the board’s working toward a common goal.

“It’s very easy to play Monday morning quarterback,” Flynn said, in regard to public reactions to Hamburg’s controversies. “From my standpoint, when you’re on a board, it’s seven people trying to come to an agreement. A school board is not legislative; all seven of us were elected. It’s the way New York state works – holding general elections in very high regard, by the majority of voters. Democracy is an active sport.”

The district is currently in search of a permanent superintendent; it was recently announced that 19 candidates had submitted interested responses in the position.

Chiacchia credited Interim District Superintendent Richard Jetter for displaying “great leadership traits” recently, adding that Jetter could be a natural candidate for the permanent school chief position.

In November, Chiacchia had filed a petition with NYS Education Commissioner John King Jr. to remove board Vice President Sally Stephenson and her daughter (Balaya) from the board.

The attorney contended that these individuals had a conflict of interest that they did not disclose, before voting to seek a new attorney for the school district and in providing legal representation for the former board president and superintendent in a complaint filed against them. Both have denied that any conflict exists.

Stephenson’s term will end in June 2015. Chiacchia is a leader of Hamburg Education Information, which circulated petitions calling for an outside, independent investigation of recent board actions, as well as the resignations of Stephenson, Balaya and Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci.

Attendees said that submitted petitions had each generated more than 1,200 signatures. Chiacchia said that he believed the recent petitions to NYS have caught King’s attention; he added that he was informed that a subsequent petition timeline of between five and eight months could exist.

“I think the dust will settle, and sooner than later,” Chiacchia said, additionally citing a need to amend the district’s bylaws, which currently limit the superintendent’s power, but grant such capacities to a board entity vote. “This isn’t over. I’ll continue to battle. Politics were substituted instead of good, sound judgment.”

Hall and Ditkowski represent a pair of new voices in candidacy.

Hall and his wife moved to the district four years ago; the couple has two sons. Hall said the good reputation of Hamburg schools attracted his family to the area. He currently works as a senior manager at a software services company that provides health care; he also possesses a professional background in budget planning/business management and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

“A school district is the foundation of a good community,” Hall said. “I have an immediate and long-term vested interest in the district. I think the board can act with civility and respect.”

Ditkowski, who is originally from Ohio, has lived with her husband in the Hamburg district for nearly 10 years; the couple has three children attending district schools.

Like Hall, she said that she was attracted to the district because of the school’s known successes, both academically and extracurricularly.

Ditkowski serves on several school-related organizations, including the parent-teacher-student association executive board and district transportation committee. She is the parent liaison for the Hamburg Schools Parent Teacher Association to the Southtown Teachers Association Policy Board.

A homemaker, she said that she has longed for the opportunity to run for a school board seat.

“It’s been part of my plan for five years, and I’ve attended every board meeting I could get to,” she said. “I finally decided that this is the year.”

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