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Hamburg School Board to conduct RFP search for legal services

[photo1]The Hamburg Central School Board has voted to approve sending out requests for proposals for legal services to represent the district, a move that accompanied and partially addressed long-standing concerns about the hiring process of currently retained district firm James D. Tresmond Esq. The decision was made during the board’s Nov. 12 meeting.

Board members approved the measure by a vote of 5 – 2, although this and other matters drew contention from district officials at the lengthy meeting.

Board Member Thomas Flynn III proposed the motion for the item, and fellow Board Member Laura Heeter made a second on the motion. Flynn, Heeter, Board President David Yoviene and board members Holly Balaya and Patricia Brunner-Collins voted in favor of the item, while Board Vice President Sally Stephenson and Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci cast dissenting votes.

Last July, Tresmond’s firm was hired to replace former district firm Harris Beach at a one-year salary of $110,000. Since that time, various district officials and school community members have criticized the hiring process and subsequent appointment of Tresmond’s firm, citing a lack of consultation and candidate selection in the hiring process.

Flynn questioned these items, as well as the assertion that the district was saving money employing Tresmond’s firm, during the board’s recent meeting. “I feel it’s been a bone of contention [in the district], since it was improperly looked into last July,” he said, about the Tresmond hiring.

“It would do the board a world of good to hit the reset button, and to review multiple firms. I don’t think we’re saving any money with the current contract. I think the process needs to be much more open, and we need to look at our options. [The past hiring process] was kind of crammed down everyone’s throat.”

Flynn added that implementing the RFP release for prospective new law firms will make the district more attractive to potential employees, including superintendents.

Flynn’s sentiment drew applause from the audience which, at times, exchanged verbal jabs with district officials.

Yoviene reiterated that the resolution did not officially replace Tresmond as the district’s law firm, but Flynn said that Tresmond’s firm would need to prove its candidacy, along with others that would be considered as part of the RFP release for the district. The board member added that case law presents the district with the option of paying Tresmond a pro-rated salary amount, in the event that another firm is found and selected to replace Tresmond’s firm.

Heeter agreed that the board’s decision to select Tresmond’s firm was a mistake, adding, “We owe it to the community to do things the right way.” Although she voted in favor of the RFP search, Balaya said that Tresmond’s reputation has taken an unfair hit, during the past several months.

Balaya and other district officials had said that they did not see the contract, prior to the special July 2 meeting to appoint Tresmond.

Stephenson defended Tresmond’s position as attorney for the district, adding that money is not available for the purpose of buying out the contract, in this hypothetical situation. Schrauth Forcucci said that the board’s decision to hire Tresmond should still hold weight, moving forward in this academic year.

Also during the meeting, the board passed a pair of resolutions to provide legal representation for former Board President Joan Calkins and former Superintendent Steven Achramovitch, in a complaint filed with the state division of human rights.

The complaint was stated as being filed by teacher Martha Kavanaugh against the district, regarding a letter Calkins sent to the community that was posted on the Hamburg District website last year.

That letter announced the board’s intention to sue Kavanaugh, Stephenson and Stephenson’s daughter Lindsey, a former teacher, adding that these individuals were responsible for the release of a transcript of a 2010 private executive session of the school board.

Kavanaugh’s complaint was recently amended to add Calkins and Achramovitch as respondents.

In other board news:

– District officials announced their intention to gather information regarding the concept of Buffalo School District students’ transferring to suburban schools.

Interim district Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter said the board’s approval to gather such information does not necessarily mean Hamburg will take on such students; this is data collecting and fact finding. Jetter added that such direction came after he attended an Erie 1 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services meeting regarding the transfer topic.

A large portion of transfer students encompass grades three – six. Jetter said that, should information amount to further developments, notices would be dispersed to residents and public hearings would be held, regarding the topic.

– A presentation held in the middle school auditorium yielded results that found Hamburg’s district, as a whole, to be largely maintaining enrollment, down 10 students overall, from this time last year.

Enrollment currently stands at 3,779, with 1,168 students at Hamburg High School, an increase of eight from last year. Other district buildings include Hamburg Middle (889, down 24 students); Union Pleasant Elementary (664, increased by 15); Charlotte Avenue Elementary (419, increased by seven); Armor Elementary (386, decreased by 10); and Boston Valley Elementary (253, decreased by six).

The listed enrollment does not include external, private student placements in the district. The average student-per-class guideline was stated as being fewer than or equal to 22, for kindergarten – first grade; and fewer than or equal to 25 for grades two – five. Balaya recommended that the district should not set a strict number as regulation for class size, given the constant fluctuation that takes place each year, in various buildings.

The next meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Union Pleasant Elementary auditorium.

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