Community asks for removal of Hamburg School officials
Thursday November 21, 2013 | By:Steve Dlugosz | News
The grassroots community group of the Hamburg School District meeting on Nov. 13 led to the suggestion of petitioning for the removal of board Vice President Sally Stephenson, as well as two other board members.
The meeting was the third such gathering of the community group, which members said is composed of concerned parents, teachers and other members of the school district.
As was the case with the previous two community meetings, statements were made between audience members/presenters and certain district officials. Local parent Edward Piazza, a frequent speaker during school board public comment sessions, as well as local Attorney Daniel Chiacchia and district resident Wendy Evenden, spoke most frequently on behalf of the grassroots group.
Stephenson responded to various allegations and said that she would not resign from the board. Board President David Yoviene reiterated his questioning of the grassroots group’s motives, again stating his belief that the group has attacked certain district officials.
Board members Holly Balaya and Thomas Flynn III were also in attendance at the meeting. Former Board President Joan Calkins was a visitor and spoke on several occasions, offering various questions and statements in regard to what she said she believed could be helpful solutions for the district, moving forward.
Chiacchia accused Stephenson and Balaya of having a conflict of interest in various matters related to recent board votes. The 25-year attorney cited problems dating back a few years, including what he called misbehavior from Stephenson, former district employee Lindsey Stephenson and district teacher Martha Kavanaugh. Community members spoke about various forms of intimidation that they said have been used by the individuals – including threats against teachers – although Sally Stephenson denied such accusations.
“Never once have I threatened anyone in the district,” the board vice president said, welcoming any sort of hypothetical investigation into her or other district officials’ actions. “There’s nothing I have to hide ... I’m up here talking in a room that hates me.”
Several audience members remarked that Stephenson should resign. Chiacchia agreed with those sentiments, saying, “If she really had the best interests of this community at heart, she would get up here and resign.”
One day after describing the community group’s motives/efforts as a “witch hunt,” at the Nov. 12 board of education meeting, Yoviene defended district officials and described their intentions as good at heart.
“All seven board members have our teachers’ backs,” Yoviene said, listing several academic success indicators of Hamburg High School. “Our teachers do an outstanding job.”
A woman in the audience commented that many of the district’s teachers did not attend the Wednesday and prior meetings, “simply out of fear of incurring lawsuits and intimidation” by the aforementioned individuals. The woman added that as many as 20 district teachers still were present in the room for Wednesday’s meeting, held at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Boston. Approximately 200 individuals in total attended the session.
Piazza said that the need to begin petitioning in the district for removal of at least Stephenson from the board exists, adding that this process could take “in the thousands” to generate action, moving forward.
It was eventually said, by attendees, that petitions would be circulated, to support the resignation of Stephenson, Stephenson’s daughter and Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, for what the group called repeated violations of district policies and the code of ethics.
“At what point do you say, ‘I’ve got to listen to the people?’” Piazza asked Stephenson.
Chiacchia added that petitioning or other actions against the individuals include the idea of “going after [school] officials who broke the law.”
The next meeting of the grassroots community group will take place on Dec. 2 at Hamburg Presbyterian Church, located at 177 Main St.
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