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Questions and allegations persist from Hamburg school community

HAMBURG — Following a recent public meeting of parents and other members of the Hamburg school community – a session that featured statements of hope for the district and its administration moving forward – individuals at the Oct. 8 Hamburg Board of Education meeting presented school officials with further questions and concerns.

District resident Edward Piazza, who spoke at recent board meetings in addition to the Oct. 3 public meeting at Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, reiterated his desire for board members to explain the process of hiring District Attorney James Tresmond.

Piazza’s request also included officials’ providing proof of savings and a selection overview of Tresmond’s business in replacing former law firm Harris Beach, which was dropped by the district along with a related, pending lawsuit in July.

Many of Piazza’s previous requests during public comment session have been similar in nature, asking for more directness from district officials.

“I’m asking the board to change the public perception,” Piazza said, in regard to recent disputes between district officials. It was also reported that Hamburg police were called to a district building, last month, to respond to a report of a disruptive board member.

“It’s time to change the excuses and give transparency,” Piazza said. “No more words. We need action; please take the steps to fix this.”

Board members had listed escalating legal bills incurred through Harris Beach and the aforementioned lawsuit’s being dragged along in an expensive manner as grounds for dropping the firm in question. Piazza had previously asked officials for a description of the process in selecting Tresmond’s firm. He said that he has received no answers.

Hamburg resident and attorney Daniel Chiacchia cited “questionable motives” of district officials in recent years, saying that one board member became involved in district matters only because a member of his or her family had lost a job within the district.

Chiacchia added that funding for various board members’ campaigns has not been accounted for. The local resident said that re-funding a previous lawsuit (under the involvement of Harris Beach) should be considered, adding that the prior suit had started to gain steam in the information/litigation process against various noted wrongdoers, before the suit was dropped, over the summer.

“That’s why there was such a hurry [among certain board members] to end the lawsuit in July,” Chiacchia said, adding that prosecuting evidence “was getting real close. That incident [as part of the lawsuit] violated the students, the community, everybody. There are certain members of the board who do not have the best interest of the community.”

Other sentiment at recent board meetings had indicated frustration with content posted on the Hamburg Educational Ethics Blog, an anonymous site that includes information about the district and education-related topics.

Various community members and government officials had indicated that negative, inaccurate portrayals of themselves had been posted on the blog, often following occurrences of those individuals’ speaking at a public meeting.

Another process for Hamburg officials, moving forward, is to select a superintendent search consultant.

Proposals to the district have come from local, longtime Leadership Search Consultant Vincent Coppolla, at a cost of $12,500 plus printing ($200); Hazard Young Attea & Associates Ltd (of Illinois) at a cost of $17,500 and Castallo & Silky of Syracuse at a cost of $16,000.

Erie 1 BOCES remains a search option for the district, at a cost of $7,000. A search contract with BOCES would result in more than $5,000 in district aid in 2014 – 2015, equaling an eventual net cost of less than $2,000 for Hamburg, according to the board.

Board members Catherine Schrauth-Forcucci and Laura Heeter each noted Coppolla’s longtime success in successfully finding and placing candidates in area school districts. Heeter then said that Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Don Ogilvie’s past experience as school chief in Hamburg – coupled with the lower, comparable cost of BOCES as search consultant – make BOCES “an ideal choice.”

A public meeting regarding the search consultant will be held, in the near future.

The board also discussed interest from the village of Hamburg, in obtaining the former Southtowns Teachers Center on Union Street from the district. Possible future uses for the facility could include a community meeting site, visitor’s center with local archived information, and other mixed-use settings, according to the board.

Additionally, a presentation regarding a possible future project with Solar Liberty Energy Systems was outlined by Energy Consultant Kaci Nowadly.

According to Nowadly, the project would include a power and purchase agreement between the district and Solar Liberty, with Solar Liberty’s installing energy panels on building roofs and the district’s being a “customer,” buying the produced energy. A total 50-kilowatt system under this agreement would include a 5 1/2 cent-per-hour cost to the district.

Nowadly added that not only is the 5 1/2-cent cost cheaper than the usual 7 1/2-cent cost from most companies, but this project will be “environmentally beneficial” to Hamburg.

“There’s a high educational value [with learning opportunities for students presented from the on-site project] and we are being ‘green,’” Nowadly said.

The energy consultant added that companies other than Solar Liberty usually have escalating per-hour hour costs, during the life of a contract. A 15-year contract with Solar Liberty would not ever exceed a 5 1/2-cent cost per hour, according to Nowadly.

She added that panels installed as part of the project would be safe in position, requiring “hurricane force” winds to be blown off the roofs.

The next scheduled meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Hamburg Middle School.

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