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Tempers boil over and shenanigans ensue at recent Hamburg School Board meeting

THANK YOU — Hamburg Schools Interim Superintendent Richard Jetter is pictured presenting Boston Valley Elementary Principal James Martinez with a gift of appreciation, to recognize Martinez\'s efforts to assist an injured individual at Boston Valley Elementary in August. Photo by Steven Dlugosz.
More than a difference of opinion existed between school officials at the Sept. 10 Hamburg Central School Board meeting.

A 10-minute recess was called, during the loud and contentious meeting that included an argument between board members Thomas Flynn III and Catherine Schrauth Forcucci; at one point, Flynn stormed out of the meeting, then returned, following the last minute recess.

The outburst resulted in new student-board representative Kaley Reardon’s exiting the meeting with her parents, before she could be addressed by the board in regard to her serving as the student representative for the upcoming academic year.

Contention began when Schrauth Forcucci and board Vice President Sally Stephenson began citing various legal bills – which, according to Director of Administrative Services Barbara Sporyz, were $21,446 in June – incurred by the district in regard to previous lawsuits filed through former district law firm Harris Beach.

One lawsuit is now reported to be privately directed, but not involving the district as an entity. Schrauth Forcucci made a motion for the district to invite New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and the state attorney general to Hamburg, to conduct an investigation of related district funds she said were spent inappropriately. Board President David Yoviene said that he did not agree with Schrauth Forcucci’s suggestion or motion, adding, “This is a time bomb thrown at the board and I don’t like it.”

Flynn called Schrauth Forcucci’s suggestion/motion figuratively “kicking a dead horse,” later transitioning the topic and saying that Schrauth Forcucci and other district officials had conducted a hasty search for a new district law firm (eventually appointing Tresmond Law, James Tresmond Esq. to a one-year contract at the July 2 meeting) to replace Harris Bearch, while he and other board members were not given any advance notice or information.

Schrauth Forcucci repeatedly tried to speak above Flynn in the course of questioning the president’s timing and reason for directing such material.

Flynn packed up his belongings and said, “I’m out of here. I’m sick of this,” before leaving the school building. Fellow Board Member Patricia Brunner-Collins suggested that the rest of the board members take a recess to collect themselves.

When the meeting resumed at 9 p.m., Schrauth Forcucci, who was seated next to Flynn earlier in the meeting, was asked to sit elsewhere. She then sat in the seat vacated by Reardon. Yoviene reminded those present that all speakers at meetings must ask the chairperson for permission to speak.

The motion by Schrauth Forcucci to invite a state investigation into the district’s spending was voted down by a board margin of 5 – 2, with Schrauth Forcucci’s and Stephenson’s casting votes in favor of the item.

Interim District Superintendent Richard Jetter said that the incident did not supersede a “great start” to the academic year for students and teachers in the district.

“We had a terrific opening at school,” he said. “We’re [in the district] for mutual respect. We apologize for what happened at the meeting. We are moving forward.”

During the public comment session, district resident Edward Piazza asked district officials how many firms they had sought and interviewed, as part of the search process. Piazza also asked how Tresmond’s firm stood out from the rest, in terms of effectiveness and specialty.

“I just want transparency,” Piazza said.

Another district resident cited the “ongoing antics” of the Hamburg Educational Ethics blog, stating what she believed to be inappropriate material that violated a code of conduct in relation to district matters. The speaker called the information posted “cyber-bullying” of school officials, citing what she said were defamatory untruths.

“One more time, I ask you to take a stand against [anonymous blog postings from] the Hamburg community,” she said. “Is this the community you want to live in?”

District officials had previously dropped a lawsuit against the site’s bloggers, a suit in which Harris Beach had been involved.

In other meeting action:

– Yoviene announced that recent discussions with Erie 1 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services had generated the determination that BOCES could conduct a search process for a permanent superintendent in Hamburg at a cost to not exceed $7,000.

– Jetter presented an award of recognition to Boston Valley Elementary School Principal James Martinez for the administrator’s role in tending to a person who had been injured in a motor vehicle accident in front of Boston Valley on Aug. 8.

Martinez and another individual had assisted the person who had sustained blood loss, before the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department responded. The fire department submitted recognition to Martinez for his efforts, sentiments which were relayed to the Hamburg School District.

– Jetter, who has been handling many district duties as interim superintendent and director of human resources and technology, has been given some assistance. The board granted an additional duties stipend to a few employees who have lessened some of the burden for Jetter, while helping to assist with duties related to his positions. A 15 percent hourly wage increase was approved for the staff, per the district’s past practice policy.

The next meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at Hamburg Middle School.
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