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Removal of board member requested

A former Hamburg teacher has asked the state education commissioner to remove a School Board member for missing board meetings.

"The whole matter at hand is he's not coming to meetings," said Charles F. Mahoney, who filed a petition asking that Matthew A. Dils be removed from the board.

Dils was absent from 10 of the board's 21 meetings this year, including four successive meetings. State education law states that a member who "refuses or neglects" to attend three consecutive meetings of the board without giving a valid excuse "vacates his office by refusal to serve."

Dils said he did give prior notice and a valid excuse to board President Joan D. Calkins.

"I had a full-time job and had to work three of four meetings," said Dils, who is an Erie County corrections officer. "I've never refused to serve in all my 10 years."

Dils caused a furor when he voted at the May 8 meeting on the motion to have the school district provide him indemnification and legal representation to defend the petition. Calkins asked him before he voted whether he was going to abstain, and he said no.

"I vote yes because this is to protect myself and protect the board," he said at the board meeting.

The vote came a week before residents approved the 2012-13 budget that cut spending and jobs.

Dils now says he should not have voted on the measure.

"Yes, I should have abstained. Just stupid thinking, I guess," he told The Buffalo News. "I meant to say I was in support of it."

One board member, Holly A. Balaya, voted against paying for Dils' attorney. She said that the district's legal fees skyrocketed in the last year and that she does not want the district to pay to defend a board member for not coming to a meeting. She would have no problem paying for legal representation if a board member was sued for an action he took while on the board, she said.

"If Matt Dils wants to stay on the board, he can pay for it," she said.

Balaya noted that the district has laid off many employees over the last several years.

"To me, it's a slap in the face of the employees we are laying off," she said. "It's a slap in the face of taxpayers who overwhelmingly approved our budget."

Mahoney, a physical education teacher in Buffalo who used to work in Hamburg, noted that the district has had financial troubles in the past and that it needs board members to be monitoring the operations.

"There [have] been a lot of problems with the district in recent years," Mahoney said. "There are a lot of people who want to serve; he's not allowing it."

Dils said that he keeps up with what is going on in the district and that the superintendent sends weekly updates. He said he sent an email saying he was in favor of the budget, although he did not attend the meeting in which the board approved it.

Next year's budget cuts about 34 teachers and staff positions, some through retirement and some through layoffs, and reduces the athletic budget by $50,000.