School Board member’s ouster pushed at rancorous meeting in Hamburg - The Buffalo News
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School Board member’s ouster pushed at rancorous meeting in Hamburg

Two hundred parents, community members and staffers cheered Wednesday night at the suggestion that Sally A. Stephenson be removed from the Hamburg Central School Board.

They decided to circulate petitions supporting the resignation of Stephenson, her daughter, Holly A. Balaya, and Catherine Schrauth Forcucci for alleged repeated violations of district policies and the code of ethics.

There was no immediate indication that any of them planned to resign.

Stephenson and Balaya attended the meeting Wednesday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Boston, which was the third community gathering called by a group of parents led by Edward L. Piazza and attorney Daniel J. Chiacchia. The group is trying to address unrest and turmoil in the district.

Chiacchia accused Stephenson and Balaya of having a conflict of interest they did not disclose at the School Board meeting Tuesday night.

“If she really had the best interests of this community at heart, she would get up here and resign,” Chiacchia said.

Stephenson did not say she would resign, but she agreed with those who said the district should be investigated. “I would love the attorney general to come in here and investigate all our records,” she said.

The meeting was marked by exchanges among Chiacchia, Balaya and Stephenson, with many people shouting down Stephenson and groaning when she asked to speak. “I’m up here in a room that hates me,” she remarked at one point.

Piazza said the group would email parents the petitions and a fact sheet, and they would be collected at the next community meeting Dec. 2.

Wednesday’s gathering was the second raucous meeting in as many nights, after Tuesday’s School Board meeting produced several actions of note: The board voted, 5-2, to seek requests for proposals for a new attorney for the district, and Board President David M. Yoviene pleaded with his colleagues to “stop this war” that has disrupted the board for months.

“We’ve got to stop this war. We’ve got to stop this crazy witch hunt,” he said Tuesday.

Yoviene and Board Member Thomas F. Flynn III also attended Wednesday’s community meeting.

Three board members who voted to hire attorney James D. Tresmond nearly six months ago were in favor of seeking proposals for new legal counsel Tuesday night.

Tresmond’s hiring in a special meeting July 2 was one of the first actions by the new board majority.

It was criticized by two board members who said they did not have time to interview him or review his contract before it was presented, and by others who cited his lack of experience in education law.

But Vice President Stephenson, who joined Schrauth Forcucci in voting against seeking interest from other law firms, defended Tresmond.

“He’s a fine person,” she said, adding that he had served as a principal and superintendent for more than 20 years and has a background in special education. “We can’t afford to buy out his contract. We don’t have the money.”

“I think this process needs to be much more open,” Flynn said. “I think we need to take a look at our options.”

Balaya said that she had asked about proposals in past years but that it was not pursued.

Also Tuesday, Stephenson and Schrauth Forcucci cast the no votes on providing legal representation for former board President Joan G. Calkins and former Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch in a complaint filed with the state Division of Human Rights.

Teacher Martha Kavanaugh filed a complaint against the district over a letter to the community by Calkins that was posted on the district website last year. The letter announced the board’s intention to sue Kavanaugh, Stephenson and Stephenson’s daughter, Lindsey, a former teacher, saying they were responsible for repeatedly releasing a recording or a transcript of a School Board executive session conducted in 2010. The complaint was amended recently to add Calkins and Achramovitch as respondents.

Stephenson and Schrauth Forcucci argued that the posting of the letter on the district web site was outside the scope of the board president’s duties, the request for legal representation was late and not signed, and under state law could not be honored. Other board members argued that indemnifying the former officials was the ethical, correct and legal course of action.


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