Internal strife increases as Hamburg School Board members air fears - The Buffalo News

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Internal strife increases as Hamburg School Board members air fears

Drama continues in the Hamburg Central School District.

In the latest episode of the soap opera-like dysfunction that has plagued the board for three years, two board members said they are afraid to attend board meetings, and a third is under investigation, accused of harassing a principal.

This comes as the School Board prepares to appoint a superintendent and grapples with a $2.23 million budget gap.

Vice President Sally Stephenson and her daughter, Board Member Holly Balaya, said they do not feel safe at board meetings as long as Boston Valley Principal James Martinez, who also is the district’s safety officer, attends the meetings. They did not attend the board’s meeting Tuesday.

“I am shaken to the core, and I am afraid,” Stephenson said in an email to the board president. “It has become unsafe for me to attend.”

“I fear Jim Martinez,” Balaya said.

Martinez said as a district employee he is not authorized to comment. But Interim Superintendent Richard Jetter, who has been selected by the board to be the permanent superintendent, supported Martinez.

“Principal Jim Martinez is also our safety liaison and coordinator for the district. He works hard not to put people in any dire straits,” Jetter said.

Balaya said Martinez followed her out of a community meeting in October and told her forces were out to get several board members, and that a member of her family would lose her job if Stephenson and Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci “don’t keep their mouths shut.”

Stephenson said she just recently heard the tape of that exchange.

But some critics of the women question the timing of their emails, which came after a disagreement between Schrauth Forcucci and Martinez that has prompted a police investigation.

Also, Martinez has filed an internal complaint of a hostile work environment against Stephenson, Balaya, Schrauth Forcucci and two employees of the district, according to five district sources who did not want be identified because they are not authorized to speak about personnel issues.

Martinez and Schrauth Forcucci had words in the hallway of Union-Pleasant Elementary School on Feb. 11, as the board was preparing to go into executive session to interview Jetter for the superintendent’s position. Jetter’s wife also was present.

Board President David Yoviene and two others said at least one board member felt uncomfortable with someone in the audience that night, and Martinez was accompanying the board members to the room to make sure they got there without incident.

But Martinez has been told by the interim superintendent not to have contact with Stephenson, Balaya and Schrauth Forcucci because of the internal complaint he filed against them, and they have been instructed not to have contact with him. Stephenson and Schrauth Forcucci objected to Martinez’s presence in the hall, and Schrauth Forcucci told Martinez he was supposed to stay away. The words escalated, and one observer called the exchange “ugly.”

Four district sources said Martinez filed a complaint with Hamburg Village Police over the incident. Police have not returned calls seeking comment.

In an email to Yoviene, Stephenson said she had just recently listened to the tape of Martinez made after the Oct. 4 community meeting and that he made threats against her and her family.

“I could not believe my ears when hearing what James Martinez had to say as he pursued Holly [Balaya] in the parking lot,” Stephenson wrote.

She said he laid out “the groundwork of threats against me, my family, an employee of the district and other board members.” She accused him of creating a culture of fear and intimidation and said that events over the past several months indicate there were attempts to carry out the threats. Stephenson also said that recently she and some of her friends and family have been stalked, but she did not say by whom.

“I will not be in attendance this evening because of the hostility which exists, which I view could become violent and is based in a pervasive ‘hate’ culture, one of deception, lies and misinformation that has been encouraged in Hamburg,” she said.

She and Balaya accused Martinez of making up stories.

Jetter and Yoviene noted that an officer from Hamburg Village Police attends every board meeting. Yoviene said there are other people on the board who say they want Martinez at the board meetings.

“Jim Martinez is an employee of the district. He is the safety officer,” he said. “I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”


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