Rift in Hamburg School Board goes back years - The Buffalo News

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Rift in Hamburg School Board goes back years

By the time Richard Jetter began running the Hamburg Central School District in July 2013, the dividing lines on the Board of Education were already bitterly drawn.

A secret recording, threats and lawsuits had overshadowed the board’s work for years.

That acrimony had hardened the Board of Education into two camps: those who supported board member Sally Stephenson and those who did not.

Stephenson had been at the center of school district controversy long before she was elected to the School Board in 2012. Her daughter, Lindsey Stephenson, was fired in 2010 as a teacher in the school district, and a secret recording of a closed-door board discussion of her termination surfaced.

Stephenson contended the tape proved her daughter was wrongfully fired, but others thought she had a hand in secretly recording the meeting.

The fallout led to a lawsuit, shifting board alliances and, eventually, high-profile proceedings this spring to kick one School Board member, Stephenson ally Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, off the board.

As the board controversy deepened, then-Superintendent Steven Achramovitch abruptly announced his retirement in June 2013, and a divided board named Jetter, then an assistant superintendent for human resources and technology, to temporarily run the school district.

The search for a permanent superintendent took place against a backdrop of continued board hostility and intensifying pressure from parents to address the divide.

By December, parent Daniel J. Chiacchia sought a decision by State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to remove Sally Stephenson and another one of her daughters, Holly Balaya, from the board. The commissioner eventually rejected the request to remove the board members, and Balaya did not seek re-election.

After a superintendent search involving 19 candidates, the board in March settled on Jetter for the permanent post. But the decision did little to quell the School Board divide. The night the board gave Jetter a five-year contract, the meeting was marked by angry outbursts and a standing ovation.

Less than two months later, the divided board voted to pursue charges of official misconduct against Schrauth Forcucci. Those proceedings, first held in secret and later opened to the public under court order, are still ongoing.

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