Chaos seemed to reign in the shell-shocked Hamburg Central School District today, when the School Board unanimously voted to put Superintendent Richard E. Jetter on administrative leave, appointed an acting superintendent, and police were called for an incident in executive session.
Assistant Superintendent Colleen Kaney was named the acting superintendent.
The public sessions of the meeting were raucous as one board member called police when the board returned from a brief executive session.
“Take it outside,” board president David Yoviene told Sally Stephenson, who was talking to police on her cell phone as the public session resumed the first time.
Stephenson told Hamburg Town Police that the district’s lawyer, Andrew Freedman, grabbed Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci during the executive session.
Police responded and talked to Schrauth Forcucci.
Before the board moved to place Jetter, 39, on administrative leave, several board members said they wanted more information.
“We just got a minute-and-a-half update on a very serious matter,” Board Member Cameron Hall said.
Board Members Patti Brunner-Collins and Laura Heeter agreed. Yoviene then called a 15-minute break, and the board members talked in the hall.
Police arrived, and the board went into a conference room, then formally went into executive session.
Parents who waited for the board to come out of executive session were hoping the dysfunction would soon end.
“I think this is a three-ring circus,” parent Bob Johnstun said. “This board, it doesn’t work. They’re so wrapped up in their pettiness, they can’t act civil in a meeting, let alone in the hall.”
He called for a clean slate of new board members.
Ed Piazza, a leader of a parent group that supported Jetter and called for the removal of several board members last year, said he has always had the interests of the district at heart.
“I’ve never stood for one individual. I’ve always stood for the kids,” he said. “If someone messed up and is not doing the best for the district, they need to step down.”
He said he feels bad for the Jetter family, but personal responsibility is paramount.
“If your goal is the district and the kids in the district, then no individual is bigger than that.”
Today’s naming of an interim superintendent came a day after the district announced that Jetter is under investigation by police and that two administrators would be filling in for him. Board members also learned there were questions about a May incident in which his car was damaged.
A witness surfaced who challenged the prevailing belief that a vandal during a May 6 school board meeting damaged Jetter’s white Nissan Maxima, leaving a typed note under his windshield wiper that said: “Watch your back, you (expletive) sleezebag.” The incident shocked the school community and was a sign that the tumult in the district had crossed the line.
Teachers and others rallied behind Jetter the following day.
The witness met with an investigator hired by an attorney representing Schrauth Forcucci, who is charged with misconduct and could be removed from office.
The witness also spoke with The Buffalo News and said that the damage did not happen in the school parking lot. Rather, the witness said, it happened in South Buffalo the day before the School Board meeting. A man driving what appeared to be the superintendent’s car accidentally struck a brown wooden utility pole, according to the witness.
Hamburg village police are “conducting an investigation involving School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter,” the school district said Tuesday.
Last week, Police Capt. Michael C. Melisz told The Buffalo News that the investigation of what happened to Jetter’s car remained open and that he welcomed anyone with information to come forward.
Jetter did not respond to an attempt to reach him Tuesday and a source in the district said he was not in the district office. But in a July 11 interview, Jetter vehemently denied that the damage to his car occurred the night before the meeting. “That’s ridiculous,” he told The News. “That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Tuesday’s revelations were a dramatic turn in turmoil that has plagued the district for the past three years.
First one board faction won control, then another. Then the board sued over the leaked recording of an executive session – and in the process tried to uncover the identity of a critical blogger – then a new board dropped the suit. The current board is trying to throw out Schrauth Forcucci, arguing she verbally abused the superintendent, the board president and staff.
Today’s special meeting was originally scheduled to discuss negotiations with the Hamburg Teachers Association