Hamburg School Superintendent Richard E. Jetter drove to Village Hall on Monday as members of his School Board were looking into an allegation that he had damaged his own car, which he said was vandalized during a May 6 meeting of the board.
According to a source in the district, Jetter, 39, a married father of three, walked into the Police Department and admitted that he had filed a false report about the damage to his car.
Jetter, who would soon be placed on leave by the School Board, then drove back to the Hamburg Administration Building on Abbott Road, where his office is on the top floor, and told a district employee that he had damaged his own car, the source said.
The superintendent left the building, the source said, and checked himself into BryLin Hospitals, a private provider of psychiatric and substance abuse care.
Now, as village police are investigating the vandalism claim, an acting superintendent was hastily appointed.
And the chaos that has become all too commonplace for the fractious School Board continued as members met in and out of executive session at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the situation.
After the board appointed Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Colleen B. Kaney acting superintendent, board members met briefly in executive session, then came out in public and were about to put Jetter officially on leave.
But some members said they needed more information.
“We just got a minute-and-a-half update on a very serious matter,” board member Cameron J. Hall said.
Board members Patti Brunner-Collins and Laura J. Heeter agreed. Board President David M. Yoviene then called a 15-minute break, and the board members talked in the hall, then convened another executive session.
Board member Sally A. Stephenson called town police about a disagreement between board member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci and district lawyer Andrew J. Freedman that erupted in the executive session. Two officers arrived and talked with board members. No arrests were made.
Board members and Freedman declined to comment.
Parents attending Wednesday morning’s meeting were hoping the dysfunction would soon end. They left disappointed.
“I think this is a three-ring circus,” said parent Robert V. Johnstun. “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.”
Johnstun called for a clean slate of new board members.
Edward L. 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.”
Piazza said that he feels bad for the Jetter family but that personal responsibility is paramount.
Parent and Hamburg attorney Daniel J. Chiacchia, who last year asked the state education commissioner to remove board member Holly A. Balaya and Stephenson, said he still believes that Stephenson and Schrauth Forcucci should be removed. Balaya’s term ended in June. But he did not defend Jetter.
“I feel bad for the district, bad for the community and bad for his family,” Chiacchia said, declining to say whether he had reached out to Jetter.
Supporters of the superintendent were hurt and deeply disappointed at the turn of events. One said his grandson asked him, “Grandpa, who do we trust?”
“I told him, that’s part of life. We have to gain respect, and hopefully things work out,” the grandfather said.
“It’s pretty tough, though,” said the grandson, a Hamburg High School student.
Jetter had been appointed in March by a split vote of the board, and many had looked to him as the man who would lead the district through the dysfunction of personal agendas, lawsuits and board members who don’t get along with one another.
Less than two months after he was appointed, the board filed official misconduct charges that could result in a board member being removed.
A week after that, the damage to the car was found. But a witness surfaced who saw a car that looked like Jetter’s being damaged in Buffalo the night before it was discovered in the parking lot. Jetter had even shown police a threatening note that he said he found under the windshield wiper that read: “Watch your back, you (expletive) sleezebag.”
Four days after the damage to Jetter’s car was discovered outside the board meeting, Jetter said someone had thrown eggs on his rental truck, which was parked in the driveway of his Town of Tonawanda home. He reported the incident to town police and said he felt it could be related to the vandalism of his car in Hamburg.
Wednesday, Town of Tonawanda police wouldn’t rule out investigating whether the egging incident was also made up, though it would be difficult to prove, said a police spokesman, Capt. Joseph F. Carosi.
“If the facts prove out that he fabricated the original story from Hamburg and we are able to prove that the incident was falsely reported in our town, then the option for us to pursue that would be available to us,” he said.
If the board moves to fire Jetter, it would have to conduct a hearing into any allegations of wrongdoing.
Jetter’s contract with the district entitles him to proceedings before an independent hearing officer in which the superintendent can present witnesses and a defense if the board seeks to terminate his contract because of inappropriate conduct.
The board and the superintendent also could come to a mutual agreement to terminate his five-year contract with the district immediately.
Under the terms of his contract, the district is required to give Jetter 60 days’ notice of a hearing to terminate his employment for “cause” – which could include “neglect by the superintendent of his duties and responsibilities, incompetence, insubordination, inefficiency” or “the commission of immoral acts.”
The hearing officer would make the final determination of whether Jetter would be fired, according to the contract. Jetter would be entitled to continue to receive his $164,000 salary and benefits while the hearing was pending.
While decisions regarding Jetter’s employment with the district are the responsibility of the local School Board, board members also may file a complaint with the state Department of Education if they have information that a certified educator has been “convicted of a crime or committed an act that raises a serious question as to his or to her moral character.”
Robert M. Bennett, chancellor emeritus of the state Board of Regents, said the future of a superintendent “entirely depends on the terms and conditions of the contract that the school board signed with the superintendent, and so the state doesn’t have any role in that at all, and typically the state does not engage in any personnel matters.” “That’s why a school board is elected,”Bennett said, “and that’s their duty and responsibility to handle hiring, firing, administrative leave decisions.”
If an individual or the board files a “Part 83,” part of the state’s moral character disciplinary procedures, Bennett said, the state would be involved in reviewing the information “and either conclude or not conclude that there’s a moral character issue here, but I haven’t heard any of that mentioned at all.”
State disciplinary action against a certified educator for conduct that raises questions of moral character generally commences only after local disciplinary action has concluded, according to Department of Education spokesman Jonathan Burman.
In the meantime, Hamburg Village Police Chief Dennis G. Gleason said his department is still investigating the case and may have more information later this week.
News Staff Reporters Denise Jewell Gee and Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org