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A look back at other attempts to remove school board members

How do you remove a school board member?

The state education commissioner can remove a board member for willful violation or neglect of duty, or for disobeying a law, or a decision, order or regulation of the commissioner or the Board of Regents.

A school board can remove one of its own for official misconduct after bringing charges and having a hearing. If a member is removed by the board, the member can appeal to the commissioner.

Remember Catherine Schrauth Forcucci? The former Hamburg Central School Board member is one of several Western New York school board members removed from office. The School Board removed her in September 2014 after finding her guilty of official misconduct. The Forcucci hearing encompassed nine sessions over five months. She appealed her removal to the education commissioner, and is still waiting for a decision, even though the term she held ended June 30, 2016. Robbin List was appointed to fill the term in 2014 until May 2015, when election was held for the remaining year on the term.

Education commissioners have removed four Western New York school board members in the last 24 years:

  • Victor J. Turchiarelli’s seat on the Buffalo School Board was declared vacant in 1992 by then-Commissioner Thomas E. Sobol after Turchiarelli failed to attend board meetings for more than a year because of a back injury.
  • Sobol also removed Lackawanna School Board member Edward V. Sabuda in 1995 because he knocked another board member to the floor during a public meeting.
  • Then-Commissioner Richard P. Mills removed Bonnie R. Gifford and Robert J. Weller from the Lewiston-Porter School Board in 2008. The board had appointed them to fill the seats held by Edward M. Lilly and Scott A. Stepien. Lilly and Stepien were removed by the board for failing to complete required financial training, but Mills reinstated them after deciding the efforts to oust them were premature.

Education commissioners also have upheld some local boards that have thrown off board members charged with misconduct, including the Lackawanna School Board when it removed Mark L. Balen from the board in 1999 and the Jamestown School District, which removed Deann Nelson in 2006. Also locally, the Iroquois Central School Board removed Michael J. McCormick III in 1994 for misconduct.

Appealing to the education commissioner is not usually a speedy process. The commissioner’s legal staff will not review the petition until those charged have filed answers, the petitioner files a reply, and other briefs have been filed, according to the state Education Department. That process usually takes about eight weeks after the original petition is filed, unless the parties receive extensions.

Once the file is complete, the commissioner’s Office of Counsel tries to issue a decision within six to eight months, or eight to 10 months after the petition was filed, according to its website. But with hundreds of petitions to the commissioner filed every year for a wide variety of actions, there is no guarantee of a specific time frame, it said.

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