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STATE EDUCATION CHIEF DISMISSES CHARGES IN PETITION

It took more than a year, but state Education Commissioner Richard Mills' response to a petition against the Orchard Park School Board is in.

In it, Mills dismissed all of Debra Noonan's charges regarding a district newsletter in December 1998 but also criticized former School Board President Richard McKenica.

Noonan filed the petition after a November 1998 board meeting in which the board authorized a letter to district residents to be written by McKenica and former Vice President Ben Keller.

The letter, according to McKenica, was intended to restore the community's confidence in the School Board. He said it had been damaged by criticism, particularly regarding his role in his wife's application for a school nursing position.

In the newsletter, McKenica referred to "bigoted, uninformed mudslingers" seeking to sidetrack the board and said his wife's application for a district job had only made him aware of inequities in the district's hiring practices.

Noonan asserted the board had violated laws prohibiting board members from using public money to publish only the personal opinions of McKenica and Keller as well as contesting the legality of the board meeting.

McKenica, who lost his bid for a third School Board term in May, said he wasn't surprised that all of Noonan's assertions were turned back.

"We wouldn't have done this if we weren't sure it was OK," McKenica said. "It was just something to make the board look bad going into elections."

Noonan said she didn't regret filing the petition.

"The thing I was most concerned with was addressed," Noonan said. "I wanted to make sure people knew (the board) had gone over a line in publishing this special bulletin. The commissioner, in very careful language, cautioned the board there were portions of the bulletin that caused him concern."

In particular, Mills wrote, "The first two pages of the eight-page article appear to be a diatribe by . . . McKenica as to his personal feelings."

Mills also noted that the issue of hiring practices had not been mentioned in the draft supplied to board members when the letter was approved.

"Looking at it, maybe I shouldn't have expounded on my wife as much as I did," McKenica said. "But what kind of husband would I be if I didn't stick up for my wife?

"I'm a little upset he didn't understand why I put the things in there that I did. I guess you had to be there to realize that, because of the things that were thrown at me, I had to get some confidence in the board back."

Orchard Park Superintendent Charles L. Stoddart said the letter of resolution would be on the agenda for the Feb. 15 board meeting.

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