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Board fills 2 vacant seats; Casal withdraws request to resign

The Tonawanda City School Board has resembled a revolving door in recent months.

Following a special meeting March 11, Lynn Casal assumed the same seat she left five months ago. It marks the fourth change on the seven-member board since October.

"The community is entitled to seven members," board President Sharon Stuart said Monday night. "We're going to move on."

Casal, who was serving as the board's vice president, abruptly resigned in October, citing personal reasons, but not before publicly reading a letter criticizing fellow board members. Her comments followed months of acrimony over Elizabeth Olka, a board member who faced criminal charges.

Olka pleaded guilty to harassment on Feb. 14, and as part of her plea deal she was forced to resign her seat on the School Board by Feb. 18.

On Feb 16, Casal sent the district clerk a request to withdraw her resignation, and once the board clerk officially accepted the letter, according to state education law, the seat could once again be Casal's because it had never been filled, and the move required no action from the board.

The board met on Feb. 16 to discuss both situations. At the meeting, the district's attorney, Chris Trapp, said the case was unusual because of the length of time between the resignation and the request to withdraw it. Members were also considering a request from resident Danielle Opalinski, who had expressed an interest in serving.

The board moved that night to appoint Opalinski to the board -- apparently to Casal's empty seat, as Olka had yet to officially resign her seat. However, the board appointed Opalinski again during a meeting on March 8, and officially swore her in. Stuart said Monday Opalinski was appointed to Olka's vacant seat, and was unsure of what exactly the board voted on regarding Opalinski Feb. 16.

"I would have to look specifically at that motion," Stuart said. "I wouldn't want to misspeak. There's no precedent for this taking place."

Casal, who did not return a call seeking comment, will serve out the remainder of her original term, which expires in 2013. Opalinski can only serve until June 30, unless she wins one of two open board seats in the upcoming May election.

Had the board not allowed Casal to regain her seat, Trapp suggested it could open the district up to legal action by Casal. Stuart explained the board wanted to move on without leaving taxpayers on the hook for more legal action, especially in a difficult budget year.

"The board had no control over this," she said. "I guess we could challenge [Casal's withdrawal of resignation], but the board chose not to. Until we got clarification [on the situation], there was nothing more the board could do."

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