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Hamburg School Board has become a roadblock to a quality education

Hamburg School Board members continue to behave badly while seeming to ignore issues that are holding the district of 3,700 students back.

It’s time for them to grow up.

That’s pretty much what state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in rejecting a petition to remove two Hamburg Central School Board members. King’s unusual public scolding came in a written decision denying the petition of parent Daniel J. Chiacchia to remove Vice President Sally Stephenson and her daughter, board member Holly Balaya.

“The record before me illustrates all too well how conflict and an atmosphere of this nature can interfere with the board’s ability to govern the affairs of district and can undermine the public’s confidence in its elected School Board,” King wrote.

He went on to “strongly urge respondents and the board to engage in constructive discussions – not only as a board, but also with district staff and the community – aimed at eliminating conflict and achieving the best possible governance of the school district.”

King was right to reject the petition. Stephenson and Balaya were elected to the board, and barring gross misconduct, voters can decide when they should go.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about the entrenched political infighting involving both board members and members of the community. The bad behavior – numerous accusations of wrongdoing, finger-pointing by board members at each other and by community members at board members, raucous board meetings supporting one or two individuals while screaming for the dismissal of those same individuals, is embarrassing and unproductive.

Maybe the School Board should sell tickets to this circus. The March 11 board meeting got so out of hand that the gavel broke. Board President David Yoviene was left picking up the pieces, and that may have been easier than trying to piece together order among adults.

Board members were in full form, yelling and tossing accusations. The audience played its part by erupting into a standing ovation when the district’s interim superintendent was confirmed as the permanent superintendent.

The vote in favor of Richard E. Jetter came in at 4-2, with one board member absent. Stephenson and board member Catherine Schrauth-Forcucci opposed the appointment because, they said, they got the five-year contract just hours before the meeting. Moreover, they objected to Jetter’s starting salary of $164,000, which rises to $169,000 in 2019. The generous salary for the new superintendent, especially in light of the district’s $2.2 million budget gap, would have been suitable for further discussion that was calm, public and transparent.

Defending the hire, Yoviene said: “In the end, we chose the guy that we knew could handle the dysfunction … We chose the guy that’s one of us, that’s a part of our family.”

The Hamburg School Board is, without question, one of the most dysfunctional “families” in all of Western New York. When, exactly, do the make-believe adults in the family plan on growing up? We hope that it’s soon, for the kids’ sakes.