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Hamburg School Board votes to charge member with misconduct

Hamburg Central School Board members charged one of their colleagues with official misconduct Wednesday night, but the specific charges were not made public, and may never come to light.

Many in the audience stood and applauded at the end of the meeting where the board approved charges of misconduct against Catherine Schrauth Forcucci in a 4-2 vote. If found guilty, she could be removed from office.

Schrauth Forcucci did not attend the meeting on the advice of her attorney, Margaret Murphy. Murphy said she did not want her client answering questions in executive session.

In the event charges are laid against Schrauth Forcucci, she has a right to refute them, Murphy said.

“We want that done in an open forum,” Murphy said.

She also said that since Schrauth Forcucci could not vote on the items on the agenda because they involve her, there was no reason for her to be at the meeting.

But Andrew J. Freedman, the attorney for the district, said after the meeting the board will not make the charges public, and Schrauth Forcucci does not have the right to an open hearing.

“It’s been a tumultuous time. We are looking to close this loop. We don’t believe it is in the best interests of the district to have an open hearing,” Freedman said. “In order to close this loop and get the board functioning again, and focused on children, this is what we need to move forward.”

The district has had chaotic times for months, going back to the release of a secret audio recording of an executive session in 2010. Volatility continued with the election of three new board members, including Schrauth Forcucci, last May. Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch resigned abruptly, then the new board put him on administrative leave and hired a new attorney last July. Then the majority on the board shifted and another law firm was hired.

Parents organized and formed a group, Hamburg Education Information, that actively pursued the removal of Schrauth Forcucci and Board Members Sally Stephenson and Holly Balaya. One of the leaders of the parents group, Daniel J. Chiacchia, filed an appeal to the state education commissioner to remove Stephenson and Balaya, which was denied in March.

Chiacchia said Wednesday’s action by the board was a long time coming.

“She has done nothing but continue the chaos we are trying to eliminate,” he said. “My only hope is they go after Sally Stephenson, who has done worse things.”

Stephenson and Balaya voted against the official charges. Stephenson said it was a sad day for Hamburg, trying to remove a board member who was elected by the public. She said Schrauth Forcucci is a “fine woman” who is intelligent, forthright and concerned about the budgetary process. She also predicted the misconduct charges and hearing process will cost the district $250,000 or more.

“Week after week I’ve seen her booed, hissed, condemned, and it bothers me,” Stephenson said, referring to the public’s reaction. “Whether you like an individual or not, debate is important and debate is what she brought to this table.”

“I don’t think this is the opportunity to grandstand and make grandiose statements,” Board Member Thomas Flynn III said. “This is the time for the board to stand together. All these items are going to come out in the hearing.”

Balaya said it would save the board a lot of money if it went directly to the state education commissioner, since if the final vote is against Schrauth Forcucci, she can appeal to the commissioner.

“It’s still up to the commissioner, so you take it out of our hands and you give it to the lawyers and the commissioner,” Balaya said.

Freedman, the board’s attorney, said the board would arrange a hearing date with Schrauth Forcucci. The board hired Freedman, or his designee, to prosecute the charges, and David H. Hoover as the hearing officer.

The School Board would determine if she is guilty, and then consider the consequence, which could be removal from office.

He said members of the community should trust the board, and the six elected board members who will decide Schrauth Forcucci’s fate.

“We have elected officials to make that decision,” he said. “We have to trust in our elected officials that they are acting within the scope of their duty and under the oath they took for the administration of their office.”