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'Lightning rod' teacher retires, closing a chapter in Hamburg chaos

A teacher who was in the midst of the chaos in the Hamburg Central School District has retired, ending the district's three-year effort to fire her.

The School Board approved social studies teacher Martha Kavanaugh's retirement during a special meeting Saturday morning. The retirement was effective July 1. Kavanaugh had been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 15, 2014.

The board authorized Superintendent Michael Cornell to execute a settlement agreement.

"Pursuant to the terms of that agreement, the school district is unable to disclose further details," Cornell said.

Martha Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh could not be reached to comment.

The district has spent more than $200,000 in legal fees related to issues involving Kavanaugh and efforts to terminate her.

The district tried to fire Kavanaugh through what is known as a 3020-a hearing. The hearing officer accused the district of “bad faith” and “unacceptable conduct” in seeking to dismiss her, and ruled in her favor. But the district challenged his decision in State Supreme Court, and Justice Frederick J. Marshall last fall vacated the hearing officer's decision, and ordered that a new hearing be conducted.

The board had charged her in 2015 with incompetence and insubordination for not submitting adequate lesson plans, not proctoring a final exam, not grading exams, telling a substitute teacher to use the wrong test and failing to attend an open house. She also was charged with not meeting deadlines on a curriculum project when she was on leave.

She was placed on paid administrative leave during the controversy that gripped the district for several years. During that time, she was prohibited from going on school property and could not consult with colleagues. She petitioned Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who found in 2016 the board’s action had constituted an “unlawful suspension in the absence of the timely filing of disciplinary charges.” She ordered all references to the administrative leave stricken from the teacher’s records and personnel files.

The district at one point sued Kavanaugh and two others, accusing them of secretly taping and distributing a recording of a School Board executive session. They denied the charges, and the board later voted to withdraw from the lawsuit, which ultimately was dismissed in State Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh, who was with the district 15 years, used to attend School Board meetings before she was placed on leave, often videoing the proceedings. She became a lightning rod in the school community, with some blaming her for stirring up trouble, and others fiercely defending her. She made $62,810 in the 2015-16 school year, according to

Rape case, blackmail allegations roil Hamburg School District

It was a period of sharp divisions in the community, and members of the public mobilized, holding several meetings that drew several hundred residents and staff. During the height of the chaos on the board and in the district:

  • There was so much shouting at one School Board meeting that the gavel broke as it was pounded for order.
  • Former Superintendent Richard E. Jetter, who gained public sympathy and support after vandalism to his car, resigned in disgrace after admitting he drove the car into a wooden utility pole.
  • The School Board threw Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci off the board for official misconduct.
  • Many of the events were set in motion after a man was convicted of raping a student in the home of Holly Bayala, who was later elected to the School Board.

Cornell, who was hired as superintendent in 2015, said the district is continuing to move forward.

"The focus will continue to be on making sure the kids in the Hamburg School District are the first priority in what we do, nothing else," he said.


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