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Catherine Schrauth Forcucci charged at special Hamburg school board meeting

AND THE VERDICT IS — Hamburg School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter, right, and Attorney Andrew Freedman of district law firm Hodgson Russ LLP addressed the media, following the April 30 meeting. Inset: Vice President Sally Stephenson, middle, speaks in support of Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci.

HAMBURG — The Hamburg Central School Board took the first step toward an attempt to remove one of its colleagues from the board, voting 4-2 to file official misconduct charges against Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, at a special meeting held April 30 at Union Pleasant Elementary School.

The move brought loud applause from those in attendance, as well as the opinions from both sides of the board, regarding the issue. Board Vice President Sally Stephenson and Board Member Holly Balaya each cited high district costs associated with the legal procedures moving forward – estimating fees as much as $250,000 as part of the process – as Stephenson further defended the character of Schrauth Forcucci, who was not in attendance, on the advice of her attorney, Margaret Murphy.

“It’s a sad day. Catherine was elected [last May to a board term] by the people,” said Stephenson. “I believe in the democratic process. Catherine is a fine woman, intelligent and forthright. She’s an exceptional human being.”

Balaya stated that the New York State Commissioner of Education John B. King has the ultimate say on whether or not Schrauth Forcucci is removed. She added that deferring the matter directly to the commissioner would save the district in legal fees, noting that other NYS school districts have ended up paying “astronomical” legal amounts years later, in similar circumstances. Balaya noted that Schrauth Forcucci can also appeal any feasible decision made by the commissioner.

Fellow Board Member Thomas Flynn III responded that alleged misdoings by the board member would be revealed in a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing, which district Attorney Andrew J. Freedman of law firm Hodgson Russ LLP stated will not likely be public. Freedman added that Schrauth Forcucci does not have the right to an open hearing, although she does have the right to a due process. Freedman added, after the meeting, that the district is “absolutely not” commenting on alleged behavior of Schrauth Forcucci that led to the misconduct charge proceedings.

In the days leading up to the meeting, Schrauth Forcucci had been “acting in an angry, disrespectful or intimidating manner, sometimes toward district officials,” an official noted.

Freedman said the public’s outward reaction to the board’s decision came as “a first” to him in his career as a legal administrator. When asked about the potential legal fees that Hamburg could be forced to incur for the matter, the attorney responded, “The board believes it’s in the best interest of the community to move forward this way,” adding that solving a detrimental problem generated could come with an “immeasurable” price tag.

District Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter, flanked by Freedman following the meeting, to address the large swarm of media questions, stated that support for the board’s actions has been evident.

“You have to look at the vote [to file misconduct charges] tonight as well as the applause and cheering from the audience,” the superintendent said.

Associated board votes were unanimous, at 6-0 in approving Freedman of Hodgson Russ, or his designee, as counsel to prosecute charges against Schrauth Forcucci; and approving David J. Hoover, Esq. as the hearing officer in the matter, at an hourly rate of $200 per hour for related activities.

It was stated that the date of the hearing will likely be decided at the next board of education regular meeting, taking place Tuesday, May 13 at Union Pleasant Elementary School.

A Meet the Candidates Night also took place at 7 p.m. on May 7 at the Charlotte Avenue Elementary School auditorium. The board seats of Balaya and Flynn are up for election. Look for that story in next week’s edition of The Sun.

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