The new majority on the Hamburg Central School Board left little doubt Tuesday night as to who is in charge.
During a special meeting two days into the new school year, the board:
• Placed Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch on administrative leave until his retirement Aug. 10.
• Dropped the lawsuit that had led the district to subpoena Google for the identity of an anonymous blogger.
• Replaced law firm Harris Beach with Hamburg attorney and former Masten Park Secure Center principal James D. Tresmond.
Board members Thomas F. Flynn III and Patricia Brunner-Collins objected to being handed the motions at the last minute and said they could not vote on them without examining them.
But board member Sally Stephenson, who presented the motions, said the same thing had happened to her in the last year when the former board majority presented items, including the district’s law firm, for approval.
“Last year when I sat on the board, there was no input. There was no consultation,” she said. “This is nothing new.”
Board members Holly Balaya, Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, David Yoviene and Stephenson voted to place the superintendent on leave, while Brunner-Collins, Flynn and Laura Heeter voted against the measure.
Flynn called the move irresponsible.
“He was going to be gone in a month. That’s just following through a personal vendetta in my opinion,” he said. “It’s not really a good way to start out a new year with a new board by doing that and by springing that with no prior knowledge.”
Stephenson has been at odds with Achramovitch even before she was elected last year.
“We need to heal. We need to move forward in a positive manner. We need a fresh start,” she said.
The superintendent, who abruptly announced his retirement last week, said he was not surprised at the move to put him on leave. He was put on leave until his last day, Aug. 9. During that time, he will continue to be paid and receive benefits.
“They want to move forward in the change in administration and superintendency,” Achramovitch said. “By placing me on administrative leave, they can do that.”
The board also discontinued the lawsuit filed against teacher Martha Kavanaugh, Stephenson and her daughter, former teacher Lindsay Stephenson, which accused them of tape-recording an executive session of the board in 2010. In connection with the lawsuit, Google was subpoenaed to reveal the identity of “Concerned Hamburger,” an anonymous blogger critical of the administration. The subpoena was quashed in State Supreme Court.
Flynn voted against discontinuing the lawsuit, and Brunner-Collins abstained, saying she was one of the plaintiffs. The rest of the board, including Stephenson, who was a defendant, and Balaya, who is also Stephenson’s daughter, voted to discontinue the suit,
Stephenson said it was not a conflict of interest for her to vote on the measure.
“They can sue me personally still. We’re just not going to have the school district pay for it,” Stephenson said.
The board gave Tresmond a one-year contract for $110,000 and directed him to be the counsel in all legal matters, report that school employees are performing their duties, oversee the fiscal and electronic auditing of the district, review Freedom of Information Law requests and negotiate for the board.
“This seems very irregular, with no discussion and with no prior knowledge,” Flynn said. “I also question what we’re hiring him as, a replacement superintendent?”
While Stephenson said Tresmond will be the “custodian” of the district, Tresmond said after the meeting that he will not be the superintendent or the acting superintendent.
When asked if the district needs a superintendent since Achramovitch was placed on leave starting today, he said he will advise the board.
“You just can’t pick up a superintendent off the street walking by. They need some time to search,” he said, adding that the state Education Department will be contacted to find out any time limitations on appointing a superintendent or interim superintendent. “They will be in compliance.”
The board, on a 5-2 vote, also cut ties with the law firm of Harris Beach. Supporters said the measure would save thousands of dollars. The firm had provided legal counsel to the district for 10 years, it said in a statement.
“The board has had a recent change in membership, and it is not uncommon for new boards to appoint different professional service providers at the beginning of the district’s fiscal year and at its reorganization meeting,” it said.
Another motion put forth by Stephenson to put a hold on employee transfers was defeated, 4-3. Stephenson said the board should find out more about transfers at Boston Valley Elementary School, but others said that would be micromanaging by the board.
Three new board members, Yoviene, Heeter and Schrauth Forcucci, were attending their first board meeting. Board clerk Barbara Sporyz presided at the meeting since the board’s reorganization meeting is next week, and it has not yet elected a president and vice president.