After more than 26 hours, including about 16 hours in public, the Hamburg Central School Board member misconduct hearing is going on hiatus for a month.
The district hopes to wrap up its case against Catherine Schrauth Forcucci on Aug. 4, then she will put on her defense.
She is facing 12 specifications that she exhibited confrontational behavior, berating or verbally abusing district staff, the superintendent and board president. The hearing was held behind closed doors until a state Supreme Court Justice ruled it should be open.
The three nights it has been open have attracted from about 25 people in the audience to as many as about 50 on one night.
So far, the seven witnesses presented by the district have been unanimous in condemning Schrauth Forcucci’s behavior.
“She looked crazy,” the superintendent’s secretary said of her during one incident.
“Spooky” is how the Superintendent Richard Jetter described her on another occasion.
“Completely unhinged,” the superintendent’s wife said.
Board President David Yoviene said he asked Schrauth Forcucci to resign during a special meeting he called in response to police being summoned when she went to the administration building to see the superintendent. He said several parents attended the executive session and that they also asked her to resign. He said Schrauth Forcucci kept leaving the room.
“It was her usual unstable behavior,” he said.
Yoviene said Schrauth Forcucci considered herself a “lone-wolf investigator,” trying to police the board, district and staff, often having “that ever-present finger wagging in my face.”
While much has been made of the dysfunction on the School Board, Wednesday’s hearing took a bizarre turn when Boston Valley Principal James Martinez, who also is the district safety officer, jumped up and said former Board Member Holly Balaya was antagonizing him.
“Step off or I’ll remove you from school property. Step down,” he told her. “She just came up to me and said, ‘You’re too afraid to testify.’ I asked her to step off; she’s tape recording.”
“You’ll get one warning, Ms. Balaya, to sit down or leave, or the police will be contacted,” Jetter said.
She sat down.
Jetter also spoke sternly to Margaret Murphy, Schrauth Forcucci’s lawyer, when the board was trying to schedule more hearing dates in July. Murphy told the board at several meetings that she moved her June workload to July to have time for the hearing in June and that she would not have time until the end of July. The district canceled some June dates after a state Supreme Court justice ruled the hearing should be open to the public.
“You have misled this board with the amount of cross examination that you said you were going to engage in,” Jetter said. “We are all busy. We have people that have extreme amounts of work to do. People that have canceled family vacations, people who have canceled their lives to be here, and for you to say that you have too much work to do is not an excuse.”
Some board members had wanted to schedule the hearing in July, even though Murphy said she could not make it. But Board Members Cameron Hall and Thomas Flynn said the lawyer should be present.
“I find it very disappointing that she’s taken on more than she can chew, obviously. She’s stacked up her schedule too much she didn’t realize how long it would take, and I find that very disappointing,” Flynn said. “However, I do think that Catherine should have her counsel here.”
The hearing will continue from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Aug. 4, 7 and 13 and from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 9. Murphy said she plans to call a handful of witnesses, including her client.
Schrauth Forcucci, 51, was elected just over a year ago, running on a slate with Yoviene and Board Member Laura Heeter, who also testified against her. If the board finds her guilty of the official misconduct charges, it can remove her from office. She could appeal a removal to the state education commissioner.