“They can bust up my car, but they're not going to break us,” Superintendent Richard E. Jetter told about 150 people gathered on the front lawn of the district administration building on Abbott Road Wednesday afternoon.
Word spread quickly Tuesday night that Jetter's white Nissan had been struck by another vehicle in the parking lot of Union-Pleasant Elementary School while he was inside the school at a budget hearing. The driver's door was damaged and the side mirror had been clipped.
But most disturbing to Jetter was the note he found folded and tucked under the windshield wiper about 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“Watch your back you ... sleeze (sic) bag,” said the note, which appeared to have been typewritten on a computer and printed on a white sheet of paper.
The note was under a flier for a School Board candidate that had been placed on all the cars in the lot, but school officials do not think the two notes are connected.
Wednesday's rally included teachers and staff holding signs and cheering on the lawn of the administration building and brief statements from the superintendent and the teachers' union.
One sign said, “No need to watch your back, we've got it.”
The escalation of the chaos that has plagued the district disturbed many in the community. The district covers part of the towns of Hamburg, Boston, Eden and Orchard Park, as well as the Village of Hamburg. Union-Pleasant Elementary is in the heart of the village.
“I'm taking it as a hit to our district,” said Amy Takacs, president of the Hamburg Teachers Association.
“I was sick all night about it,” said Hamburg Village Mayor Thomas J. Moses Sr., who attended the budget hearing and saw the note and the damage done to the car.
Moses said village police worked on the case all day Wednesday, but there was no word on any developments. School officials had said that the security cameras at the school did not reach the parking area where the vandalism occurred, but Jetter said police still want to watch it. A school official also said there were no witnesses.
Speculation on who the vandal or vandals could be was the talk of the community Wednesday, and everyone had opinions on who they suspected.
Board President David Yoviene said many have a “good idea” who did it, but he didn't want to name anyone.
“I just think there's reasons for this, and we all know what they are, and you're not going to scare us, we're going to stick together and we're going to put this board back together,” he said. “They're out there, and we defeated them, and this act of desperation proves it.”
The district can't seem to get away from controversy, which erupted more than three years ago with the distribution of an audio tape of an executive session of the board and the creation of an anonymous blog critical of the administration.
Three new members took office last July, and the board put the retiring superintendent on administrative leave and hired a new law firm. The majority on the board shifted, and members hired a different law firm and gave Jetter, who had been interim superintendent, the permanent appointment. Most recently, the board voted, 4-2, last week to charge a board member with official misconduct, saying she is confrontational and interferes with the board's ability to function.
A parents group formed last year has called for the ouster of three board members, and has helped boost attendance at many School Board meetings.
“This all started with a bunch of people who like to remain anonymous,” said Ed Piazza, a leader of the parents group, Hamburg Education Information. “We're all out here, showing our faces.”
He called the vandals bullies and cowards, and said he could not be prouder of the district than he was Wednesday at the rally.
Teachers quickly pulled the rally together Wednesday morning. “I received a lot of calls from staff. They were concerned. They said, 'What can we do?' ” said Takacs, the union president.
Takacs said incidents and publicity often result in Hamburg getting a black eye. “We are a wonderful district, with quality education,” she said.
The incident threatened to take attention from a candidates' forum Wednesday night, as well as the run-up to the election and vote on the budget May 20.
Jetter had a Twitter message for the community Wednesday afternoon: “Cars can be repaired. Threats don't scare me,” he wrote at 12:27 p.m., before the rally. “Hamburg is great! Students and staff are safe. No one will break my spirit!”
When he went out to his car to leave Wednesday, there was another note tucked under the wiper. But this one said, “Hamburg is Better with Jetter. Behind you 100 percent.”