Catherine Schrauth Forcucci should be disciplined because the board member allegedly berated and criticized Hamburg School officials and disrespected the board president, thus violating board policy or the district’s code of conduct.
Those appear to be the most serious of 11 misconduct charges leveled against Schrauth Forcucci who is completing her first year on the board.
The School Board refused to make public the charges last week when it started the process to discipline Schrauth Forcucci, and its attorney said the board intended to conduct a hearing on the charges behind closed doors. The Buffalo News obtained a copy of the charges from Schrauth Forcucci’s attorney.
The 11 charges, delivered to her attorney Friday, state that since July 2013, Schrauth Forcucci’s interactions with school employees, board members and members of the public have been “confrontational” and “impaired the ability of the board to function.”
She denies the allegations.
“Even if I treat everything as true, this doesn’t come close to being official misconduct,” said her attorney, Margaret Murphy.
Andrew J. Freedman, the attorney for the school district, said the majority of the school board believes her actions do rise to the level of official misconduct.
“What is required is that we prove the charges beyond a preponderance of the evidence, and we plan on doing that,” he said.
The board, which voted 4-2 to charge her on Wednesday, will determine in secret if she is guilty, and then consider the consequence, which could be removal from office. If she is removed, Schrauth Forcucci could appeal to the state education commissioner.
Schrauth Forcucci, 51, was one of three board members elected a year ago. They formed a new board majority that placed the retiring superintendent on administrative leave, hired a new law firm and discontinued the district’s involvement in a lawsuit against board member Sally Stephenson, Stephenson’s daughter and a teacher for allegedly recording an executive session in 2010.
But the board majority shifted, and Schrauth Forcucci now is part of a minority faction that often includes Stephenson and board member Holly Balaya. Stephenson and Balaya voted against the charges.
The board alleges Schrauth Forcucci demanded then-interim Superintendent Richard Jetter provide her with legal expense reports Sept. 24, and refused to leave the district office when asked “multiple times,” prompting him to have police called. According to a police report, the police officer asked her to leave and she did.
The charges also include an incident Feb. 11 when she “repeatedly berated and/or verbally attacked” Boston Valley Principal James Martinez, a district safety officer, outside a room where the board’s executive session was to be held, refused the directions from the board president that she remain in the executive session and left the room to berate Martinez.
The five-page document also alleges Schrauth Forcucci:
• Berated and/or verbally attacked board President David Yoviene twice, including “forcefully” placing her finger on his chest.
• Berated and/or verbally attacked Superintendent Richard Jetter four times, and invaded his “personal space” two times.
• Berated the superintendent’s secretary with disrespect during a phone conversation for giving her cell number to the state comptroller’s office, and berated and/or verbally attacked the secretary in the restroom and blocked her from leaving the restroom, causing the secretary to feel threatened for her personal safety.
• Failed to return executive session materials on three occasions.
The charges state Schrauth Forcucci’s actions violated board policy or the district’s code of conduct, and that she was given notice that she was out of line.
“On or about October 2013, Mrs. Schrauth Forcucci received verbal notice from Board of Education members that her confrontational behavior was unacceptable,” the charges state.
Her attorney said those accusations do not rise to the level of official misconduct.
“If this is the standard, then they all should be judged as engaging in official misconduct,” Murphy said.
While Schrauth Forcucci wants the hearing to be held in public, the board intends to conduct it in secret.
The board is not required to hold an open hearing, said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.
The Open Meetings Law allows the board to discuss “matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation” in executive session.
But it would not prevent Schrauth Forcucci from talking about the charges, Freeman said.
“She also has the right to be there, also has the right to say what she wants,” Freeman said. “I know of no provision of law that would preclude her of discussing with you … whatever she would like to discuss.”
When the board does weigh the evidence against her, the board majority does not want the process to become “a spectacle,” the board’s lawyer said.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be transparent. We feel it’s more important for these proceedings to make it through in a manner that doesn’t create a spectacle,” Freedman said.
Other school boards in similar situations have held hearings in front of the community.
The Iroquois Central School Board removed Michael J. McCormick III in 1994 for misconduct following a public hearing.
The Lackawanna School Board held a public hearing in 1999 before removing Mark L. Balen, as did the Jamestown School Board, which ousted Deann Nelson in 2006.
The Lewiston-Porter School Board removed two board members, Edward M. Lilly and Scott A. Stepien, in 2007 after conducting a public hearing. The board appointed two new board members, who later left the board when the state education commissioner overturned the dismissals of Lilly and Stepien.
“As a public official, no matter how embarrassing things may be said about her, she thinks the public should know what she did, how she responded,” said Murphy, Schrauth Forcucci’s attorney.
“We want to show the public a person who should be fearful of charges, would not want to reveal them,” she said.
School Board attorney Freedman objected to any characterization of the proceeding as a “Star Chamber,” or secret inquisition, because there is an avenue for Schrauth Forcucci to appeal the decision of the board.
“If we try to do a Star Chamber proceeding, first of all, our hearing officer would prevent it, and second, the commissioner would overrule us,” he said.