Nobody wants to be seen talking to the “wrong” person. School Board members are suspicious of one another. Parents and staff are taking sides.
There are charges of overspending and loss of aid, and appointments made without proper vetting by board members.
And parents are stepping up and demanding change.
This is not the Buffalo City School District.
It’s Hamburg Central, home of the Bulldogs, reigning state softball champions, where the signs proclaim “Welcome to Hamburg – the town that friendship built.”
In Buffalo, the disagreements boil down to student performance and how to improve it.
In Hamburg, it is more about the adults. There are heated discussions about lawyers and fees, anonymous bloggers, charges of adult bullying and secret tapes.
Several parents and community members convened a meeting Thursday night to address the tensions that include a School Board member getting fed up and walking out of a board meeting, police asking another board member to leave the district office and suggestions that board members be removed from their posts.
In the midst of all this, the district needs a permanent superintendent, since the resignation of Steven Achramovitch in July.
“We’ve only been on the board 90 days,” Board President Dave Yoviene said at the community meeting, admitting, “Yeah, we’ve made a mess of it.”
Thursday’s meeting was short on solutions, but parent Ed Piazza, who helped organize it, said it was part of the process.
“People needed to get this information off their chest. They needed to get it out,” he said. “It was kind of cathartic, they could finally stand up in public and express some of the things going on.”
Among the comments at the meeting, where not everyone identified themselves by name:
“I don’t think you realize how many teachers have been intimidated, harassed and threatened by individuals that they work with,” a retired teacher said.
“We’re wondering why people can’t act like adults,” one father said. “Why is it like ‘As the Board Turns?’ ”
One longtime staffer attributed the trouble to “lack of civility, tyranny of a few that are bringing down a district.”
Meeting organizers were encouraged that 75 to 100 people attended the meeting on relatively short notice, and on a night that the Buffalo Bills were playing football on national television.
Hamburg Village Mayor Thomas J. Moses Sr. has taken the unusual move of stepping into the situation. While four schools are located in the village, Moses said he was getting involved not as mayor, but as a taxpayer and alumnus of Hamburg.
“Things are way out of whack,” he said. “I feel somebody’s got to step up to the plate.”
One of the disagreements in the district is over the appointment of a new lawyer by the new board in July. Some board members said they were not even aware that he had been approached for the job.
And there is talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees billed by the former legal firm.
There was a Twilight Zone feel to Thursday’s grass-roots meeting, where Yoviene, who was elected to the board in May, defeating former Board President Joan Calkins, said he wished that she was still on the board.
“Now I understand,” he said.
Yoviene, who had criticized the district lawsuit against a board member, teacher and former teacher, as well as legal fees, also added Thursday: “Let the people who have cost us so much money in the past in legal services, let them stand alone.”
Then the secret tape came out in the open.
Yoviene was asked about a recording of him talking to a supporter about campaign financing and other issues. The tape has made its way around the district.
Yoviene, who said he was not aware that conversation was being recorded, responded that the tape reflected his getting the background on some problems in the district. The discussion included financial contributions to his campaign, but those contributions did not occur, he said.
“I think I was a pretty stand-up guy in that tape,” Yoviene said.
Supporters of the district south of Buffalo with 3,700 students are quick to point out that the school runs every day, and test scores compare well to similar schools.
And some say the biggest issue facing the district should be finding a permanent superintendent.
“We do not have a search going on,” Yoviene said. “Until we straighten out this mess, who do you think is going to fill out an application to work in Hamburg? Certainly not the cream of the crop.”
In the meantime, parents have been urged to attend School Board meetings, and board members are talking about having a “retreat” with a facilitator who will help them get along and set goals.
The next School Board meeting is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Middle School.
One of the items on the agenda: observance of School Board Recognition Week.