The three parent leaders sat at a kitchen table Wednesday afternoon, wearing the stunned looks of people who had just witnessed a horrible accident. What they had seen, actually, was the destruction of a trusted official’s credibility and career. What they – and countless other Hamburg parents – felt was the shock wave of a betrayal by the superintendent they supported.
“It’s utter disbelief,” said Edward Piazza, sitting in the sun-splashed kitchen of his neat home. “This is a person we respected and looked up to. All that was missing was the white horse.”
Now he; his wife, Beth; and PTA Vice President Christina Whipple, along with numerous other parents, just want the once-revered, now-disgraced Richard Jetter to quietly go away. His deceit and sudden fall from grace should be no more than a speed bump on the road back to responsibility in the Hamburg School District. Anything more doesn’t do the district’s parents – or their kids – any good.
The outrages of a “rogue” faction on the School Board prompted the Piazzas to morph from parents into activists. Last year they co-founded the Hamburg Education Information group. They gathered more than 1,200 petition signatures, urging the removal of board members Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, Sally Stephenson and her daughter, Holly Balaya. The trio’s rise to power coincided with a descent into incivility on the board – with such tactics as an attack-dog blog, frivolous lawsuits and the covert taping of private board sessions.
Just when all seemed to be going well, it suddenly wasn’t.
Jetter, 39, was hired four months ago to steer the district back on course. Instead, he drove it into a ditch. He said that his car was vandalized during a nighttime board meeting in May, with a threatening note left on the windshield. It cast suspicion on allies of rogue board members and prompted a rally of support from parents, teachers and students.
Jetter admitted this week that he made it all up. His car actually sideswiped a telephone pole. He was put on administrative leave and reportedly checked into BryLin, which provides psychological and substance abuse care.
The betrayal by the superintendent is a shock to the Piazzas, Whipple and countless other parents. But it doesn’t, they said, change the bigger picture.
“Jetter has a problem, but he’s not the problem,” said Beth Piazza. “The larger problem is Catherine Forcucci and the board members aligned with her.”
Jetter’s credibility now rivals Pinocchio’s. His testimony in Schrauth Forcucci’s ongoing misconduct hearing is tainted. But don’t forget that his account of several key incidents – Schrauth Forcucci’s alleged meltdown on a downtown Buffalo street after a meeting with attorneys on board business; the after-hours confrontation in Jetter’s office that prompted a 911 call – is backed up by credible witnesses.
For whatever reason – a misguided effort to advance the cause, or an attempt to cover up a personal matter, or some emotional issue – Jetter betrayed those who believed in him, damaged the movement to right the district’s course and torched his career.
To the Piazzas and other parents, his motive matters less than their mission: To end the ongoing circus in Hamburg’s schools. “This is a step backwards,” Ed Piazza said, “but we’ll keep moving forward.”
Moving forward, in the hope of someday viewing all of this in the rearview mirror.