Staff describe confrontations with Hamburg School Board member

Catherine Schrauth Forcucci

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – The disciplinary hearing for Catherine Schrauth Forcucci continued Wednesday night, with more testimony as the Hamburg School Board looks to oust her on charges of official misconduct.

The district called employee Sharon Matern as its first witness. She has been with the district for the past 15 years and has worked as a personnel clerk for the last five.

Matern says last September, Forcucci came into her office accompanied by school employee Melissa Miller and requested Miller’s personnel file. Matern says she was “surprised” and that she “wasn’t sure why” a school board member was involved in a personnel matter.

Matern brought the matter to Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter’s office because protocol dictates an administrator must sign off before an employee can review his or her file. He was unavailable, so the assistant superintendent signed the release form.

“She was restless. She was following me around. She was acting like she was questioning what I was doing,” Matern said.

Matern testified Forcucci was “bold, confident [and] questioning of what I was doing.” Miller and Forcucci spent three hours reviewing the file, requested a copy of one form, and left money to pay for it. But Matern said that after they left, she noticed a form authorizing them to make copies was missing.

Staff in the personnel office called Forcucci to ask where it was, and Matern says she “assumed it was taken in error.” The clerk testified that two days later, Forcucci called back and was “very loud, very hostile, very aggressive.” Matern says Forcucci shouted, “How could you think I was there as a board member? I never said I was there as a board member!”

Matern says she tried to stay calm and asked what happened to the form. Forcucci allegedly told her she “tore it up” because she took notes on it. Matern says she asked the board member to ask Miller to return to the office to fill out another so it would be part of the record. Forcucci allegedly replied “that isn’t my job.”

Matern says her office staff later informed her that Forcucci took pictures of documents in Miller’s file without asking. She says she made a record of what took place between her and Forcucci because “it was unusual and volatile” and “very upsetting. It took me away from what I was doing.”

Forcucci’s attorney, Margaret Murphy, then had her opportunity to question the witness.

Matern testified that though it is unusual for a board member to accompany an employee to the personnel office, it is not against district policy.

Matern testified further about Forcucci allegedly taking photos of Miller’s files. She said the pair questioned why they even needed to make copies because they have camera phones, and that the office manager saw them taking photos but did nothing to stop them. Matern was asked if it is against district policy, and she said not that she knows of. She wrote a note to other staff to suggest it should be.

After a short recess, Jennifer Lackey, secretary to the superintendent, took the stand for the district. In her tenure, she has worked with four superintendents, three interim superintendents and 25 school board members.

Lackey says Forcucci was initially “pleasant” after joining the board, but in the last two to three months she has “lashed out” at the secretary and that things have “escalated.”

Lackey says in March, she got a call from Forcucci asking her if she had given out Forcucci’s cell phone number to anyone. The secretary told Forcucci that she had given it to a representative from the comptroller’s office and Forcucci told her she is “not to give my cell phone number to anyone.”

The secretary told the superintendent about the conversation, and says the next day, Forcucci called again saying she had “no right” to do so. Lackey says in both instances, the board member’s tone was aggressive and accusatory.

She testified she got over the first conversation quickly, but was “frustrated” after the second one and felt “harassed.” She even called the superintendent into the office “in case I had to hang up on her.”

At the next board meeting, Lackey says she ran into Forcucci in the bathroom, where she says the confrontation over the phone conversations continued. Lackey says Forcucci accused her of taping their phone conversations and putting her on speakerphone, though Lackey says she did neither.

Lackey says at that point, Forcucci physically blocked her from leaving the bathroom by stepping in front of her. “I had to aggressively step around her” to leave the bathroom, Lackey said, and added she was afraid Forcucci would come after her.

“I mean she was right in my face. [I was thinking] what in the world is this crazy lady doing? Preventing me from leaving, and blocking and boxing me like a trapped dog in a cage in the bathroom,” Lackey said.

The secretary says the incident left her very worked up and emotional and wondering, “What is this crazy lady doing?” She reported the incident to the district safety officer.

When she returned, Lackey says Forcucci began to approach her again until board member Sally Stephenson told her to sit down. Lackey says Forcucci did and she was glad.

“Luckily, Sally was there to stop her. Because she looked crazy.”

So far, Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter and his wife have testified for the district, claiming Forcucci made spooky voices. Dr. Jetter described one incident where Forcucci allegedly demanded 750 pages of documents in a spooky voice like Jack Nickolson in the horror movie “The Shining.”

His wife, Jennifer, described a confrontation between Forcucci and Boston Valley Elementary School Principal James Martinez, saying Forcucci pointed in his face and that she refused to walk away from the situation. Jacqueline Peffer, principal of Union Pleasant, recalled similar details about that incident.

It’s unclear how many more witnesses the school district intends to call. Forcucci’s attorneys are expected to call one or two witnesses of their own.

The next hearing has been scheduled for August 4.

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