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Hamburg school turmoil: Legal costs skyrocket

Today, The News takes a look at the controversy in the Hamburg schools. Problems in the Hamburg School District are mirrored in legal actions and legal costs.

Those costs were just over $11,000 four years ago.

They skyrocketed to $263,000 in the 2010-11 school year.

Fees were about $80,000 the following year.

And last school year, when the district sued over the executive session tape, it paid Harris Beach $104,093 for legal services.

Interim Superintendent Richard Jetter said labor matters are handled through a contract with Erie 1 BOCES. But the district paid Harris Beach to represent it in special education matters, determining what information could be released under the Freedom of Information Law, lawsuits, complaints to the state Divison of Human Rights and appeals to the state education commissioner.

Charles F. “Chuck” Mahoney, a former Hamburg teacher now teaching in Buffalo schools, sought the removal of Board Member Matthew Dils for missing a large number of meetings. The commissioner has not yet ruled on Mahoney's petition, but Dils left the board at the end of his term.

Sally Stephenson petitioned for the removal of former Board President Joan Calkins and former Superintendent Steven Achramovitch, but was unsuccessful.

Stephenson challenged the district over the 2010 executive session that was taped and asked the State Supreme Court to invalidate the board’s action that night to fire her daughter, Lindsey, a teacher in Hamburg schools. The judge ruled that the board had violated the Open Meetings Law, but let the firing stand.

The school district and several current and former board members and staff sued Sally and Lindsey Stephenson and teacher Martha Kavanaugh, claiming they were responsible for taping the executive session.

The School Board discontinued the district’s involvement in that suit in July, but the suit continues by the individuals. Harris Beach has offered to continue representing the individuals at no cost, Daniel Chiacchia said.

Lindsey Stephenson and Kavanaugh are suing attorney Andrew Fleming, Chiacchia's law partner,  claiming that he defamed them with a cease-and-desist letter he sent in July 2010, but there is no cost to the school district.

- Barbara O’Brien and Dan Herbeck

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |