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School board eyes hiring lawyer

Attorney would advise on ousting Semione

October 26, 2012
By LEVI PASCHER , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - The city school board will meet Tuesday to hire an attorney in board members' efforts to remove their president, Peter Semione, for alleged misconduct.

The board, which will meet at 6 p.m. in special session, plans to file a petition under Section 306 of state education law that allows the state education commissioner to remove a board member for misconduct or neglect of duty.

Some school board members claim Semione has performed his duties improperly and has bullied board members. Semione has denied the claims.

The board is seeking to either remove Semione from his role as president or from the school board altogether.

Board members decided against using the district's attorney, James E. Girvin, in the matter. Instead, the board will hire an outside attorney at the same rate or lower than what the district's attorney earns, said board member Joseph Andrews.

Girvin's rate per hour is $165, according to school documents provided by Andrews.

Previously, board members said they would wait until November to hire an attorney.

"We decided that we want this matter to be resolved sooner rather than later. We can't afford to wait until the next meeting in November," said Andrews.

He said the issues with Semione began when board members ran into difficulty trying to get questions answered about the transfer of Maggie Savage, a high school music teacher and a specialist in vocal training, to a position at the middle school. A teacher who had been at the middle school has taken her place.

Semione decided to transfer the teacher without the full board's knowledge or consent, Andrews said. He also said when board members tried to find answers about the transfer, Semione blocked their inquiries.

Andrews didn't say whether he believed the transfer was right or wrong, but said the board wasn't made aware of unusual circumstances before the transfer.

Andrews claims Semione called him, Polly Peck and Vice President Frank Carangelo and made threats to them.

Semione has denied threatening anyone.

At a school board meeting Monday, Peck referred to a 45-minute phone conversation she had with Semione that she claims validates accusations against him.

"To allow the president of our board to bully, call people despicable names, say that he is going to take down the board and that it is 'his' board and he holds a blackmail list is unacceptable," Peck said at Monday's meeting.

Andrews said that under Semione's leadership, the school district has declined academically, with three schools in the district being classified as "focus" schools by the state.

He also questioned Semione's transparency, stating Semione is in charge of the meeting agenda and has direct communication with the school administrators.

He complained the board typically receives the agenda for a coming meeting on Friday, leaving him and the board little time to research what will be discussed.

"If we are really looking to improve this district, then why did he reduce the number of board meetings from two meetings a month to one?," said Andrews. "Doesn't it make sense as a focus school to increase board participation throughout the year rather than reduce it?"

According to the state Department of Education website, an application for removal of a board member must be initiated within 30 days of the complaint. Appeals brought more than 30 days after a complaint generally will be dismissed by the commissioner.

Andrews said the board has a variety of complaints, but the most recent is from a few weeks ago.

The website said a petition will not be ready for review until all of the papers in the case have been filed. The commissioner will issue a decision within six to eight months, but with hundreds of complex appeals filed each year, it is impossible to guarantee a specific date, according to the Education Department.

Semione was elected to a three-year term in May. Each July, the board decides on a new board president. Board members are not paid.

It remains unclear at this time whether the petition would be answered before the election for board president.

Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be contacted by email at gloversville@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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