Former school board candidate Mike D’Addeo contacted the Lockport School Board to ask if each trustee had direct relatives working in the district. He had three minutes, as a member of the community, to address the council.
During those three minutes of May 18, not a pin fell as LCTV recorded the meeting. BOE President Karen Young, who did not run for office, explained to D’Addeo that the public comment portion of the school board meeting was not a question and answer session, but a time for the school board to hear the concerns of the public. D’Addeo asked if he could hold his sign for the rest of his three minutes, then did so in silence.
D’Addeo said Wednesday that he had reported to the school board twice and had planned to report again, but was prevented from doing so by health issues. He thinks he could get “his way of thinking” across more effectively by attending every meeting as a member of the public.
D’Addeo presented his objection to the situation that arises when a family member has the power to make decisions that affect loved ones. He came to the meeting alone and said he would continue to bring these issues to the public’s attention.
Having paid about $400,000 in school taxes throughout his life and also aware that school board members can be related to district employees without breaking the law, D’Addeo said a conflict of interest persists. County lawmakers and city council members don’t have that option for the same reason, he said.
“In the court of public opinion, they’re as guilty as hell,” D’Addeo said. “I’m crazy as hell, and I’m not going to take it.”
The US&J questioned school administrators about whether they lived with or were directly related to school district employees. Some of the trustees, namely trustee Kristina Schutt, trustee Mike Ferraro, trustee-elect Sterling Pierce and trustee-elect Tracy Caruso, said they had none.
The rest of the directors, with the exception of director Renee Cheatham, did not respond to the question.
While Young and BOE Vice Chairman John Linderman did not answer the question, administrators Martha Kershaw and Heather Hare responded by email with information on eligibility requirements without answering a yes or no. .
“As I’m sure you know, eligibility to serve on a school board does not take into account whether a candidate has relatives employed in the district,” Hare wrote. “The New York State School Boards Association and/or the New York State Association of School Attorneys might be good resources for school board member eligibility and conflict of interest.”
Recently re-elected director Leslie Tobin also wrote in response to the survey that, “While having a close relationship with an employee can be a difficult situation to deal with as a board member, it is not just one of many situations that could. There are mechanisms in place and mandatory training provided to all members of the New York State School Board to prevent such situations from becoming a problem Whether I am or not directly related to one or more LCSD employees has no effect on my ability or eligibility to do the work for which I have been elected.”
BOE secretary Ed Sandell, who is leaving the board without standing for another term, said he would not say if he has a direct relative or if he lives with someone who was employed by the district, or not, but understood the point D’Addeo was trying to make.
“As administrators, we can get deference during the interview process for jobs in the district,” Sandell said, but wouldn’t comment further except to say that in a school district of 4 000 people and a base of 600 employees, it was very likely that there is a connection between the trustees and the employees.
Administrator Renee Cheatham said her husband, Ronnie Cheatham, worked in the schools, but noted that he was technically not an employee as he was paid through a grant. Once the grant ends, Cheatham said, he will no longer be in school.
As for D’Addeo and his sign — reading “Public Clinics” — he said the sign was the start of a story he told at school board meetings.
“I don’t want to give away the ending,” he said. “It will make more sense over time.”