Schenectady County

Schenectady school board member resigns

Embattled Schenectady school board member James Casino resigned Friday, leaving four seats on the se

Embattled Schenectady school board member James Casino resigned Friday, leaving four seats on the seven-person school board to be decided in the May election.

Casino, who has been a member of the school board since 1999, cited personal, family and professional reasons for stepping down, according to a school district news release. He was not available for comment.

Casino came under public scrutiny in late August when photographs appeared on the Internet showing people who might be underage drinking alcohol at a graduation party at his home. The party was for Casino’s son Jimmy, who graduated from Schenectady High School in June.

The pictures, posted on Facebook but since removed, included photos of Hamilton Elementary sixth-grade teacher Donna Casino and others being held upside down over a beer keg.

City police investigated the drinking incident but filed no charges, spokesman Sgt. Eric Clifford said Friday.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said police were unable to develop any evidence that the Casinos served alcohol to minors. “They were able to identify people, but these people chose not to speak with police,” he said.

His only recourse, then, would have been to take the matter to a grand jury, but the charge they would have investigated would have been unlawful dealing with a minor, a misdemeanor.

Carney said a grand jury is traditionally used to deal with felonies and the only reason to have convened one for a misdemeanor was because Casino held a position of trust and responsibility.

“In light of the fact that he did resign, there is no reason to use the grand jury to investigate the matter,” Carney said.

Since the pictures appeared, Casino missed several school board meetings, his absence raising questions about whether he would resign. His term on the board expires June 30, 2011.

Marjorie Karowe of Schenectady Citizens for Openness in Public Education, an advocacy group, said Casino’s resignation presents SCOPE with an opportunity to obtain a majority on the school board.

“It means there will be four seats available on the board instead of three. It gives us a wonderful opportunity, and I think citizens of Schenectady are ready for it,” she said.

In addition to Casino’s seat, the other seats up in May are those of former board president Jeff Janiszewski, current President Maxine Brisport and Linda Bellick. In the election, the top two vote-getters will receive full three-year terms and the third- and fourth-place finishers will get two-year seats.

Karowe said SCOPE is interviewing candidates for seats and expects to announce its slate in mid-February.

“We have eight or nine candidates, all of whom look very good,” she said. “We made a promise to interview anyone who was interested. We will put out a last call and hope to finish interviewing and make a selection.”

The Board of Education has three options regarding Casino’s vacant seat: It can appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the May 18 school board election; it can leave the seat vacant until the May election; or it can hold a special election.

When newly elected board member Joyce Wachala resigned in August to care for her ill child, the board appointed former board member Bellick. A few months earlier, Bellick had finished last in a four-way race for two open spots on the board.

Karowe said she will ask the board to leave Casino’s seat vacant until the May election or to hold screenings for candidates for the seat.

Schools Superintendent Eric Ely thanked Casino for his service on the board.

“On behalf of the school district administration and staff, students and their families, I wish to thank Mr. Casino for his dedication, commitment, volunteer hours and everything he has done over the last 10 years as a board member,” he said.

School district officials refused further comment.

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