Board of Education member James Casino was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, and the controversy over his alleged hosting of two drinking parties for his son was only briefly mentioned.
Casino and his wife, Donna, a sixth-grade teacher at Hamilton Elementary School, hosted high school graduation and going away parties for their son Jimmy. Photos from those parties posted on Facebook show Jimmy drinking a substance as it flows along a channel carved in a block of ice. A bottle of Jagermeister liqueur is visible in the background. In another photo, Donna Casino is shown being held over a beer keg by some young people. At least three people at the party were recent high school graduates.
The photos have since been removed.
Police obtained a copy of the photos on Tuesday, according to department spokesman Sgt. Eric Clifford. He said he is not sure where they were from, possibly a television station. He said the next likely step is interviewing witnesses to see if alcohol was served to underage people at the party. If so, it could result in charges. However, it is not illegal to serve alcohol to your own children.
Board President Maxine Brisport called the photos examples of “poor judgment” in parenting. She said she has received several e-mails asking her to fire Casino and his wife. Brisport said it is not that simple. The board president has only one vote and is bound by contracts, union rules and education law, she said.
“Honestly, I wish I individually had the power to pursue some of the requests to make the changes,” she said. “Being the board president comes with very specific and limited duties. The board president alone cannot hire or fire anyone. The board president alone cannot rescind any contracts or remove someone from a tenure or non-tenured position.”
Brisport also said that all employees and people associated with the schools should be ambassadors for the district.
She also responded to criticism that her tearing up at last week’s board meeting was a sign of weakness: “If being weak means that I care too much about the children in this district, then I want to be weak. If being weak means that I feel personally responsible for the well-being of every child in this district, I want to be weak.”
Brisport said afterward that she did not know where Casino was and he had not contacted her to explain his absence. “Board members can choose not to attend meetings,” she said.
Superintendent Eric Ely said the investigation is ongoing and he could not comment on potential discipline of an employee. “I don’t jump to conclusions. I wait until the investigation is complete,” he said.
State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said Wednesday that a board member could be removed from office either by the board itself or the education commissioner.
A board can remove a member for “official misconduct,” which relates to his or her official duties. “This is so when a board member engages in an unauthorized exercise of power or intentionally fails to exercise power to the detriment of the district,” according to the School Law Handbook. The process would involve a hearing before the board or before the commissioner, where the board member would have the right to be represented by counsel. The board member must receive a written copy of the charges at least 10 days before the hearing.
There is no provision in law for censure or reprimand.
A resident could also file a request — known as a 310 appeal — to the commissioner seeking a board member’s removal. Dunn said the commissioner had not received such a request.
About 100 people attended the meeting at Schenectady High School. Resident Larry Petrie said this is just the latest in a series of instances where the board or its members have flouted the rules or the will of the public.
Resident Bill McColl called on the board to ask for Casino’s resignation.
Bill Drake, who called himself a supporter of the district, said if there were an opening on the school board, he would like to be considered. He also called on the board to release the report into former facilities director Steven Raucci’s alleged workplace misconduct “so Mr. Raucci’s name is never heard ever again.”
In other business, the board approved in principle the concept of going on a retreat hosted by the New York State School Boards Association. Brisport suggested the idea as a way to clarify the roles, responsibilities and expectations of board members and develop a common understanding of where the district should go.
Among the areas she said the board needs to improve is public relations and working together. Brisport said the cost would be $1,050 for a half-day session and $1,700 for a full day.
She said the Guilderland and Albany school districts have also participated in this process.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us as a board to show the public that we’re getting our act together,” she said.