New City resident Robert Kurkela filed a petition with the State Department of Education on Nov. 3 seeking the removal of Clarkstown Board of Education Trustee Donna Ehrenberg. The board of education scheduled a special meeting for Thursday night, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Clarkstown High School North to vote on Ehrenberg’s request for the district to provide her with legal defense.
Kurkela’s petition is the filed against a member of the school board since October 23. The first three petitions were filed by current and former school board members: Diane Hoeneveld, Robert Alan Carlucci, Joe Malgieri and Lisa Lieberman seeking to have Board President Douglas Katz and member Philip DeGaetano removed as trustees. Katz and DeGaetano also requested resolutions from the school board in order to receive the benefits of Section 3811 of state Education Law. A majority of board members voted last week to authorize the school district to pay for their legal representation by the law firm of Donoghue, Thomas, Auslander and Drohan, LLP of Hopewell Junction, NY. The firm charges a $210 hourly rate.
Kurkela’s petition, which is posted on the district's website, focuses on events that took place during the Oct. 5 meeting. It states “Donna Ehrenberg did willfully and with prior intent embarrass and cause discomfort, distress and shame for me and my family in full view of the public attending the meeting.” It asks the state education commissioner to remove her for “willful violation and neglect of duty.
Kurkela felt it was necessary for him to take action.
“When I left that meeting, I was mortified by the treatment I received as a member of the community,” he said.
His petition also states that Ehrenberg “chastised me on two separate occasions which are easily viewed on the video (Exhibit A) from the meeting.”
(Note: Most school board meetings, regular and special have been videotaped and streamed live through the district’s web site since the spring. However, last week’s special meeting on Nov. 3 was not videotaped by the district.
Kurkela’s petition cites two instances during the Oct. 5 meeting. Ehrenberg “mentions the word “attack” as it relates to my personal involvement with the ongoing deliberation by the board over the hiring of a consultant to evaluate Special Education programming in the District.” The second reference is “to confirm it’s me she is talking about she clearly states ‘Yes, Bob’.”
Kurkela said Katz approached him after that meeting and told him he would speak with Ehrenberg. However, Kurkela said there was no follow-up from Katz that any discussion had taken place.
The petitions against Katz and DeGaetano make the following claims about their actions:
- to conduct business and make statements on behalf of the Board of Education without authorization by a majority of Board of Education trustees at a legally convened public or executive session of the Board
- to violate the contract of the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Margaret Keller-Cogan by failing to direct the Board to complete her annual evaluation in June 2010, in accordance with her contract
Kurkela said his petition has nothing to do with those filed against the other board members. He had 30 days from the date of the meeting to file and said, “It’s just ironic that it happened after the other petitions.”