ELDRED, NY — During the public comment section at the January meeting of the Eldred Central School (ESC) Board of Education meeting, local resident Joanne Boehm questioned the board about the recent bullying lawsuit filed by the parents of a student against the district, as well as the embezzlement lawsuit brought against its former business manager.
Regarding the embezzlement lawsuit, about a year ago Eldred School District’s business manager William Thornton was arrested on charges of embezzling $20,000 from the school district.
“It’s a year later,” said Boehm, “You have the initial shock in the paper, and then you never hear anything again, so a lot of people are wondering.”
Superintendent Robert Dufour replied, “I will give you as much information as I legally can. The loss has been covered by insurance. That was paid out this last summer. Incidentally, I was in with our attorney these past few days discussing this matter. It has not gone away from my desk. It’s still hanging there. We are no closer to this going to trial than we were eight months ago. We can’t comment because it’s a pending legal matter.”
Regarding the insurance, Boehm asked, “Does this mean our rates go up?”
Dufour replied, “I don’t have the answer to that. We’ve done everything we legally can. We’ve done everything that we are required to do as regards filing the appropriate complaints. Now it’s in the hands of our legal system. They had actually set up a grand jury in June, and I was subpoenaed. It was canceled, and never rescheduled.”
Boehm then brought up the bullying lawsuit. She said, “I have another question about the pending bullying lawsuit. There’s a lot of concern that if we have to pay out to settle the bullying lawsuit that I’m discussing that it could result in the district closing. It’s a big concern. People… out there talk like that.”
Dufour replied, “Again, I spent time on that this afternoon with our attorney. I’m confident the district has done everything we’re required to do and have the documentation and records to support what we have done. Unfortunately, in these kinds of situation, the family and their attorney know that we have restrictions because of student privacy rights and legal matters that we just can’t discuss. There are two sides to every story. You’re only going to hear one. Last item I want to discuss, if this goes to trial—if— I’m confident that our side will prevail.”
Boehm asked, “Has the family’s name been released or not?”
“I don’t know. But I’m not permitted to do that,” replied Superintendent Dufour.
Boehm, “OK, can you tell me what school it is?”
Dufour’s reply was to say he can’t discuss anything more than what he’d already said, continuing that he was not opposed to seeking restitution from the family regarding any cost incurred by the district, ending with, “That’s how confident I’m in our position.”
Boehm repeated her concern over the impact of the bullying lawsuit on the school district. “It’s just a lot of talk out there that it’s going to devastate the school district.”
“We are heavily insured for all types of issues, that’s why we carry insurance. Our insurance company is not going to just settle, I can tell you that.” But when Boehm pressed for the worst-case scenario, Dufour affirmed that the school insurance would pay—not the taxpayer, which was Boehm’s concern.
Dufour continued, “It will come from our insurance. But I have no concerns over this matter. As a governmental agency, we are heavily insured. This isn’t going to close us down, this is not going to bankrupt us. This is more a nuisance than anything else. It’s not going to stop us.”
The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) was signed into law on September 13, 2010. It outlines strict guidelines for school reporting, education and prevention of bullying in schools. According to www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/ , under the Dignity Act, schools will be responsible for collecting and reporting data regarding material incidents of discrimination and harassment.