Oct 05, 2011 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The formal investigation into allegations of illegal recruitment and false residency of players on the Skaneateles High School football team is “technically over” and the final report is expected to be sent to Section III Athletics — and made public — in 48 to 72 hours, the Skaneateles Board of Education announced at its Oct. 4 meeting.
“We previously said we knew this whole topic was divisive and was starting to fracture the community, and we pushed very hard to close this as quickly as we could,” said Evan Dreyfuss, school board president.
For the second time, the school board meeting room was packed with parents, students, athletes, teachers, boosters and coaches, all eager to voice their opinions, ask questions and hear an update on the status of the investigation.
The allegations, which surfaced at the end of the 2010-11 school year, are that certain football players were illegally recruited by Coach Tim Green, and that certain student athletes also were attending the school without being district residents. The district was contacted in writing by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and by Section III, as well as by numerous other school districts, parents and Skaneateles residents with complaints.
The district hired local law firm Milford, Lynch and Shannon to investigate both issues.
Dreyfuss repeated what he said at the previous meeting, that the school board acted on the accusations based on a variety of sources that were “serious in nature,” and were “not rumor-based but fact-based.”
Superintendent Phil D’Angelo said more than once that the district “did not go looking for this” investigation but the district is required to self-report and do due diligence on such accusations. By not acting, the district could face sanctions by Section III.
He also said that 63 people have contacted the school’s attorney and special counsel with specific allegations of wrongdoing, and added that just that morning he received a call from Section III Executive Director John Rathbun conveying another complaint.
While the previous meeting was earnest, this meeting was heated and angry, with attendees jeering, clapping, interrupting and accusing board of education members of witch hunts, lies, bias, secrets, inconsistencies and illegalities.
Resident Wendy Rourke said she filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the district to get copies of the Section III letter instigating the investigation, and said she was “very disappointed” that board clerk Dale Bates responded slowly and non-specifically to her inquiries, although she conceded that he did “fulfill his obligations under the law.” She said she spoke to Rathbun, who denied sending the letter to the Skaneateles district that started the investigation.
D’Angelo said Rathbun did in fact send the letter, which the district would send to Rourke in compliance with her FOIA request, and that the “numerous, numerous” complaints were mostly by telephone and not in writing.
Maura Mulnar, whose son is on the football team, chastised the board — and other attendees who spoke — for wrongly and needlessly criticizing the team and the coaches.
“Can’t we just celebrate the boys?” she said, referring to the team’s current undefeated season.
Some speakers aimed their comments at the board of education members directly. Patty Windgren said “We’re worried [your investigation] is not going to be just and fair;” Sam Walker accused the board of changing its story to suit its own purposes.
For their part, some members of the board, typically stoic while listening to public comments, became noticeably exasperated and angry by the comments and attacks of the attendees.
When resident Ed Keller demanded to know how many school board members were aware of the investigation when it was launched, since taxpayer money is paying for the investigation, both Dreyfuss and board Vice President Kate Cogswell seemed to take offense. Cogswell responded that the entire board knew about it, but when Keller kept pressing the question, Cogswell finally retorted, “Are you trying to undermine the integrity of this board?”
Dreyfuss responded to Keller and other accusations about witch hunts and obfuscation, “You don’t have the facts. You ask us not to act on rumor and innuendo and that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re attacking the wrong people.”
After 30 minutes, the board closed the public comment period. Dreyfuss promised the attendees that when the final report on the investigation is done in the coming days, “you’ll get your answers.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.