RIPLEY - A group of about 60 Ripley residents have announced plans to file a civil lawsuit to prevent the Ripley Central School District from sending students in grades seven through 12 to Chautauqua Lake Central School in the fall.
The group, which calls itself "Advocates for Ripley Central School," has retained the services of attorney Steven M. Cohen of Amherst to file a series of civil suits against members of Ripley Central School Board of Education and to nullify a vote that would dissolve the high school and require the students to attend CLCS in the coming school year.
Group leader Wanda Bentley said the group feels the district rushed through the process of obtaining a vote to tuition students to CLCS and did not look at other options. Furthermore, she said at the start of the process the board said the main issue was monetary, but now the board claims its reasons are to provide a better education.
"We are not against better education for the kids," Bentley said. "But they could have the better education if they had managed money more wisely. Bob Bentley (board president) and Ted Rickenbrode (board member) both referred to this as a 20-year process. If they had put 20 years of effort into making the school better, they could have done that."
Attorney Cohen's office issued a press release on Tuesday, May 21 announcing the intention to file the lawsuits. Included in the suits is the petition to remove board president Robert Bentley as well as members Rickenbrode, Nancy Rowe and Fred Krause. A suit is also being filed in federal court against these same persons for "election law violations, campaigning on issues in violation of election law, fraud and deprivation of civil rights by preventing eligible voters from voting against a referendum and allowing ineligible voters to vote for a referendum."
The release goes on to state the group will petition the New York State Comptroller to audit the district regarding its fiscal conduct throughout several years.
"We have evidence of self-dealing, nepotism and misappropriation of funds which we are turning over to the Comptroller," Cohen said. "There has been a pattern and practice of vindictiveness on the part of the School Board President that will be investigated by the authorities."
When contacted, Robert Bentley said he could not comment since nothing has been filed.
"We don't know anything about this," he said. "We can't comment until we see what we are commenting on."
The school district issued a press release in response stating, "The district is unable to comment at this time because no lawsuits have been filed, and we do not know any specifics about the purported claims."
Wanda Bentley said the group is not trying to attack anyone for personal reason.
"We just don't feel that they have the better interests of the school district at heart. We're concerned about their motives," she said. "The kids are depressed. ... People in the community feel they were mislead."