B  U  F  F  A  L  O    N  E   W  S


Principal facing drug charges suspended from church post
News Northtowns Bureau

  Click to view larger picture
Charlotte Sidway Principal Frank J. Cannata.


The Grand Island principal facing drug charges has been suspended again from his job as St. Stephen's Catholic Church's music director - after Bishop Edward U. Kmiec intervened.

Parents, meanwhile, turned out at Monday's School Board meeting to voice their opinion about the matter.

Frank J. Cannata, principal of Charlotte Sidway Elementary School, was first suspended from his church post in December, after he was arrested by federal agents. Kmiec and St. Stephen's pastor, the Rev. Paul Nogaro, agreed Cannata would not return until his case was resolved.

But Nogaro allowed Cannata to return Jan. 23, one month after federal agents charged him with drug possession.

Kmiec was not aware that Cannata had been reinstated, diocesan spokesman Kevin Keenan said, until a parishioner contacted him last week. The bishop called Nogaro on Saturday. After a 45-minute conversation, the two decided Cannata should be suspended until his criminal case is resolved, according to a statement Nogaro distributed to parishioners Sunday.

The pastor, whose support of Cannata has not wavered, wrote that he agreed with the decision to suspend Cannata "despite my personal feelings."

Cannata, 40, has been the church's music director and organist for 20 years.

Nogaro has declined to speak to the media. Neither Cannata nor his attorney, James Faso, returned calls seeking comment.

Many parishioners who opposed Cannata's initial return as organist and music director cite their concern that such a move would send a message to children that drug use and drinking and driving are acceptable.

Meanwhile, a group of parents is circulating an e-mail petition urging the School Board to reinstate Cannata as principal of Charlotte Sidway Elementary, a school for pupils in kindergarten and first grade.

Parents who support Cannata say he has been an outstanding principal who is highly regarded. He should be given the benefit of the doubt until his criminal case is resolved, they say.

Federal agents charged Cannata with drug possession after searching his Buffalo apartment in December. Investigators said they found Ecstasy and methamphetamine. Cannata admitted using the drugs, investigators said.

Cannata was charged with driving while intoxicated in February 1999, two months after he was hired in the district. He pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired. In March 1999, he was charged again with DWI and convicted of the charge.

In 2003, Cannata was arrested for violating an order of protection and hitting a child in Cannata's Grand Island home. That case is still pending.

But some parents at Monday's board meeting say they have heard enough.

Thomas Arch said he is circulating a petition to ensure that Cannata never teaches in the district again. "We're taxpayers and we're parents," said Arch, who attended the meeting. "We deserve to know what's going on."

Jacqueline Zukic, who also has a child in Sidway Elementary, said she opened her e-mail last week to find the petition in support of Cannata. She said she is especially upset because of an award she presented in June on behalf of the Parent/Teacher Association to Cannata for his exceptional work with youth.

"He's supposed to be a role model for our children and he is supposed to help shape young, impressionable minds, but what kind of message does it send?" she asked.

Cannata remains on paid leave from the Grand Island School District, collecting his $97,000 salary.