Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
The Hempstead school board has done the right thing in pausing to consider allegations of wrongdoing during last week's election.
But it went too far with a vote against accepting election results -- which would tilt the balance of power from veteran to newer board members -- after initially voting to accept them.
The board does not have the authority to "decertify" a school board election. The power to toss results and start the voting process anew rests with the state Education Department.
Lamont Johnson, school board chairman, said Saturday he was gathering information about election procedure to share with the board so that it could turn its attention back to handling district business with no distractions. "I want to do it as quickly as possible," he said.
Hempstead's board was well within its authority in saying it would request a new election -- which, as of Friday, it had not -- and forward any allegations of impropriety to the Nassau district attorney's office and other authorities.
Even so, the board will be hard-pressed not to vote once again to accept the election results -- and to swear in top vote-getters Maribel Toure, who won her first full board term, and Gwendolyn Jackson.
Assuming the results stand, Toure, Jackson and a third newcomer, Ricky Cooke, who garnered the largest number of votes in last year's election, could take the majority on the five-member board. However, Cooke, since his election, often has voted with the Hempstead board's current majority.
But the addition of Jackson to the board knocks the number of veterans down to two, making the former majority a minority. Should newer members decide to act as a block, they could, for example, determine the board's next president. Or the board could split into two factions, with Cooke becoming the deciding vote. Better would be having every board member act as a swing vote, a move that could help to focus Hempstead's board more on issues than on personalities.
Johnson has been working to change the board's dynamics. And he's had some successes, including easing the once-contentious atmosphere of the board's public meetings, and giving community members more time to comment.
But with the myriad challenges in Hempstead -- from the unexpected arrival of unescorted immigrant children, to a new state law that could turn middle and high schools over to third-party managers should the district fail to improve student performance -- there is so, so much more to be done.
The last thing Hempstead's board needs is more distractions. In fact, what the board really needs is some help, and perhaps more training in areas including education election laws. That could have stopped the board from making a mistake last week with its vote to "decertify" the election results.
And maybe some administrators could do with additional training too: There were reports last week of absentee ballots being sent by the district minus a section in which residents could vote on the budget.
Hempstead doesn't need another election, followed by allegations of voting irregularities and misconduct at the polls. The board would do well to review and, where necessary, put policies into place so it doesn't happen again next year.
Even so, what Hempstead's board really needs is help from district residents. Yes, the community has a large renter population -- more than most on Long Island -- which creates a constant churn in registered voters. And, yes, some parents send their children to Hempstead's charter schools.
But according to preliminary election-night results released by the district, only 867 residents voted on Hempstead's budget -- not including, of course, those with flawed absentee ballots.
That's far too low for a district -- and a school board -- that needs community support to turn things around.