Lamont Johnson voted Hempstead board president; Betty Cross defeated

July 1, 2014

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The Hempstead school board Tuesday night ousted the controversial Betty Cross as president and unanimously elected trustee Lamont Johnson to the leadership post.

Those gathered in the high school's 120-seat Little Theater applauded when Cross was defeated in a 3-2 vote.

The short meeting was adjourned quickly, with Cross gaveling it to a close.

"We are going to move forward on a positive note," Johnson said afterward, adding he wants to improve the district's reputation so that parents will feel confident about sending their children to Hempstead schools.

The change in leadership came after more than a month of turmoil, with allegations of voter fraud and misuse of absentee ballots in the May 20 election, and protests from residents and activists at board meetings.

Cross' critics said she is at least partly to blame for the district's poor graduation rate and for other problems, including a grade-fixing scandal at the high school level.

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Johnson, 42 and a Hempstead High School graduate, worked as an officer in the New York Police Department starting in 1994, according to the district's public relations firm. He transferred to the Hempstead Village Police Department three years later and retired as a police officer in 2013.

He was elected as a school board member in May 2013, and before that served on the district's audit committee. Johnson, a lifelong Hempstead resident, works as a "personal protection specialist," according to a bio on the school district's website.

Cross' May re-election is being scrutinized at the state level after another candidate, Maribel Touré, accused the district of fraud and other irregularities and filed a petition to state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

The school district has until July 31 to respond to the petition.

Tuesday night, trustees Shelley Brazley and Ricky Cooke joined Johnson in voting against Cross continuing as president, while Cross and trustee JoAnn Simmons voted for Cross.

Simmons will remain the board's vice president. Cross nominated her, and Cross, Simmons and Johnson voted her in.

Cross was elected the board's treasurer, district officials said.

Elias Mestizo, president of the 530-member Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, said, "As far as the new board, we'll see where they go. We've got to give them an opportunity to move on and see what it will be like."

Touré said she was disappointed that Cross continued to steer the meeting after Johnson was voted president and that the public did not have the opportunity to speak before adjournment. Touré said she would have spoken, if given the chance.

Still, she said, the district is moving incrementally in the right direction.

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"Removing her as president was a huge step," she said.

Johnson said residents will be given a chance to speak at future meetings.

The board also voted to recall 22 elementary school teachers and seven teaching assistants who were among 59 people that trustees voted June 19 to lay off.

Mestizo said he remains concerned about the reading teachers and attendance and guidance counselors who were laid off last month.

In an action separate from the petition to the education commissioner, the Nassau County district attorney's office has confiscated all voting materials and has issued three subpoenas to the district in relation to the election, a source close to the case has said.

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With Zachary R. Dowdy

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