Roosevelt school board member faces misconduct charges

Wilhelmina Funderburke of the Roosevelt School Board, speaks

Wilhelmina Funderburke of the Roosevelt School Board, speaks during a meeting at district administrative headquarters. (Sept. 20, 2012) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

A five-year Roosevelt school board member faces official misconduct charges for allegedly harassing an assistant superintendent, threatening to fire another assistant superintendent and abusing her authority to obtain a promotion for a grandson, according to a board resolution obtained by Newsday.

School board president Robert Summerville, one of three incumbents on Tuesday's ballot, said this week he was "not at liberty" to give details about accusations against trustee Wilhelmina Funderburke, who also is seeking re-election. The board retained outside legal counsel to conduct the investigation, he said.

The board could vote to remove Funderburke or take some other action, which she could appeal to the state's education commissioner, Summerville said.


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Stephen Drummond, Funderburke's attorney, said the allegations are "without merit" and questioned their timing, coming in the week before districts' budget and school board votes.

A board meeting regarding the matter is scheduled for Thursday.

Howard Miller, a Garden City lawyer who will present evidence against Funderburke, said the meeting only will address scheduling issues.

Drummond agreed, saying the matter "will be continued to a future date."

A state Education Department spokesman had no comment Wednesday on the district's investigation. The state's 11-year oversight of Roosevelt, the only district ever taken over by New York State, is to end next month, and control gradually has been returned to a locally elected board.

The harassment allegations stem from remarks that Funderburke allegedly made to, or about, John J. Curcio, then-assistant superintendent for personnel, according to the school board's resolution of charges against Funderburke.

In one example of remarks made between April 2009 and November 2009, Funderburke allegedly said "he [Curcio] could not empathize with the students in the district because he was white, or words to that effect," the resolution said.

Drummond noted that U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein, in an August 2012 decision, dismissed through summary judgment complaints that Curcio had brought against the school district and against Funderburke.

Drummond said the judge dismissed all but one of Curcio's complaints. That issue concerned Curcio's allegation against the district that he was retaliated against and denied tenure after he filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A confidential settlement was reached in March, according to a court document.

Curcio could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Miller said the board's allegation "relating to retaliation in the lawsuit will likely be dropped." Instances in which Funderburke "allegedly made remarks to Mr. Curcio and others are still part of the charges," he said.

Drummond said, "The mere fact they have to withdraw some aspect of it calls into question the credibility of it all."

Another accusation in the board's resolution alleges that sometime in February, Funderburke abused her authority by threatening to fire the assistant superintendent for business "unless she made an unauthorized payment on the district's behalf to its construction manager."

The assistant superintendent was not named in the resolution.

A third allegation says that last June, Funderburke abused her authority as a board member "to obtain special treatment for [her] grandson regarding his promotion to high school and/or his participation in the middle school graduation ceremony, and/or his grades," the board's resolution says.

Drummond said his client is "going to plead not guilty and looks forward to her day where reasonable, just fact-finders will come to the conclusion that there's no merit to any of these allegations."

He asked: "What took those that are responsible [for bringing] forth these charges to wait for the actual month of the election to bring forth these charges?"The district's outside counsel, Jeffrey D. Smith of Aquebogue, said Wednesday his involvement was limited to conducting the investigation and did not include drafting of the allegations"I was retained by the board [last summer] to do an investigation with regard to certain parental complaints," Smith said. "I investigated those complaints and gave the board a report of my findings" in early October..

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