Ruling: School board trustee's ouster invalid

Kings Park School District clerk Patti Capobianco, left,

Kings Park School District clerk Patti Capobianco, left, administers the oath of office to new Board of Education Vice President Liz Barrett. (July 10, 2012) (Credit: David Pokress)

The state Education Department has ruled that a Kings Park school board trustee cannot be removed from the panel.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., in a five-page decision issued Oct. 5, said a petition by the school board to remove trustee Liz Barrett was invalid because she was not served with legal papers within 30 days of a complaint alleging she violated confidentiality rules.

In addition, King ruled that the school board had failed to respond within the necessary 10 business days to an appeal Barrett filed with the Education Department. King also said the school board filed its removal petition under the wrong section of state education law.

King, in his ruling, did not comment on the misconduct allegations. An Education Department spokesman declined further comment.

In a statement released by her attorney, Barrett said: "I have maintained throughout this process that these charges were baseless and I am happy that the commissioner agrees. It is unfortunate, however, that the taxpayers of Kings Park have had to shoulder the legal expenses of those who filed this frivolous petition."

Board president Marie Goldstein could not be reached for comment Friday.

Kings Park Superintendent Susan Agruso said Friday the board would discuss the ruling. "We're reading it and reviewing it and determining what our next steps will be," she said.

Barrett was elected in 2010 to a three-year term.

The school board in June voted 3-2 to remove Barrett for allegedly discussing her concerns about a student during private conversations with a friend. School board members are barred from sharing confidential information they learned from their service on the board.

In July, while Barrett remained a trustee pending her appeal, she was elected vice president in a unanimous vote of the board.

In his decision, King said the school board petition "must be denied" due to procedural errors. He said the school board learned of Barrett's alleged misconduct on May 15 but did not serve her with papers until June 16. The alleged confidentiality breach occurred between 2010 and 2011, King said.

King denied Barrett's request for reimbursement of her legal expenses. Her attorney, David Sobotkin of Islandia, declined to detail her legal bills but said they are "considerable."

He said Barrett denied breaking confidentiality rules. "We strongly contested the allegations on the merits," he said.

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