Kings Park school trustees face ethics accusations

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) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Two Kings Park school board trustees have been accused of potential campaign disclosure and ethics code violations.

School board president Marie Goldstein responded last week to a complaint that Liz Barrett violated an ethics policy that prohibits board members from receiving gifts of $75 or more in value, because community members threw Barrett a legal defense fundraiser.

"As a board, if you're going to hold a kid's feet to the fire because they broke a rule, then you have to live by the same standards," said Jim McGuire, a community member who asked the board to investigate Barrett. "You guys got the trust of this community."

The district's code of ethics states that board members "shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit any gift or accept or receive any gift having a value of $75 or more, whether in the form of money . . . or any other form."

Penalties for knowingly violating the policy may include a fine, suspension or removal from office.

Goldstein said the district's legal counsel has advised that the board has three options: Do nothing, hire outside counsel or refer the matter to the district attorney's office.

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"If in fact money was collected and Mrs. Barrett benefited by this fundraiser, then it would seem to me that this policy was broken and needs to be looked into," Goldstein said in an interview, adding that the board is discussing its next steps.

Some community members held a fundraiser this spring to help pay for legal costs incurred after Barrett fought off removal from the board in 2012 for allegedly discussing her concerns about a student during private conversations with a friend.

At the board meeting, Barrett said that her legal bill was "helped" but "not completely" funded by the fundraiser.

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Barrett, in an interview, said she had "no contact with any of the money raised" and didn't know the total raised. "They paid directly to the attorney."

New York Education Commissioner John B. KingJr. said in a Oct. 5, 2012, decision that a petition by the school board to remove Barrett was invalid because she was not served with legal papers within 30 days of a complaint. King, in his ruling, did not comment on the misconduct allegations.

Before the fundraiser, Barrett said she consulted with her attorney, David Sobatkin.

"He said as long as I didn't have any participation in planning and receiving the money, then I'm not violating any code of ethics," she said.

Barrett said she attended the fundraiser, which she described as "a community event I wasn't involved in."

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Also at last week's meeting, school board vice president Tom Locascio was questioned about the source and cost of his robocalls during May's elections, which a community member said was not disclosed on Locascio's campaign spending statements.

Pam DeFord, who ran against Locascio in the May school board election, asked how he received unlisted phone numbers during his campaign.

Sally Pruslow, a former school board member, also pressed Locascio about the robocalls. "Robocalls aren't free. And, if someone donated them, that's great. But he has to list the donation, the cost of the donation and who donated it," Pruslow said.

Locascio did not address Pruslow's questions about the costs of the robo calls.

Locascio said voter information came from the state election board.

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In an interview, he said his campaign "accurately reported all required items on my financial disclosure forms.

" I do find it very unfortunate that two people would attempt to politicize our board of education and distract from the many real issues we face," he added.

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