Editorial: Vote for Ricky Cooke and Maribel Toure in Hempstead school board elections

The Hempstead school district has reached a critical juncture. Newsday endorses school board candidates Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Toure for change.

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The Hempstead school system perennially steals its students futures. School board elections take place Tuesday.

Its time for a change. A big change.

Year after year, the district fails miserably in its mission. That failure is all the more disturbing because the community it serves is beset by entrenched poverty and racial tension.

Because of the magnitude of the problems and the urgency to get things right, Newsdays editorial board is taking the unusual step of making endorsements in a local school board race.

Newsday endorses Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Toure.

Running as a team, Cooke and Toure are backed by several key community groups. Both have had or have children in district schools and each speaks with an understanding of Hempsteads problems and with passion about its promise. Cooke, an education consultant, is a 1976 Hempstead grad who yearns for a return to those better days.

Toure, an X-ray technologist who emigrated from Mexico and whose husband is black, embodies a district that is 59 percent Hispanic and 37 percent black. She has been a persistent critic at board meetings.

Time to replace incompetent leadership

Education should lift up the young and provide pathways to success.

But Hempsteads graduation rate is 38 percent, the lowest on Long Island. Hundreds of students as young as kindergarten age are taught in moldy, leaky trailers. Race relations are a daily tinderbox.

Fixing the schools is an economic imperative, too. The districts ineptitude threatens to undermine a $2.5-billion plan to revitalize downtown Hempstead, once the throbbing commercial center of Nassau County. The project is exciting but could be doomed. Who would move there to be part of a renewal if it means sending their children to Hempsteads schools?

Many of the districts problems stem from a pernicious lack of leadership. Hempsteads school board has been ineffective and intransigent.

Two of the boards five seats are open. They are held by president Betty J. Cross and fellow incumbent Leonard Myers. Cross is at the heart of the boards dysfunction. Her tenure has been marked by nepotistic hiring, backroom deals, a lack of transparency, high turnover of key administrators, indifference to poor relations between blacks and Latinos, and hostility to parent and teacher input. Myers, her former campaign manager whose board appointment Cross engineered in December, is her yes-man. Both must go.

Fortunately, the other five candidates understand the challenges and the need for reform. But two rise above the rest.

Don't take our word for it: Listen for yourselves. Below, you can watch responses each of the candidates gave during a candidate forum hosted by a coalition of community groups on May 12, 2014. Candidates were asked to respond to racial tensions in the district and to explain how they would ensure all students receive an education.

An opportunity for change

Cooke and Toure say the board must be transparent, willing to work with teachers and parents, and spend more wisely; Hempsteads $24,000 per-pupil expenditure is $3,000 a year above the state average. Both candidates deplore racial tensions in the district. Cooke recalls how poorly blacks were treated by whites upon moving into Hempstead several decades ago and laments, Now were doing to new people what happened to us.

Hempsteads problems cant be fixed overnight. But they wont be fixed if the school board is not committed to fixing them.

Hempstead is where we are now because we allow it, Toure told one forum of potential voters. We have the power to change it.

Hempstead needs new leaders. Newsday endorses Cooke and Toure.

Vote If you live in the Hempstead school district, remember to vote on Election Day.

WHEN Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.

WHERE ABGS Middle School

WHO Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Toure

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