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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Hempstead school board elections a chance for better leadership

The Hempstead School Board convened for a special

The Hempstead School Board convened for a special meeting, Thursday evening, April 23, 2015, for the second time that week. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Residents in the Hempstead school district who've had enough with the antics of its school board have a chance to make a change next month.

There are two at-large seats for three-year terms up for grabs, and plentiful candidates to choose from.

The election should not be fought over who will hand out jobs and keep the patronage going. Or about stirring tensions between black and Latino residents in the community.

Will the election end up bolstering an embarrassing status quo -- or will residents pull in leadership strong and competent enough to navigate Hempstead's way through a maze of challenges, from low graduation rates and a massive influx of unescorted immigrant children to the possibility of having some third party end up managing its junior and high schools?

There are plentiful good students in Hempstead schools. And hardworking, effective teachers.

But the pratfalls of dysfunctional leadership continue to spotlight the district at its worst.

Most recently came the board's odd response to the beatdown of a teacher in the middle school by a student -- after an adult bypassed security to confront the teacher.

In the dead of night, the board hired former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, who will be making $90,000 a year -- which could pay to hire a teacher or two -- to fix security.

Still, Hempstead's school board last week spent more time sussing out the citizenship of a single board member, Maribel Touré, than it did publicly discussing ways to keep children safe.

And the board managed to ham-handedly handle that one, too. One resident -- publicly, at least -- repeatedly raised questions as to whether Touré is an American citizen, a necessary qualification to serve on the board.

Instead of dealing with the issue quickly, decisively and openly, the board left the question to fester -- no small matter in a district that, for almost of a decade now, has had more Latino than African-American students.

One board member last week said that the board did, repeatedly, discuss the issue during closed meetings.

But by leaving the issue publicly unresolved, and for so long, the board left a fellow member branded as an outsider -- in a community that rightly considers it odious when others label Hempstead the same way.

Touré, born in Mexico, last week turned over her naturalization papers as proof of her red-white-and-blue standing after two residents -- one the former campaign manager for Betty Cross, the board's longtime president who was ordered to relinquish her post last year because of voting irregularities -- formally filed inquiries.

During a news conference in Hempstead, Touré told supporters: "I will not be a victim of a dangerous form of bigotry that is aimed to drive a wedge between neighbors."

A few miles away, in Mineola, fellow board member Shelley Brazley -- who, like Touré, is seeking re-election -- visited Nassau's Board of Elections seeking, she said, information on whether the board verified citizenship.

"I went to get information because the board had received questions," said Brazley, who works in the same building where the election board is located.

She said she was frustrated because she felt that it was one more issue "that is diverting attention from the real issues that the district has."

It did.

Which is not good for children in a district already fighting so many battles, on so many fronts.

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