Overcast 48° Good Afternoon
Overcast 48° Good Afternoon
Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Hempstead school board needs to band together

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with board members, from left, Ricky Cooke Sr., JoAnn Simmons, and President Lamont Johnson, addresses the public at an emergency meeting of the Hempstead school board, Friday, June 26, 2015. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Hempstead school board, even as the state education commissioner considers a second election results challenge in two years, is slated to swear in one returning and one new member Tuesday.

With that, the board's majority could swing from one bloc of veteran members to a bloc of newer ones.

With this board's history, you never know what's going to happen.

But there's a timer running.

Because two schools -- Alberta B. Gray Schultz Middle School and Hempstead High School -- are on the state's potential receivership list.

And if this board falters, control of both will end up in the hands of an unelected third party receiver -- one with power enough to shove aside the board's wishes on how those schools operate.

It's ironic.

Last year, outsiders wanting a seat on the school board went to the state education commissioner to contest board election results. Ultimately, the state sided with them, citing irregularities in the contest.

This year, the sides were reversed: veterans headed to the state to contest the vote in May -- which brought back one of last year's victors, Maribel Touré, and newcomer Gwendolyn Jackson, who are set to take their seats Tuesday.

What all sides seem to be missing is the value of having an elected board, even in a district where turnout traditionally has been dismally small.

Should a receiver come in, the third party rather than elected board members would make decisions on everything from curriculum to hiring in two district schools.

Residents wouldn't be shut out because legislation approved in April requires that receivers weigh community input.

Last week, Touré and outgoing board member Shelley Brazley, during an emergency meeting, said they were concerned that Susan Johnson, Hempstead schools superintendent, didn't tell them that the district's middle and high school were in the late stages of a process leading to receivership.

What was surprising was that the board members had to call an emergency meeting to get information on a proposal Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talked about during his budget message in Albany, and again during a stop on Long Island in February.

"You want to talk about failure in government, you want to talk about the real Albany scandal?" the governor told a crowd at Farmingdale State College. It is "that you knew a school was failing, that you knew it for 10 years, year after year, and you did nothing about it."

Even back then, the state had Hempstead High on a list of schools that had been failing for almost a decade.

The State Legislature passed Cuomo's proposal in April -- a month before Hempstead's contested election.

Under the plan, the state would declare schools to be failing and in receivership. But the school district would have one or two years to set things right, depending on how badly the schools were failing.

If they fail, a third party -- and that could be, say, a university, an educator or a charter school company -- steps in as the receiver to manage the schools.

All of which means that Hempstead, maybe now more than ever, needs every board member on point, rather than grappling with distractions.

Latest Long Island News

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.