What could go wrong with buying a few more school buses, especially when the Hempstead school district is bursting at the seams with more students than its buildings can handle?
The process seemed straightforward enough, provided the district had enough money and the wherewithal to satisfy myriad state and budgeting requirements.
The bus purchase, however, never went beyond “vaguely worded language” in the district’s 2017-2018 budget.
For that, ironically, Hempstead parents and residents may want to heave sighs of relief.
The language in the budget was flawed.
Had the purchase gone through, Hempstead would have risked becoming ineligible for state aid. That could have been a devastating fiscal blow. In addition, payments to cover the purchase of buses could have diverted money from the district’s primary mission: educating students.
“This example raises a red flag that the Board of Education lacks a basic understanding of the requirements of lawful and responsible district budgeting,” according to a report by Jack Bierwirth, who was appointed by the state Education Department as a “distinguished educator” for the district. The state released the report Monday.
Bierwirth — it is worth noting — wrote that he had talked to parents, Hempstead residents and district staff in compiling his report and resulting recommendations. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in a letter to school board president Maribel Touré, said she expected the district to comply with the recommendations.
The report covered a variety of concerns, from finances to security. But the key stumbling block is Hempstead’s school board — which, for too many years and through too many superintendents, has been distracted by politicking and infighting.
“While members of the board of education made assurances . . . that they would put aside differences to address critical issues such as school safety, facilities management and high school those aspirations have not been realized,” Bierwirth wrote.
Bierwirth recommended that the board — and Superintendent Shimon Waronker, who posted an “open letter” on the school’s website accusing the board’s majority of thwarting reforms and efforts to root out corruption, mismanagement and waste — get training in working with one another and running a district.
“ . . . We do not have a moment to waste,” Bierwirth wrote.
In September, Hempstead High School had 872 seniors, including students who had been in the school for five and six years. But more than a third of the class since has dropped out. Of the seniors remaining, “a substantial proportion” have 10 or fewer credits. Those on track for graduation would have had at least 16 or 17 credits by the end of 11th grade.
Some students, the report noted, took Regents courses and exams “3, 4, 5, 6, and even 7 times” — bolstering a contention by teacher union leadership that failing students were passed along to more difficult courses with no remediation.
Still, 250 seniors are on track to graduate in June, according to the report.
Hempstead’s low graduation rates, along with financial, security and other issues, have been noted in reports dating to 2004, Bierwirth wrote.
Will that begin to change in 2018? And why, when a community’s children are involved, should it be necessary even to ask such a question?