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Hempstead school board members who lost vow to help improve district

Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen celebrate their election

Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen celebrate their election to the Hempstead school board at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on Tuesday night. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Two leaders of the divided Hempstead school board lost in Tuesday’s election, but a day later, both said they will keep pressing for change in the struggling district.

Board vice president Gwendolyn Jackson on Wednesday said she and board president Maribel Touré are going to “fight until the very end.”

“We’re going to be very vocal, and I think we’re going to be more effective on the outside than the inside because there were things we couldn’t say or do,” Jackson said. “Now as a private citizen, we have more leeway.”

Jackson and Touré aren’t private citizens quite yet.

Their terms don’t end until July, so both are expected to be seated Thursday for the school board’s monthly meeting — the first since voters Tuesday elected their challengers, Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen, with 547 and 542 votes, respectively, to Touré’s 325 and Jackson’s 358.

Voters also approved the district’s approximately $215 million budget, as well as a $46.8 million bond issue to demolish and replace the long-closed Marguerite G. Rhodes School.

Both Jackson and Touré said they don’t plan to contest the results of the vote.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who sent a monitor to the district for the election, had received no appeals, according to that department. Agency spokeswoman Emily DeSantis declined to comment further or provide comment from the monitor.

The dynamics of the contentious board will likely change in July, when Spleen and Ayala take their seats and the board holds its reorganizational meeting to elect its new leadership.

“I believe it’s a new day,” board trustee LaMont Johnson said Wednesday. He and trustees David Gates and Randy Stith make up the board’s majority and have battled Touré and Jackson on a range of issues.

Johnson said he thinks the new board will “work for our common goal and do what’s good for our students.”

On Tuesday, Ayala, who ran with Spleen as a team, told Newsday she also hopes they can unify the board.

Infighting on the board and its inability to come together have been ongoing issues, which has hindered the approximately 8,000-student system’s ability to move forward, Jack Bierwirth, a state-designated special adviser to the district, has said.

Bierwirth was appointed in September by Elia to the position of “Distinguished Educator” and given a broad mandate to review and report back to her on the district’s operations, finances, curriculum and personnel.

In his April report, Bierwirth stressed the importance of unity on the board, questioning whether its members “have the capacity — or even the willingness — to work together on issues of substance for the benefit of the students.”

The removal of Touré and Jackson marks the end of a power struggle stemming from last year’s election, but some of the actions they helped pass will continue to play out.

For example, a forensic audit of the district’s finances, which began while the women were in the majority, is ongoing.

And the fate of embattled Hempstead Superintendent Shimon Waronker — a flash point for the divided board — is still up in the air.

Waronker was hired in May when Jackson and Touré were part of the board majority. On Jan. 9, he was placed on administrative leave after the board’s balance of power shifted to its current majority. Regina Armstrong, a longtime administrator in the district, is serving as acting superintendent.

“We did some really good stuff in the three years that we were there,” Jackson said, citing the district’s increased fund balance and the forensic audit as a few examples of their accomplishments. “We realize this is a war, it’s not something that’s going to be won overnight. We might have lost this battle, [but] we have to regroup.”

As for Touré, she said she’s “at peace” with the vote’s outcome, for now. “I just hope that these two ladies, they do the right thing, they put the children first.”

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