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Hempstead school board picks leaders, fails to adjourn meeting

School board member Maribel Toure is seen at

School board member Maribel Toure is seen at an emergency school board meeting at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on May 20, 2015, in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board elected a new president and vice president in two unanimous votes Tuesday night, topping off a meeting in which some members of the public chided the board for considering a proposal to cut teachers and other key professionals.

The fireworks follow another meeting last week when some, including a current trustee, charged the board seemed to all but secretly appoint an interim superintendent after postponing a vote on the wave of dismissals.

On Tuesday, Maribel Toure was elected president by a 5-0 vote after she was nominated to the post by the former president, LaMont Johnson. And Gwendolyn Jackson was elected by a 5-0 vote to vice president.

The group at one point adjourned for executive session to discuss a personnel matter, but left the building after about two hours and never reconvened the meeting.

Three trustees, Johnson, Melissa Figueroa and David B. Gates, also were sworn in by district clerk Patricia Wright after being elected by Hempstead voters in May.

It also was the first meeting to be attended by the district’s new interim superintendent, Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, who was named to the post last week under unusual circumstances.

He was appointed Wednesday night after Wright had announced the board would adjourn discussion of the dismissals of teachers and professionals, prompting the public to leave the meeting held in Hempstead High School, so no one was present to hear about the appointment, which lasts through June 2017.

Incoming board member David B. Gates was irked because the public had been led to believe the board’s work was done for the night, only to learn later that a critically important decision to hire a superintendent — at a salary that was not disclosed — had been made in its absence.

The meeting Tuesday was designed as a routine reorganization that would formally shuffle the board’s members to fulfill the public’s mandate after school board elections and at the start of the district’s fiscal year, which begins July 1.

And while the new group presided over some of the boilerplate work, such as voting on portions of the agenda, the meeting also gave way to shouts by members of the public, who were upset the board would not outright reject a proposal to cut positions and fire teachers, social workers and psychologists, among other personnel.

“We’re going to do the best we can to preserve the positions we can,” Atiba-Weza said when asked during the public comment period about the proposed firings, adding that he proposed tabling that discussion and vote until he and staff could evaluate whether the district should follow through on them.

But several speakers interrupted the officials with shouts of “We need the teachers,” and “They are doing an injustice to the kids.”

Toure concurred with Atiba-Weza who said to agitated members of the public that “We apologize for the time you have been waiting, but we are searching for the best solution.”

Jackson, too, said the process takes time.

“We take it very, very seriously and we’re not going to rush into it.”


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