The Hempstead School Board voted Thursday, May 19, 2016, to...

The Hempstead School Board voted Thursday, May 19, 2016, to seek a replacement for Superintendent Susan Johnson, shown at a meeting at Hempstead High School on Oct. 6, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Hempstead school board members spent hours meeting behind closed doors before voting to seek a replacement for the current superintendent as her contract is set to expire next month.

The decision, approved in a unanimous 5-0 vote at a meeting that started Thursday night and extended into early Friday, was among the first significant proposals approved by a new board majority. That panel was reconstituted after a Tuesday election shifted the balance of power in favor of members calling for tighter fiscal controls and close scrutiny of hiring decisions.

Patricia Wright, the district clerk, read the resolution in which the board instructed Superintendent Susan Johnson to contact Nassau’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services, also known as BOCES, “and request a list of potential interim superintendents” to be considered to lead the district while the search for a permanent hire continues. The board further decided for “a special meeting to be held to interview the potential candidates” for the temporary post.

Johnson has presided over a tumultuous time of contentious elections while the district fell into deficit spending and it continued to lag in academic performance. Johnson, who did not comment on the vote for interim candidates, returned from retirement in 2013 to take a three-year contract under former board president Betty Cross, who in 2014 lost her re-election bid to Maribel Touré in a disputed race.

Touré was joined by slate member Gwendolyn Jackson after last year’s election and they became a three-member majority when Melissa Figueroa was elected Tuesday to fill a vacant seat. The three joined forces at Thursday’s meeting to question spending and personnel decisions.

Figueroa said she “had that item added” to the agenda to search for an interim superintendent.

“I would like a new superintendent immediately,” Figueroa said, but “we also have to make sure that person will have the staying power to withstand a district like this and not just leave because it’s too much.”

Hempstead is a district with a student body of mostly Hispanic and black students, 68 percent of whom are considered economically disadvantaged and 30 percent are not fully proficient in English, according to the 2014-15 school report card. The graduation rate for the district’s four-year cohort from 2010 stood at 49 percent.

Figueroa said hiring an interim superintendent would buy time “to implement a nationwide search” as had been promised.

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