TODAY'S PAPER
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Long IslandEducation

Hempstead school district

VOTING

7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School.

THE BUDGET

The district proposes a $189,167,890 budget for 2016-17, a 0.40 percent decrease from the current $189,934,158. The local tax levy would increase 0.1 percent, from $75,609,069 to $75,684,370.

This levy is less than what is allowed under the district’s tax-cap limit of 0.12 percent, so a simple majority vote is required to approve the budget. District officials, citing unreported assessment figures from Nassau County, could not say how school taxes on the average single-family home would be affected.

The proposed budget calls for a reduction of about 10 teachers and 25 teaching assistants. It would fund positions for seven school media specialists, as well as new classroom furniture for grades 1 through 3. Officials did not give information on any salary increases for teachers, citing ongoing negotiations.

  • District website:

hempsteadschools.org

THE CANDIDATES

Incumbents David B. Gates, LaMont Johnson and JoAnn Simmons and candidates Shelley Brazley, Melissa Figueroa, Dennis Jones, Phyllis Pruitt and Randy Stith are vying for three at-large seats. Brazley, Gates and Stith are running as a slate; Figueroa, Jones and Pruitt are running as a slate; and Johnson and Simmons are running as a team. Terms are three years. This year, however, the top two vote-getters each will serve a three-year term, and the third-highest vote-getter will serve one year remaining on the term of Ricky A. Cooke Sr., who resigned last year.

Shelley Brazley

BACKGROUND: Brazley, 59, is a project director for the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs. She holds a master compliance administrator certification from Morgan State University. Brazley is a founding member of Democracy Inspiring Voter Awareness; a former executive member of Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport; and a former PTA president of Jackson Main School. Brazley attended courses at Nassau Community College and Towson University in Maryland. Three of her children graduated from district schools. She served on the board from 2012 to 2015.

ISSUES: Brazley said the district should search for a new superintendent to replace the current chief, Susan Johnson. She said the district should promote student work through public television and Internet radio programs run by students, and should provide more cultural arts programs as a way to unite the diverse student body. Students should be fluent in English and Spanish, Brazley said, and she pledged to push the district to add more music programs.

Melissa Figueroa

BACKGROUND: Figueroa, 36, works as a property manager and a freelance dive instructor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University, where she studied public and cultural communications. She is a former preschool teacher and fourth-grade teaching assistant. She serves as a trustee for the Hempstead Public Library. She is a founding member of Church Unleashed; a member of New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit organization; and a member of The Corridor Counts, a community activist group.

ISSUES: Figueroa said school officials should communicate better with residents and suggested using text-message technology to announce district events to the public. The district should allow its buildings to be open after-hours and function as community centers, Figueroa said. For example, she said, schools could provide medical care and meals to students. Figueroa also said that an outside company or financial institution should audit the district’s finances.

David B. Gates

BACKGROUND: Gates, 52, is president and chief executive of D. Bernard Group LLC, a consulting firm. He received a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and both a master’s in religious education and a doctorate in sacred theology from United Christian College in Manhattan. Gates is senior pastor of Miracle Center Inc. in Hempstead. He is a member of the Long Island Conference of Clergy, the Religious Conference Management Association and the Hempstead branch of the NAACP. He was appointed to the board in March by Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon to fill the vacancy left by Ricky A. Cooke Sr.’s resignation last year.

ISSUES: Students’ reading scores should be improved, Gates said, adding that plans for more media specialists would help to achieve that goal. He spoke of his efforts as a board member, including approval of a STEM program, and said the district should bring back programs from BOCES operation to the high school, including a graphic design course in which students print calendars, fliers and newsletters. The district should expand its bilingual offerings and teach Spanish to students as early as prekindergarten, he said.

LaMont Johnson

BACKGROUND: Johnson, 44, is a former officer with the New York Police Department and the Hempstead Police Department and a former personal protection specialist. He is studying at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in 2018. He is assistant treasurer of the NAACP’s Hempstead branch and president of the Hempstead Heights Civic Association. Johnson is not related to Susan Johnson, the district’s superintendent. He is the current board president.

ISSUES: Johnson said he would work to expand district partnerships with colleges and universities, mentioning Adelphi University, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The district should broaden its dual-language offerings to include all district students, so they are fluent in Spanish and English, he said. Johnson said his tenure on the board has brought higher graduation rates and safer conditions, due in part to district policy on wearing school uniforms that is believed to discourage the support of gang violence. He said the district should add more vocational programs for students and extend library hours, part of an effort known as the “community schools model” that keeps facilities open longer. The district also should educate students about health risks, including diabetes and obesity, he said.

Dennis Jones

BACKGROUND: Jones, 54, is director of safety at Help USA, a homeless-prevention nonprofit organization in Brooklyn, and a retired New York Police Department detective. Jones is president of the Hempstead Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Metro NY Concerns of Police Survivors, as well as a former vice president of the Hempstead Democratic Club. He has four children who attended district schools.

ISSUES: Jones said he wants the district to avoid overspending on the budget and that the panel should hire a new director of personnel to examine any nepotism in hiring practices. “One of the goals is rebuild the integrity of the school district,” Jones said. He said the district should open the school after traditional hours to serve as a community center that offers tutoring and other social programs. Board members should receive monthly treasurer reports that extensively detail district spending, Jones said.

Phyllis Pruitt

BACKGROUND: Pruitt, 60, is a former agent with the Internal Revenue Service. She is a former state director of cadet programs for the Civil Air Patrol and a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Blue & Gold Officer Program; New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit organization; The Corridor Counts, a community activist group; and Union Baptist Church in Hempstead. Pruitt attended courses at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Her children were home-schooled. She is a member of the district’s audit committee.

ISSUES: Pruitt said the district should probe its finances. Her experience with the IRS would be an asset to the board as it examines the district’s accounting practices, she said. Pruitt said she would recommend new internal controls, including the separation of roles in the business office. She said the district should work to address problems outlined in audits. Pruitt said the district should hold more public events to ensure there is better transparency between school officials and constituents.

JoAnn Simmons

BACKGROUND: Simmons, 74, works as an office administrator for Antioch Baptist Church in Hempstead. She has lived in the district for more than 50 years. She is a member of the NAACP’s Hempstead branch. A current trustee, she first was elected to the board in 2007.

ISSUES: Simmons said she wants the district to add on to or renovate its buildings to reduce overcrowding. She said the district should build new facilities in place of vacant and abandoned properties and structures. “You have to have more buildings in order to eliminate the overcrowding or find some other space in the building,” she said. She also said the district should eliminate portable structures where classrooms are housed. She advocated cuts to the district’s budget, but declined to specify what trims should be made.

Randy Stith

BACKGROUND: Stith, 25, works as an emergency room technician at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and at Northwell Health Center for Emergency Medical Services in Syosset. He is a lieutenant in the Hempstead Fire Department. Stith holds an associate degree in liberal arts from Nassau Community College.

ISSUES: Stith said he wants the district to provide more vocational training for students, including for emergency medical technicians. He said the district should expand its library programming and hire more reading teachers. Stith said the district should partner with Boys & Girls Clubs to create extracurricular programs for students. He said he would bring “a youthful perspective to the board” that he said “is not really connected to the kids.” Of those running for the board, Stith said, he is “more concerned about the overall experience” for students.

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