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Hempstead school voters shift balance of power to fiscal watchdogs

Melissa Figueroa, a newly elected member of the

Melissa Figueroa, a newly elected member of the Hempstead School Board, wants to tax the carried interest income of hedge funds and bring the money for investment in schools, seen on Friday, March 11, 2016, in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead voters selected one candidate each from three slates vying for school board spots. In doing so, they tipped the panel’s balance of power, favoring a new majority whose members vow to act as fiscal watchdogs and to closely monitor hiring and firing.

Tuesday’s election was not without controversy, as representatives for one team challenged absentee ballot counting and, ultimately, objected to the results.

Melissa Figueroa, elected to the five-member board with 580 votes to fill a vacancy left by a resignation last year, will join the team of Maribel Touré and Gwendolyn Jackson — all candidates who have campaigned for more transparency and accountability and are linked to advocacy groups The Corridor Counts and New York Communities for Change.

“The outcome of the election is bittersweet,” said Figueroa, because two teammates didn’t win seats and she was “disappointed in the process” of absentee voting but said the new majority “will be able to actually affect decisions to directly have an impact on the students and the teachers and the residents.”

At stake will be the appointment of a superintendent, as the contract with Susan Johnson is set to expire in June. She’s worked through a controversial tenure in which she returned funds that she was overpaid while the district busted its budget and went into deficit spending. Three Hempstead schools landed on the state’s priority list for poor academic results.

LaMont Johnson, the current board president, was the top vote-getter with 624 votes, earning re-election to a three-year term. David B. Gates, appointed in March to hold the vacancy that Figueroa will fill, won a three-year term with 613 votes. JoAnn Simmons lost her seat.

Johnson, no longer in the majority, said he accepted the results: “I’m going to continue to do my job as a board member, in whatever capacity.”

Residents backed a $189.2 million budget in a 934-499 vote. The budget reduced spending by 0.40 percent and raised the tax levy by 0.10 percent, as officials promised to restore fiscal balance.

Voting was slow but steady through the day Tuesday, with some residents saying they want to see better management and improved academic results.

“I’m very much concerned” about the district, said Tanya Dobson, 43. “We are living here in Hempstead, we’re paying one of the highest taxes in Nassau County and it’s just ridiculous. You see other schools in other districts doing well and they get things and results that we should be getting also. . . . A lot of the money is not being utilized the way it should be.”

The vote counting was temporarily delayed when Thomas Parsley, a representative of candidate Shelley Brazley in the team that included Gates, objected to opening up the tallying to the public. He loudly accused clerk Patricia Wright and attorney John Sheahan of compromising the polling place.

Gates was the board’s sole dissenter in accepting the results, complaining that “the machine vote is being ignored” because of absentee ballots, which favored Simmons and Johnson.

Figueroa was sworn in as a board member close to midnight.

“I am ecstatic” about the results, said board member Jackson, stating the new majority could work in tandem “against fraud, waste and abuse” holding the district back.

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