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Residents appeal Massapequa school board vacancy

From left at the Massapequa school board's meeting

From left at the Massapequa school board's meeting on Thursday, July 5, 2018, are trustee Kerry Wachter, district clerk Anne Marie Bellizzi, board president Timothy Taylor, and trustee Gary Baldinger. Not shown is trustee Jeanine Caramore.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

Two residents of the Massapequa school district are asking the state to require the board of education to add a fifth trustee after the panel's June vote vacating the seat of a board member, citing poor attendance.

The emergency appeal asks Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to issue a stay of the four-member board's decision "to reduce the number of trustees from five to four" and restore the board to five members. The appeal, which the department received July 19, was filed by residents Rebecca Berna and Deborah Jansen Curran

A spokeswoman for the state Education Department said a decision has not been reached.

Massapequa school officials declined to comment Tuesday. Neither Berna nor Curran could be reached for comment.

The board voted June 28 to vacate the seat of trustee Brian Butler, who joined the panel in July 2017 after his election that spring. His term was to expire June 30, 2020.

At the board's reorganization meeting on July 5, two new members elected in May were sworn in, but the group did not take action on the fifth trustee seat. At the time, board President Timothy Taylor said the board will not hold a special election for a replacement or appoint someone.

The documents filed with the Education Department state that the four trustees, at the July 5 meeting, discussed leaving the seat vacant and "each trustee made a statement that they supported the decision." The filing says that leaving the seat open is “arbitrary and capricious.”

“Leaving the seat open denies the community the right to be represented by five trustees,” the appeal says.

The two residents broached several actions that could be taken to restore a fifth member to the board.

The appeal asks Elia to issue a stay "enjoining the [board] to fulfill the legal obligation to appoint a trustee or hold a special election." The appellants also requested that Elia order a special election “if the vacated seat is not filled by the sitting BOE within a time frame determined by the commissioner.” In addition, they asked the commissioner to recommend that the board appoint the candidate with the next-highest number of votes from the May election.

At its July 5 meeting, the board swore in newly elected trustees Jeanine Caramore and Kerry Wachter. Tina Cardali had the next-highest number of votes in the May 15 election's four-candidate field.

Douglas A. Spencer, a Port Jefferson attorney who is representing Butler, said his client also will file an appeal with the commissioner regarding Butler’s removal from the board.

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