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State denies appeal on Massapequa school board vacancy

NY's education commissioner did not issue a stay sought by two district residents who said trustees' decision to leave the seat open abridges the community's right to be represented by five members.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks during a

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks during a state Board of Regents meeting in Albany on Sept. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia denied an appeal by two residents of the Massapequa school district who had asked her to require the board of education to add a fifth trustee after the panel’s June vote vacating the seat of a board member.

In a one-page written response, dated Wednesday, state Education Department officials said that “on behalf of the Commissioner, this is to advise you that no stay order will be issued."

The appeal, which the department received July 19, was filed by residents Rebecca Berna and Deborah Jansen Curran. They could not be reached for comment Thursday. Massapequa school officials declined comment Thursday.

The board voted 4-0 on June 28 to vacate the seat of trustee Brian Butler, citing absences from meetings. He joined the panel in July 2017 after his election that spring. His term was to expire June 30, 2020.

The two residents, in the emergency appeal to the state, stated that leaving the seat open denied the community the right to be represented by five trustees. They asked Elia to issue a stay of the board's decision "to reduce the number of trustees from five to four" and restore the board to five members. 

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 two residents broached several actions that could be taken to restore a fifth member to the board, including asking Elia to order a special election.

State education officials declined further comment Thursday.

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

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