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State education chief reviews former LI trustee's appeals

Brian Butler, as a Massapequa school board trustee,

Brian Butler, as a Massapequa school board trustee, asks questions during a board meeting on Oct. 26, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Two appeals filed by a former Massapequa Board of Education trustee who is contesting his removal from the panel are under review by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, state officials confirmed.

Brian Butler, who was elected to a three-year term that began July 1, 2017, seeks in one petition to be reinstated to the board, which voted 4-0 on June 28 to vacate his seat on the basis that he had missed too many meetings.

In a second appeal, Butler and another district resident, Diane Sheffield, ask the commissioner to remove from the board another trustee, Gary Baldinger. Butler has accused Baldinger of threatening him and filed a complaint in March with the Nassau County Police Department.

In each appeal, the education commissioner denied Butler's requests for immediate action. She has not ruled on the underlying issue raised in either appeal, awaiting additional documents, Education Department officials said.

Massapequa school district officials declined to comment Thursday.

Baldinger, in an email, declined to comment Thursday.

A Nassau police spokesman said Thursday that no arrests were made in the case and that it had been closed.

Sheffield could not be reached for comment.

Butler's first appeal, dated July 30, asked Elia for an emergency stay of his removal from the board, an action he said was "improper, arbitrary and/or capricious." The commissioner denied that request, Education Department officials said.

At the school board's reorganization meeting on July 5, two new trustees elected in May were sworn in. The panel did not take action on the fifth trustee seat, left vacant by Butler's removal.

At the time, board President Timothy Taylor said the board will not hold a special election for a replacement or appoint someone to that position. Butler's term was to expire June 30, 2020.

Butler, in papers submitted to the state, said Taylor engaged him in an “inappropriate line of discourse” during a conversation regarding the employment of Superintendent Lucille Iconis.

He also said in the papers that Baldinger had physically threatened him and that he had spoken with detectives at the Nassau police department's Seventh Squad and filed a formal complaint against Baldinger. A copy of the complaint, dated March 18, was included in the appeal.

Butler stated in the appeal that he missed a number of meetings because of “Baldinger’s conduct toward me.” He said he was treated by Baldinger in an “unprofessional and unkind manner.”

He said he attempted to resolve the matter of his absences with Taylor and contacted the state Education Department as well.

In the second appeal to the state agency, dated Aug. 17, Butler and Sheffield sought Baldinger’s immediate removal from the board.

Elia denied that request, but has not made a decision on the full appeal.

In that appeal, Butler stated that Baldinger “threatened to physically knock (Petitioner Butler) out” for Butler's position on the employment of the superintendent. He said the Board of Education did not properly investigate that alleged incident. Butler also said in the appeal that the district can be liable for any costs in a civil matter he has filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County.

In a separate but related case, two residents had filed an appeal July 19 with the education commissioner, saying that the trustees' decision to leave the seat open abridges the community's right to be represented by five members. They asked Elia to require the Board of Education to add a fifth trustee.

Their request for immediate action was denied, and Elia has not ruled on that appeal. The residents had asked for several actions that could be taken to restore a fifth member to the board, including asking the commissioner to order a special election.

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