Two new members of the Hempstead School Board attended their first meeting Wednesday night, a contentious gathering where one questioned the other’s legitimacy to serve.
Randy Stith, who was elected to the board in May, joined fellow board member David Gates in questioning the validity of Mary Crosson’s presence on the dais at the annual reorganization meeting.
The previous school board appointed her June 30 to fill the vacancy of former member LaMont Johnson, who was ousted Friday after closed-door hearings that critics said were orchestrated to preserve his rivals’ majority.
While a reorganization meeting is a routine part of the board’s work, members sparred over whether Crosson could cast votes on agenda items because the resolution that brought her to the position stated she would finish Johnson’s term, which ended two years short of its duration when he was removed for alleged violation of district rules.
“She is not a sitting board member,” Gates said during the meeting at Hempstead High School. “Anything she votes on is illegal and I am going to challenge it in Supreme Court.”
The actions to remove Johnson and appoint Crosson came on identical 3-1 votes at the June 30 meeting, with board President Maribel Touré and members Gwendolyn Jackson and Melissa Figueroa in the majority.
Gates voted in opposition.
Toure called the discrepancy Gates mentioned a “technical error” that needed to be corrected but she argued that Crosson could take part in the business of the board.
District Clerk Patricia Wright, acting on the advice of attorney John Sheahan of Guercio and Guercio, swore in Stith and Crosson despite some audience members’ vocal demands to adjourn the meeting altogether.
Crosson came on after a board-appointed hearing officer shut down a weeklong hearing to determine whether Johnson had provided the names and addresses of district employees to Stith’s campaign, a violation of district rules.
Johnson has denied the allegations and was unable to attend hearing dates last week due to a heart condition for which he was hospitalized.
Touré, in an interview after last week’s the meeting, said an initial report determined that a school district employee had provided the list of personnel information to Johnson. An investigation into other employees’ actions will continue, she said.
Stith and Gates protested Crosson’s votes in several agenda items including appointments of personnel.
Johnson, who is also a Hempstead Village trustee, appeared in the audience and was acknowledged by Stith from the stage.
Superintendent Shimon Waronker offered a video and presentation that profiled the New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit he founded that emphasizes team-teaching, open classrooms, merit pay for teachers and higher salaries among other items. The Hempstead board approved the initiative’s use in a previous meeting for work at a contract worth $450,000.
Waronker said he would not benefit financially from that contract that has advised schools in New York City.
Waronker also noted that Hempstead’s middle school may be placed into independent receivership after an evaluation next month by the state education commissioner.