A tumultuous Hempstead school board meeting climaxed Thursday night with a vote by the panel’s three-member majority to seek legal removal of a fellow trustee and former president, LaMont Johnson.
A board resolution charges that Johnson violated confidentiality rules by disclosing a list of district employees’ names and home addresses. The list allegedly was used by Johnson’s political supporters in a district election last month, when an ally, Randy Stith, defeated incumbent Melissa Figueroa.
Figueroa joined board president Maribel Touré and trustee Gwendolyn Jackson in supporting the resolution. The three now constitute a majority of the five-member board, but majority control likely will shift on July 1, when Stith joins the panel and Figueroa steps down.
As the three-hour meeting came to a close, supporters of Johnson shouted “Sham!” and “Fraud!” They contended that a confused combination of motions and counter-motions likely would invalidate the resolution.
Johnson could not be reached for comment after the meeting.
Hempstead is wrestling with financial problems as well as political turmoil. One sign was a confirmation by district sources Thursday night that a replacement is being sought for the district’s interim business manager, Eddie Joseph, who left his post Thursday.
A resolution passed by the board dismissed one administrator, who was not identified by name. District officials would not say whether the fired official was Joseph.
Earlier in the meeting, new Superintendent Shimon Waronker announced that no further expenditures would be made in the district without his personal approval. Waronker told Newsday that his decision was driven by the discovery that some of the district’s recent payments to vendors had been made without proper documentation.
“The finances are a mess,” he said.
Waronker himself encountered opposition at Thursday night’s meeting from some residents, who said his selection by the board’s three-member majority raises questions of a cultural gap. Waronker is an Orthodox Jew; the Hempstead community is mostly black and Latino.
One point of contention was Waronker’s recent acknowledgment that he cannot attend Hempstead High School’s graduation on June 24 because it falls on a Saturday. Waronker has stated, however, that he will attend graduation or moving-up ceremonies at the district’s nine other schools.
Waronker also voiced confidence that Hempstead gradually will emerge from its current troubles as a stronger, better-organized district. “It’s going to take time,” he said.
Waronker, 48, started work as the 8,500-student system’s superintendent on June 2, a month before the July 1 start date in his four-year contract, which was signed in May.
The school board approved Waronker’s hiring in late April, pending contract negotiations, and then approved the contract at an annual $265,000 salary on May 11.
Touré, Figueroa and Jackson voted in favor of Waronker’s hiring, contract and early start in the job, while trustees Johnson and David Gates voted in opposition.