Shimon Waronker started Friday as the Hempstead school district’s new superintendent, a month before the July 1 start date in his four-year contract with the school board that was signed in May.
The board held a special meeting this week to vote on Waronker’s start date and let go Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, the interim superintendent whose contract ends June 30, board member LaMont Johnson said Friday. He said he and trustee David Gates voted against the earlier start date, which is a continuation of 3-2 votes on the board.
Waronker, 48, said in a phone interview that his work “needed to start a little earlier than July 1st,” citing contract negotiations with the teachers’ union and challenges facing the high school and middle school, which are under state receivership because of low academic performance.
School board president Maribel Touré did not respond to a call Friday for comment.
Johnson said he was against having to pay Waronker for a month prior to the start of the contract and also pay Atiba-Weza through the end of his district employment. The estimate of paying Waronker for the month was about $30,000, he said.
Johnson and Gates, in board actions in April and May, opposed Waronker’s hiring and contract.
Waronker, a Harvard-educated administrator credited with turning around troubled schools in New York City, said he met Friday with teacher union leadership and some school board members.
“I thought it was a splendid first day,” he said.
In a letter posted on the district website, addressed to “Hempstead Faculty and Families,” he wrote that the school board had made him superintendent effective June 2. He described his background, thanked Atiba-Weza and wrote, “Our community faces many challenges that we need to meet head-on with a strong mission.”
He takes control of a 8,500-student district that is under state scrutiny both for academic performance and financial difficulties. If the state Education Department finds that the high school and middle school, in receivership since 2015, have not shown “demonstrable improvement” within specific time frames, it can appoint an independent operator to control them.
The school board approved Waronker’s hiring in late April, pending contract negotiations, and then passed the contract at an annual $265,000 salary on May 11. Both times, Touré and trustees Melissa Figueroa and Gwendolyn Jackson voted in favor, and Johnson and Gates were opposed.
Figueroa lost her seat in the May 16 school board election to Randy Stith, who joins the board in July when her term ends.
Johnson also said Friday that Atiba-Weza had done an outstanding job and that he deserves to attend graduation and “shake the hands of the graduating seniors that he had helped during the school year.”
Atiba-Weza, who was superintendent of the upstate Troy system before retiring, began a one-year term as Hempstead’s interim leader last July 1, at a $215,000 annual salary. The board approved a $50,000 raise for him in October after the Education Department denied his request for a waiver that would have allowed him to simultaneously receive pension payments.