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Incumbents voted out in Hempstead school-board election

Now ousted, president Maribel Touré and vice president Gwendolyn Jackson had formed a minority bloc on the sharply divided board; voters approved both the $215 million budget and a $46.8 million bond issue.

Marguerite G. Rhodes School on Tuesday in Hempstead.

Marguerite G. Rhodes School on Tuesday in Hempstead. Early voter turnout was down in the school election. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead voters Tuesday approved an approximately $215 million budget and a $46.8 million bond issue, while also ousting the school board’s president and vice president.

Hempstead School Board president Maribel Touré and vice president Gwendolyn Jackson, who make up a minority bloc on the board and describe themselves as the “eyes and ears” for voters, were defeated by Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen.

The challengers, Spleen and Ayala, garnered 542 and 547 votes, respectively, to Toure’s 325 and Jackson’s 358.

Voters cast 500 votes for the budget and 354 against it, also approving the bond issue with 623 yes votes and 245 no votes.

The result will likely change the dynamics of the often divided five-member board, depending upon how Ayala and Spleen align with trustees David Gates, LaMont Johnson and Randy Stith, who formed the board’s majority.

The election was observed by a monitor sent by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

In response to a request to speak with the monitor, state Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said it would be “inappropriate” for the monitor to comment because matters involving the election could come before the commissioner.

Voter turnout was relatively low during the day, according to acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong, but it had improved somewhat by the time polls had closed, she said.

Last year, when the Hempstead budget was also approved, 918 votes were cast in favor and 498 against, according to Newsday records.

The district’s 2018-19 budget calls for a 6.11 percent increase from the current spending plan, but keeps the property tax levy at $75,934,370, through a state-aid increase, the use of reserve funds and other measures.

In the race for two school board seats, Ayala and Spleen ran as a team and are members of the grassroots Hempstead for Hempstead organization.

Board members are elected at-large and terms are three years.

“The community spoke and they decided on the new trustees. I wish them good luck, I welcome them to the board,” Toure said. She asked the new board members to “continue the hard work” that she and Jackson started. “The children need us,” she said.

Jackson could not be reached for comment.

“The community spoke, there was no question. It spoke in huge numbers. They wanted new trustees and they have new trustees,” Johnson said. “We’re going to work together, the board is going to work together for the benefit of the students.”

Ayala said she was “encouraged” by the outcome, and plans to “make sure that unity is restored.

“It’s exciting to now be part of a board where there’s mutual respect, integrity, professionalism,” she said, “and we can actually get busy solving the problems and creating solutions for the challenges we have in the district.”

Bradley Hinton, 67, who has grandchildren in the district and has lived there for eight years, said Tuesday he always makes it a point to vote. He voted in favor of the budget and the bond issue, which would fund demolition and replacement of the long-closed Marguerite G. Rhodes School, eliminating the need for nearly half all portable classrooms in the district.

The project’s costs would be offset by state aid, leaving a remaining taxpayer-funded balance of $16,016,262. A resident with a school-tax bill of $5,000 annually would see an increase of about $80.

“The kids need a school and they need other things as well, so if we’re paying taxes, why not let our money go to the right place, for the kids, for the future,” Hinton said.

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