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Officials: DA's office reviewing school board's charges against Waronker

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker is shown at

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker is shown at a special school board meeting on Jan. 9, 2018, when the school board voted 3-2 to place him on paid administrative leave. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Nassau County district attorney’s office is reviewing charges made by the Hempstead school board against embattled Superintendent Shimon Waronker, a spokesman for the office said Thursday.

The board added to its lengthy list of charges against Waronker on Monday as part of its monthslong effort to remove the schools chief, who was placed on paid administrative leave in January.

At their meeting Thursday night, board members did not publicly discuss the Waronker matter.

At a hastily called meeting Aug. 7, they unanimously approved 41 charges against Waronker, accusing him of bid-rigging, conflict of interest, sham hiring, neglect of duty and misconduct.

Attorney Jonathan Scher, who represents the school district and is a partner in The Scher Law Firm in Carle Place, has said he could not release details of the latest charges because it would compromise Waronker’s legal rights.

The DA’s office has received a complaint listing the charges against Waronker, said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.

“We are reviewing,” Brosh said in an email Thursday. He declined to comment on the contents of the complaint.

Frederick K. Brewington, Waronker’s Hempstead-based attorney, said he received a copy of the additional charges Tuesday afternoon.

“We have received the information and are carefully reviewing it before commenting,” he said in an email Thursday.

After conferring with his client, Brewington on Aug. 9 made public the original charges, which were detailed in a 174-page document. He called the initial allegations “false and contrived to mask the real issues that Dr. Waronker was in the process of helping the district solve.”

Waronker, a Harvard-educated administrator known for turning around low-performing and violent schools in New York City, started work in the 8,000-plus-student district on June 2, 2017. His four-year contract pays $265,000 annually in base salary, plus benefits.

He was seen as a reformer who could help turn around the district, the largest K-12 system in Nassau County. The district has struggled for decades and faced criticism by state officials for its low test scores and graduation rates and factionalism among board members, as well as its failure to correct financial irregularities.

Relations between Waronker and some members of the school board soured last fall, and some trustees criticized him for awarding a $450,000 contract to the New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based educational consulting firm he founded.

On Jan. 9, the board, after a shift in its majority, voted 3-2 to place Waronker on paid leave. Regina Armstrong, a longtime administrator in Hempstead, was appointed acting superintendent.

Waronker on Jan. 19 filed a lawsuit in federal court in Central Islip against the school district over the board’s vote to place him on leave.

Through his contract, Waronker is entitled to a hearing conducted by an officer mutually selected by him and the board. He has the right to choose whether it is held in public or private.

Scher on Tuesday said both sides agreed on a hearing officer in September. The date of a hearing likely would not be set until after Waronker reviews the amended charges against him, Scher said.

Brewington on Tuesday said he could not confirm that a hearing officer was selected.

It’s unclear how the charges and the district attorney’s review will impact the federal lawsuit.

At the meeting Thursday night, the school board unanimously voted to extending its agreement with Armstrong for an indefinite period. The board also increased her salary from $185,000 to $237,500, retroactive to Jan. 10. They also provided a $300 per month automobile stipend while she serves in the role.

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