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Superintendent: School district can’t brief own board about suit

Valley Stream School District 24 is suing the

Valley Stream School District 24 is suing the central high school district following a controversy over tax breaks given to the owner of the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Lawyers for the Valley Stream Central High School District cannot update its board of education on its lawsuit against one of its elementary districts because three members sit on both boards, a superintendent said.

The high school district’s board is composed of members from each of its feeder elementary districts, including District 24, which is refusing to hand over about $2 million of its tax levy to the high school district following a controversy over tax breaks for the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream.

The high school district sued District 24 last month to get the money. On June 30, a Nassau Supreme Court judge declined to immediately force District 24 to release the money and asked both parties to file briefs by July 20, according to District 24 lawyer Robert Cohen. A hearing is expected during the last week of July.

The lawsuit stems from a furor over tax breaks, including payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements, or PILOTs, granted to the Green Acres Mall by the Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency. The mall, and an adjacent shopping center, the Green Acres Commons, are not on the county’s tax rolls because they pay taxing entities, including Valley Stream School District 30, through PILOT payments instead.

District 30’s contribution to the high school district decreased because the mall and commons — which are located within District 30 — are not on the tax rolls. That decrease led to an increase for districts 13 and 24 in the portions of their tax levies that must be given to the high school district.

District 24 believes that all properties receiving PILOTs should be treated as if they remain on the tax rolls so as not to change school districts’ budgeting.

District 24 owed the central high school district about $20.1 million by mid-May through the current funding formula, in which PILOT properties are not factored into the amount. But District 24 withheld about $2 million — the amount it says reflects its budgeting if PILOTs are taken into account — and is keeping it in an escrow account.

“The money is still in the escrow account,” District 24 superintendent Ed Fale said. “We have no intention of moving it from there.”

The high school district’s board of education is to meet Tuesday but superintendent Bill Heidenreich said its lawyers cannot brief the board about the suit unless the three District 24 members recuse themselves.

“They’re the plaintiff and the defendant at the same time,” Heidenreich said. Member Anthony Iadevaio declined to comment, citing pending litigation, while members John Maier and Lisa Pellicane could not be reached for comment Monday.

The high school’s board voted last month to ask the state education commissioner to prohibit District 24’s members from participating in discussions about or voting on potential litigation against the elementary district. The high school board never reached out to the state, Heidenreich said, and decided to go through the courts instead.

Fale last month called the high school board’s vote to limit District 24’s members’ actions “inappropriate and illogical.”

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