School board challengers rode to victory in the Massapequa, Shoreham-Wading River and Hempstead districts last week, winning seats in apparent backlashes against key local decisions and signaling the potential for change after most trustees take office in July.
Massapequa voters elected a candidate who opposes the district’s long-planned move of sixth-graders now in elementary schools to Berner Middle School this fall.
In Shoreham-Wading River, where voters were angry about the district’s decision to pay $153,000 for the March senior trip to Disney World, four challengers were elected. The two incumbents in the race — the school board president and one trustee — lost.
Hempstead’s race saw trustee Melissa Figueroa defeated, after her 2016 election to a one-year term had propelled to power a new majority that aimed to reform the troubled district. Some residents criticized Figueroa and other board members last month for the hire of a new superintendent to a four-year contract.
Winners in those districts claimed victory on the issues.
“The people of Massapequa have spoken loud and clear. They want change, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get,” Brian Butler said in an interview. “We’re going to inform the superintendent to halt all action, and once I get into office, we’re going to readdress it, and we’re going to put a resolution and let the people have a say.”
Butler said the district should convene an “aggressive public debate” on adding the sixth grade to the middle school, which enrolls about 1,200 students in the seventh and eighth grades.
School board president Maryanne Fisher said the plan — which the board approved in February 2016 by a 3-2 vote — would remain in effect.
“The board welcomes Mr. Butler as a trustee and looks forward to working alongside him in the upcoming school year,” Fisher said in a statement. “The district is prepared both academically and operationally for the sixth-grade class to enter Berner Middle School in September of 2017 and plans will move forward as scheduled. In public sessions, the board unanimously expressed their commitment to creating the finest middle school possible.”
The district said change at the middle school for 2017-18 is well under way, with classroom reconfigurations to group sixth-graders’ core academic classes on the same floor, reassignment of teachers, renovations of guidance offices and the cafeteria, ongoing revision of transportation routes, and acquisition of equipment and assignment of more buses by the system’s bus company.
Some parents in the district had protested the shift, saying sixth-graders are better served in the current arrangement. District officials said the plan would introduce sixth-graders to a better curriculum, including daily foreign language courses.
In Shoreham-Wading River, while voters supported the budget by a margin of 1,112 to 992, board president John Zukowski and trustee Jack Costas were defeated. Michael Yannucci, who was elected to a one-year term and was sworn in Tuesday, had criticized the spending on the Disney trip.
“I think the message was that our budget didn’t pass with a very large margin, and residents exercised every nay, and the decision to spend money on Disney put the budget at great risk of failing,” Yannucci, an assistant principal at Old Bethpage Elementary School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, said in an interview.
Yannucci is returning to the board to which he first was elected in 2005, at age 21. He served until 2008.
“I appreciate that the community supported the budget and proposition, and wish the new board and incoming superintendent well,” Zukowski said in a statement, referring to the selection of Gerard W. Poole as the district’s superintendent. Poole, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Freeport system, starts in the post July 1.
Challengers Erin Hunt, Katie Anderson and Henry Perez also were elected to the seven-member board and will start their three-year terms on July 11.
In Hempstead, Randy Stith defeated Figueroa for a three-year term in this spring’s sole board race. The emergency room technician, who ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2014 and 2016, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Hempstead contest took an unusual turn after Lynbrook Village police arrested Figueroa on May 11 and charged her with possession of marijuana. She was given a desk appearance ticket for June 15 in First District Court in Hempstead.
The arrest occurred about two hours after the school board, in a 3-2 vote, approved the contract for incoming Superintendent Shimon Waronker; with Figueroa among the three voting for the pact. Police said they pulled her over for not wearing a seat belt and discovered a marijuana cigarette in her car. Figueroa told Newsday that she was “set up.”
Figueroa, in a statement last week, said, “I thank all champions who worked toward Hempstead public education reform for the benefit of each and every Hempstead child. The reform work has not been in vain and the efforts toward rooting out corruption will continue. I wish the best to trustee-elect Randy Stith.”