The state-appointed monitor who will oversee the struggling Hempstead School District for the next five years made his first public appearance Monday and said he’s the right fit for the job.
“I have decades of experience in education. For the past 34 years, I have served as the superintendent of the Rockville Centre Union Free School District. I held numerous leadership roles in the district, including the areas of curriculum, instruction, special education and business,” said William Johnson, also a former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, “I am very familiar with the academic and fiscal challenges faced by districts such as Hempstead.”
Johnson spoke via video conference in one of three mandated public hearings, the first meant to discuss state laws affecting how schools are governed in New York.
Johnson also laid out his responsibilities, including developing an academic and financial improvement plan for the district. Johnson and the Hempstead board are required to develop financial and academic improvement plans by November for 2020-21 and the next four school years. The plans will be based on findings from the public hearings.
He said he will review each proposed budget to ensure it is "based on reasonable revenues and expenditures, is balanced, and is consistent with the district’s improvement and academic plans.”
State law calls for Johnson to oversee the district, gives him veto power over travel outside the state and assist in resolving any disputes involving school board members and the superintendent.
In June, Johnson told Newsday that he welcomed the opportunity to work in the Hempstead district, noting that it was introducing a baccalaureate program at the middle school level. That program was brought to Hempstead by Jack Bierwirth, a former state-appointed adviser to the district.
“I think a number of positive things have been done to improve instructional programs in the district for the last several years, and I look forward to building on those positive changes,” Johnson said last month.
On Monday, Johnson said: “I anticipate that much of my work will build upon the findings and recommendations made by Doctor Bierwirth.”
Monday’s meeting focused mainly on state laws that outline the roles of district superintendents, the differing roles of state and federal governments in New York’s public schools and how schools are targeted for state-assisted improvement.
At its peak, nearly 100 viewers tuned in to the live broadcast.
Hempstead is Nassau County’s poorest district in terms of taxable income and property values and is facing a financial crisis. Local school officials have said the system is hemorrhaging money and will most likely face staff cuts to balance its budget for the upcoming school year.
The public got a chance to ask Johnson some questions.
One participant asked about Johnson’s overall role with the district’s school board. Johnson had previously explained that he is a nonvoting member but can recommend topics for the board to discuss. The questioner also aked Johnson what happens when he disagrees with a measure passed by the board.
Johnson said it’s something he’ll have to consult the State Department of Education about and then keep board members in the loop with the state’s decision.