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Coalition pushes reforms for Hempstead public schools

Activist Sergio Argueta speaks to residents of Hempstead

Activist Sergio Argueta speaks to residents of Hempstead about the People's Platform in Hempstead on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A coalition of groups Saturday backed a strategy to improve Hempstead public schools that includes greater oversight of the school board, reduced class sizes and transforming buildings into community hubs when school's out.

"Our kids in this community come to school facing a lot of challenges, facing strife, facing poverty, facing difficult situations at home. There is no reason why the school buildings that exist in this community should be closing at 3 o'clock in the afternoon," coalition member Sergio Argueta of The Corridor Counts said at a rally that drew more than 70 people.

The 11-point "People's Platform" was unveiled before the May 20 election. The coalition now intends to present its plan at the Sept. 18 school board meeting as the district prepares for a new election.

State Education Commissioner John B. King ruled this week that the district must hold a new election for a contested seat briefly filled by longtime board President Betty Cross.

King ordered Cross to step down last month as he weighed the merits of the vote after challenger Maribel Touré accused Cross and her supporters of fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee balloting process.

Touré, who attended Saturday's rally at the ABBA Leadership Center in Hempstead, spoke to the crowd in Spanish about the proposal to also use school buildings as after-hours community spaces.

On election night, Touré had 712 votes, compared with Cross' 691. Dozens of contested ballots were included in the totals the next day, putting Cross ahead by six votes, 719-713.

King, in his decision, ruled that the district must comply with monitors he will select to oversee the vote. The date of the new election hasn't been set.

The platform of reforms was drafted with input from more than 350 community members, including students. It also calls for a parent or teacher representative to sit on the board, more help for students and parents with limited English language skills, and other support services. The details of each recommendation will be finalized in coming weeks.

Hempstead school board president Lamont Johnson, who attended the rally, said he supports the platform.

"The campaign starts today to start pushing one reform at a time," said Steve McFarland, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a coalition member.

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