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Consulting fees to fellow board members criticized

As a former Hempstead Town planning commissioner and GOP leader, Bob Francis is no stranger to controversy.

Now retired from his town job, Francis faces a new fight as board chairman of Roosevelt Children's Academy. A state teachers union involved in contract talks at the charter school is criticizing more than $140,000 paid last year to Francis and another board trustee.

Francis, 69, defends his $60,000-a-year consultant's fee, saying his oversight of the school's physical expansion demands increasing time.

"It really became a 24-hour job," he said. "You have to oversee construction and everything else."

Union officials say allowing nonelected trustees of charter schools to award payments to colleagues, while legal, is an invitation to financial abuse.

"No school district on Long Island would accept the steering of more than $100,000 in contracts to board members without community input," said Carl Korn, a state union spokesman.

The school's latest financial statement shows its six-person board approved payments to certain members of $141,200 in 2009, and $84,479 in 2008. Trustees receiving payments abstained from voting as required, the statement shows.

In a phone interview, Francis said the other trustee paid was Philip Leconte, the board's treasurer, who also acts as school accountant. Francis noted the payments were far less than the $487,750 annual fee formerly paid an outside management firm. He added the payments are temporary until the school becomes large enough to employ full-time business administrators.

SUNY officials in Albany, who monitor charter-school finances, say payments appear to have been for legitimate purposes - accounting and construction consulting. Those officials add they are reviewing the issue further, and could require changes before renewing the school's charter next year.

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