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Hempstead school district voters go to polls again to pick board member

Maribel Toure, left, announced she is filing petitions

Maribel Toure, left, announced she is filing petitions to be on the ballot for the Hempstead School Board special election on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014 in Hempstead. Hempstead School Board President Betty Cross, right, is shown on Friday, May 23, 2014. Cross also announced she is filing petitions to be on the ballot for the special election.

Voters in the Hempstead school district will decide between candidates Betty Cross and Maribel Touré when they cast ballots Tuesday in a special board election.

The election stems from state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.'s order after Touré challenged the May 20 vote. Education Department officials said the revote is rare in a New York public school district.

The district, with more than 6,000 students, is among Long Island's most challenged systems academically. It has one of the lowest graduation rates on the Island and is under state scrutiny for allegedly turning away at least 34 Hispanic students from schools since classes started in September.

After community advocates and parents made public the immigrant children's issue, the district set up a "transition school" and students started classes there Wednesday. King has asked Nassau BOCES to investigate Hempstead's enrollment practices. The report completed last week has not been made public.

Whoever is elected trustee will inherit these and other issues for a term that expires June 30.

Cross, 68, a former president and a longtime member of the school board, and newcomer Touré were among the top three vote-getters in the May race, when seven candidates vied for two at-large seats.

Touré, 52, had the second-highest number of votes on election night. But the next day, Cross was sworn in as trustee after absentee ballots were counted and she bested Touré by six votes.

Touré petitioned King, accusing Cross and her campaign workers of election fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee balloting process. The education commissioner in August removed Cross from the board, ordered the school board to schedule a special election and asked the state attorney general's office to monitor the vote.

A spokeswoman for that office's Civil Rights Bureau said about a dozen representatives will be present Tuesday, working in shifts.

Cross has denied any wrongdoing.

Touré, an X-ray technician, said that if elected, she would work to improve academics by hiring more teachers and reducing class size rather than bringing on more high-paid administrators.

"We need to start solving problems at the school board level first," she said.

Touré said the district should make better use of its existing space to alleviate overcrowding and to bolster after-school programs so children won't be idle in the critical hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Touré said the district is blaming immigrant children for problems it's had for years.

"Immigration is not the problem in Hempstead," Touré said. "The real problem in Hempstead is mismanagement, a lack of responsibility and a lack of leadership."

Cross could not be reached for comment. Cornell Bozier, her campaign manager, touted Cross's 30 years of experience on the board, mostly as its president.

"She has been giving and doing for the community year-round, not just as a member of the school board," Bozier said.

He said Cross wants to bring stability to the district, including the school board.

"There is too much infighting," he said. "It's totally dysfunctional."

Bozier said Cross was saddened to see that some of the immigrant children were not able to attend classes until last week and that the system should have been better prepared.

Bozier said Cross would like to improve teacher evaluations, saying "students are only as good" as their instructors. If Cross is elected, he said, she would build a stronger relationship between the district and Hempstead Village officials.

Cross believes Superintendent Susan Johnson needs better support from the school board, Bozier said, calling Johnson "the general in a huge army."

The vote will be held at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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