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Officials: Judge declines to force recusal of school board members

A judge declined Tuesday to force members of two Valley Stream school boards to recuse themselves from discussions about a lawsuit one district is bringing against the other over a dispute stemming from tax breaks granted to a Valley Stream mall, officials said.

The three members, who sit on the boards of education for both Valley Stream School District 24 and the Valley Stream Central High School District, voluntarily recused themselves anyway during a high school board meeting on Tuesday, according to high school district superintendent Bill Heidenreich. The high school district had sought the judge’s order.

“They were not required to by an outside authority,” he said on Wednesday. “If they’re recusing themselves, we don’t need to be in court.”

It’s unclear if the members will continue to recuse themselves at future meetings.

The two school districts are embroiled in a lawsuit over $2 million that District 24 is withholding from the high school district in a dispute about how payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreements are factored into district budgets.

The legal battle stems from PILOTs granted to Macerich, the California-based owner of the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream. The mall and an adjacent shopping center, the Green Acres Commons, are not on the county’s tax rolls because they received PILOTs from the Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency.

District 24 is arguing that it wants properties that receive PILOTs to be treated as if they are still on the tax rolls so it won’t affect school districts’ budgeting.

The high school district sued District 24 last month to get the money. Both parties must file briefs by July 20 and a decision could come as early as the last week of July.

Heidenreich said the high school district’s lawyers could not update its board on the lawsuit because of the three members who sit on both boards. On Tuesday, the high school district asked Nassau Supreme Court Justice Jack Libert to force the members to recuse themselves from participating in executive sessions about the lawsuit.

Libert did not grant the high school district’s request, according to Richard Zuckerman, lawyer for District 24.

Once the recusals occurred, Heidenreich said the rest of the high school board was updated on the status of the suit. Zuckerman declined to comment on the members’ recusals.

“It’s just unfortunate that the high school continues to spend money running into court on a weekly basis it seems,” instead of hammering out an agreement with District 24, Zuckerman said.

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