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Long IslandNassau

Roosevelt residents decry $350/hour consultant plan

From left, vice president Alfred T. Taylor, president

From left, vice president Alfred T. Taylor, president Robert Summerville and Superintendent Dr. Deborah Wortham conduct business during a meeting of the Roosevelt School Board. (Oct. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Roosevelt residents heaped criticism on a controversial proposal to hire a $350-an-hour consultant for the struggling school district, with several telling school board members Thursday night that the expenditure would be a wasteful use of resources.

Assembly Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper, a Hempstead Democrat whose constituency also includes Roosevelt, has pressed the district to hire a political ally, attorney Lance D. Clarke. Clarke also lives in Hempstead, which some residents of nearby Roosevelt consider a negative.

Several opponents of the plan spoke up Thursday night at a school board meeting, the first to be held since Newsday reported last week on Clarke's potential consultant position.

"There's no reason for us to waste district money that's supposed to go to our children on Lance Clarke or anybody else," said Francis Cooper, a longtime Roosevelt resident.

"Three hundred dollars an hour kind of seems an awful waste of cash," said Daphne Adedeji, a social studies teacher in the district and former union president. Like Cooper, she spoke at the end of the board meeting, during a period reserved for public comment.

Other residents at the lightly attended meeting told a reporter that they also oppose Clarke's bid for a consulting job, but decided not to speak because the issue is under review by the Nassau County district attorney's office.

School board president Robert Summerville said at the end of the meeting that he and other trustees would issue no formal statement for the same reason.

The district attorney's office said earlier this week that it had received complaints about the push for a consultant. An agency spokesman said Thursday that a review of those complaints is continuing.

Hooper pushed the district's hiring of a consultant in a mid-September meeting with new Roosevelt Superintendent Deborah Wortham.

Wortham, who took her post on July 1, reported to the school board that the proposed consultant could be a key figure in determining whether Roosevelt receives enough state financial aid during the 2014-15 school year to avoid running up a multimillion-dollar deficit.

A week after the meeting with Hooper, the superintendent received a letter from Clarke, a former Hempstead Village deputy mayor, detailing the role he envisioned for himself as a $350-an-hour consultant.

Clarke, in his letter, said he would review Roosevelt's finances, meet with school administrators, parents and other local residents, and write periodic reports on the district's status. Clarke said the reports would aim to persuade Hooper and other lawmakers to renew aid allocations, including a special $6 million annual grant that otherwise would expire.

Newsday reported Hooper's push for a consultant on Oct. 4. Since then, three of Roosevelt's five board members and a number of residents have voiced misgivings about the proposal.

Hooper, in interviews with Newsday, has contended that Roosevelt requires monitoring by a paid consultant to make sure taxpayers' money is well spent.

The 2,800-student district is one of the poorest on Long Island.It had been supervised by the state Education Department under an unprecedented 11-year takeover. The state's takeover and intensive supervision ended July 1.

Clarke, in separate interviews, has said he was simply trying to help Roosevelt continue its efforts to boost student achievement.

He has cited extensive personal experience in aiding nonprofit agencies, including Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

Arthur Gianelli, the medical center's president, confirmed that Clarke was helpful earlier this year in winning support from Hooper and other lawmakers for legislation allowing NUMC to do collaborative contracting with other medical networks. That bill is awaiting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's signature, according to a Gianelli aide.

NUMC did not pay Clarke for his assistance, the aide said.

"I've known Lance for a long time," Gianelli said in a written statement. "I found him to be very smart, very thorough, very accessible, and a good partner with whom to work on legislative matters of interest to Deputy Speaker Hooper."

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