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State: Hempstead interim school chief’s double-dipping not OK’d

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, interim superintendent of the Hempstead school

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, interim superintendent of the Hempstead school district, discusses agenda items at a school board meeting on Sept. 15, 2016. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The state Education Department will not approve Hempstead interim Superintendent Fadhilika Atiba-Weza’s request to earn a $215,000 salary in addition to his monthly pension payments, officials confirmed Monday.

The department also criticized the district’s search over the summer for a temporary schools chief, saying it “did not undertake a good-faith search for the position of ‘Interim’ Superintendent of Schools,” according to a letter sent Friday to Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon, who had the task of submitting material to the state on the system’s behalf.

Ann Jasinski, assistant director of the Education Department’s Office of Teaching Initiatives, wrote that her office was “unable to approve” the request for a waiver regarding Atiba-Weza’s compensation and that the waiver would be denied in 10 business days if the district did not withdraw the application.

Maribel Touré, president of the Hempstead school board, was copied on the letter to Dillon.

Touré, in a statement, said the school board “disagrees” with the decision. She said Atiba-Weza’s “leadership has been eminent.”

“Not only has he been working nonstop, but with his strong experience as a superintendent he has been able to address the numerous academic and financial challenges that we are currently experiencing,” she said. “The denial of this request will be a great setback that will impose a tremendous burden on our school district and the children that we serve.”

Atiba-Weza could not be reached for comment Monday.

Hempstead trustees in June hired Atiba-Weza on a one-year contract, replacing Susan Johnson. He formerly worked as a superintendent in upstate Troy and had held stints on Long Island as superintendent of the Roosevelt and Central Islip school districts.

After 31 years as an educator, he retired in 2011. Atiba-Weza, 62, is eligible to receive a maximum monthly pension payment of $9,804.55, according to a spokesman for the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System.

In New York, employees who earn a pension and are under 65 need a state waiver — known as a Section 211 waiver — to make more than $30,000 annually. The law aims to prevent double-dipping, and the request must be approved by the employer and the state.

“The district and the superintendent together have to decide their next plan of action of how they’re going to move forward,” Dillon said in an interview Monday. “The superintendent can waive or suspend his retirement and work for the district, without any waiver from the state. The board and the superintendent would have to agree upon a contract.”

Nassau BOCES’ involvement in the matter, Dillon said, is as a conduit to file the information provided by the district and the superintendent to the Office of Teaching Initiatives.

The district had submitted documentation over the summer that Dillon in August said was “woefully inadequate to support the requested waiver application.”

Dillon said then that he was “hopeful that they will provide a document that will meet the standard. If not, they will have some decisions to make.”

School board member David B. Gates, in an interview Monday, said, “We were hoping that the waiver would be granted so Dr. Atiba-Weza would be able to continue his tenure. It’s up to the board to come together to figure out our next steps.”

He added, “It’s critical that the children don’t have an interruption.”

Board member Melissa Figueroa, reached by phone, said, “I haven’t read the document.” Board member Gwendolyn Jackson could not be reached for comment, while trustee LaMont Johnson declined to comment.

Questions over the superintendent’s contract come three months after Touré assumed leadership of the five-member board, with she and two other reform-minded trustees constituting a majority. The district also is looking to get out from under an extended period of state scrutiny.

The high school and the middle school were placed in the state’s new receivership program in July 2015. Hempstead High School, which was labeled “persistently struggling” after failing to meet academic standards for 10 years, was cited earlier this month as having made “demonstrable improvement.” Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School, classified as a “struggling school,” has until next year to meet state benchmarks.

The receivership program gave superintendents new powers to reform the schools, including the ability to develop a school intervention plan, lengthen the school day or year, and hire and fire employees. If such schools don’t post positive results by deadlines, the state can appoint an independent manager to oversee the school’s operations.

“Hempstead was making great progress. They were taking steps in the right direction,” said Roger Tilles, of Great Neck, Long Island’s representative on the state Board of Regents. “I don’t know why or who advised them to try this method, because there are other superintendents that are out there. If they had done it the right way, they might have been successful.”

With John Hildebrand and Víctor Manuel Ramos


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