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Westbury school board members lose seats for absences

Three Westbury school board members have lost their seats for missing three consecutive meetings without a valid excuse, a move some are calling political.

The three members - Pless Dickerson, Floyd Ewing and Lawrence Zaino - were not removed, said board president Karin Campbell, but have "vacated" their seats under a state education law that states a trustee who misses three consecutive meetings "without rendering a good and valid excuse . . . vacates his office by refusal to serve."

Dickerson's term ends in 2012. The terms of Ewing and Zaino, who did not seek re-election this year, end on June 30.

On Monday, the board voted down the excuses the members provided. All three said they are appealing to the state Department of Education.

Campbell said the missed meetings went "well beyond the three" absences.

"Bottom line, why do I have to be here if they don't have to be here?" Campbell said. "Repeated calls, e-mails, messages, knocks on doors, attempts to reach them and there was no communication, none."

But community members are calling foul. "What's happening now is there is a power struggle, it's a ploy to get power over the school board," said Betty Hylton, a retired teacher in the district.

Dickerson, also the interim superintendent in Wyandanch, cited conflicts with board meetings there and said he was late for one meeting Westbury's board said he missed, as recorded in the minutes.

In May, newcomers Rodney Caines, Leslie Davis and Siela Bynoe won seats, beating incumbent Larry Wornum, who residents said was part of the 4-3 majority. The new threesome "tend to have the same philosophy as I do," Dickerson said. By getting rid of him, he said, the board can appoint someone to keep the majority.

Board member Rocco Lanzilotta said 90 percent of resolutions are voted on unanimously. He and Campbell said business was not getting done due to the absences, which Dickerson denies.

"This is not a political action," Campbell said. "This was a dereliction of duty and negligence . . . " But, she said, the "actions going forward and how you handle it, could be perceived as political, but that's just public perception."

Community members call it "selective" enforcement and are upset about Zaino, 91, a 27-year board member.

"To kick this guy off is the height of dirty politics," said Mike Burger, president of the teacher's union, which supported Caines, Davis and Bynoe.

Zaino said tensions rose last year when he, Ewing and Dickerson voted against letting Lanzilotta serve on the board and as district clerk. He said Lanzilotta was the tiebreaker.

Zaino said he feels betrayed. "I've been on the board for 27 years and this last month I was getting kind of tired and I missed a few meetings," Zaino said. "I'm 91 and they kick me off the board?"

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