A group of 10-to-15 people -- mostly parents of students in the Babylon school district -- conducted surveillance of a school board trustee in what one group member described as an attempt to prove she was violating residency requirements by living outside the district.

The board trustee, Catherine Vukovich, resigned late last month, citing the surveillance, but said in an email to supporters that she had maintained her eligibility to serve by renting an apartment in Babylon.

The plan, group member Randy DeVoe conceded, was "a little sinister." Board trustee Thomas Melito went further, calling the events a "travesty" and the group that did the surveillance "crackpots."

Relations between the board and a group of residents, not all of whom participated in the surveillance, have been acrimonious for months. Members were unhappy with test scores for some grade levels and criticized the board for going into executive session too often.

The relationship deteriorated after an angry discussion at a fall school board meeting regarding a $9,000 raise for Superintendent Ellen Best-Laimit, bringing her salary to $200,000. Some parents thought the raise was inappropriate. Board members said it was necessary; she had not received a raise in 2009-10.

Melito later demanded a more civil tone at meetings, explaining in an interview he'd spoken out because "I cannot abide yelling and disrespect." But DeVoe said the reprimand itself was delivered disrespectfully.

Earlier this year, the district and a parent group, the Babylon Academic Committee for Excellence, each released surveys that drew different conclusions about the district's performance. The parent Web survey, filled out by nearly 150 people, indicated concern about the district's performance; the district's survey indicated more confidence.

DeVoe said the group began its surveillance of Vukovich in March. Group members made morning and late-night trips to her Babylon address, where they rarely saw her car, and to an address in Wantagh, where they saw it repeatedly, DeVoe said. They found pictures on her daughter's Facebook page that appeared to show Vukovich at the Wantagh home, DeVoe said.

DeVoe said her residency was symbolic of a larger issue of board "transparency."

When Vukovich resigned with more than a year left in her term, she said in an email to supporters that the people carrying out the surveillance "forced me to make a decision between the well-being of my family and my position on the board." She noted she announced the sale of her Babylon home in August but rented an apartment in the village, "which secured legal residency."

Under state law, a school board member must be a "qualified voter" of that district. Voter rolls from 2010 show a Babylon address for Vukovich.

She declined to comment.

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