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Ex-Hempstead school chief gets $320,000 payout

Dr. Patricia Garcia, superintendent of schools in Hempstead

Dr. Patricia Garcia, superintendent of schools in Hempstead at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Prospect School Bond Project. (May, 14, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Former Hempstead schools superintendent Patricia Garcia will receive a payout of nearly $320,000, and her replacement will make $210,000 in fewer than seven months -- part of the revolving door of leadership that experts say has victimized students in the low-performing district.

Garcia's successor, Susan Johnson, a two-time former Hempstead superintendent who unsuccessfully sued the district over her firing in 2005, took over when Garcia departed the troubled district on Nov. 2 after three years. It was the seventh change of superintendents in eight years in Hempstead, part of an ongoing struggle for control of the district.

"This has nothing to do with education," said Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University whose focus is on minority school districts. "It has to do with politics . . . Nobody is thinking about the education of the kids of Hempstead."

The administrative merry-go-round began in October 2004 when Nathaniel Clay, the superintendent since 1995, was fired and replaced by Johnson. The board reinstated Clay that December, after the state ordered him back on the job. The board then suspended him and replaced him again with Johnson. She was fired in July 2005 and Clay was rehired. Joseph Laria became interim superintendent in 2008 after Clay retired, and Garcia came aboard in 2009.

Current board of education president Betty Cross was among the members who voted to fire Clay and replace him with Johnson, and Johnson was fired for the last time shortly after Cross left the board. Cross said recently she was "under a gag order" and declined to comment on Garcia.

The Panama-born Garcia, the district's first Hispanic superintendent, oversaw the division of the high school -- which in 2011 had Long Island's lowest graduation rate, at 48 percent -- into three separate college preparatory academies. She also oversaw the creation of a districtwide kindergarten center at the formerly closed Prospect School, a move to reduce Hempstead's reliance on portable classrooms.

"It's been difficult for a district like Hempstead to get their kids college ready, and consistency is needed to do that," said Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the state Board of Regents. "The people who lose out are the kids. They are the ones who are caught in the management concerns in the school district."

Garcia will continue to receive her weekly pay of $4,568 -- totaling about $275,000 for 14 months -- and health insurance until Dec. 31, according to the separation agreement obtained by Newsday. "The reason they gave the last superintendent this nice package is to avoid a suit," Singer said.

Garcia also received more than $44,500 for unused vacation, sick and personal days. If she finds employment between July and December and the compensation is less than her district salary, Hempstead will pay the difference, the agreement said.

"Hempstead doesn't have the problem that other high-need districts have in terms of money," Tilles said. More than half of Hempstead's budget comes from state aid. "They do have above-average money being spent on students. The question is whether the money is being well spent."

Garcia could not be reached for comment. Her Albany-based attorney, Douglas Gerhardt, and the district's attorney, Jonathan Scher, both declined to comment. The separation agreement includes a confidentiality clause, as well as a no-hire and re-employment provision.

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