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Hempstead school board needs a Hispanic trustee, group says

A diverse group of 70 Hempstead Village community leaders and residents are calling for Hispanic representation on the Hempstead school board, citing the district's steadily growing Hispanic student population and a recent vacancy on the board as a chance to improve diversity.

Advocates with the Hempstead Promise Neighborhoods coalition gathered at the Hempstead Public Library on Monday to discuss asking the board of education to appoint a Hispanic trustee to the position vacated last month when Hempstead Village Deputy Mayor Waylyn Hobbs resigned two years before his term ended. They plan to create a search committee to find a "viable" Hispanic candidate.

The district's student body was 57 percent Hispanic or Latino and 39 percent black or African-American in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the state Education Department.

"We would like to see at least a Hispanic person get consideration to be on the board," said Reginald Benjamin, executive director of ABBA Leadership Center.

School board president Betty Cross said Tuesday the board will be sending out a notice seeking candidates to fill the vacant seat on the board rather than wait until next May's election.

"Nobody from the Spanish community has come to me about wanting to be on the board," Cross said. "They shouldn't want just one ethnic group. We will open it up to whoever applies."

George Siberon, executive director of Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, said at Monday's meeting that some Hispanic residents have indicated interest in being on the board.

Cross expressed disappointment she was not invited to the meeting. "This is a stab in the dark. They did not come up to us about this meeting," Cross said. "If you really want to be fair, you send people a letter and make a phone call."

Board member Lamont Johnson said Latino representation on the board is not the issue, noting that last year's district graduation rate of 38 percent was the lowest among the Island's 124 public school districts.

"The main problem is that the parents are not involved," said Johnson, adding he found out about the meeting through a Facebook post because he was not invited.

Maribel Toure, a parent of a high school senior, said more Spanish-speaking parents would be involved if there was someone at board meetings who could interpret.

Cross refuted that claim. "We do have translation at some of the board meetings. We treat the Spanish kids very well in Hempstead. We treat the parents well," Cross said.

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