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Editorial: Hempstead schools should embrace scathing state audit

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson, seen speaking

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson, seen speaking at a district meeting in 2013. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Hempstead school district has suffered for years from pervasive mismanagement. The extent of that failure is laid bare in a scathing state comptroller report, which describes a raft of systemic problems and concludes that the school board did not make sound financial decisions in the best interests of the district.

The audit, which is more evidence of the dreadful reign of former board President Betty Cross, contains a series of recommendations, many of which the reconstituted school board -- with a new president and two new members -- already is undertaking, to its credit. The new board needs to keep pursuing reform and to exercise the kind of selfless student-first leadership Hempstead has been lacking.

Among the report's findings: The district, instructed by Cross, overpaid superintendent Susan Johnson by tens of thousands of dollars; administrators were improperly paid nearly $50,000 for unused sick and vacation days; four hires lacked minimum qualifications for their positions; and the board regularly called special or emergency meetings that were not justified and that severely limited public participation.

Still to come: a long-awaited BOCES audit on Hempstead's special education program and the results of a probe by the Nassau District Attorney's office, which needs to vigorously move forward. Cross is suing departing state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. for exceeding his authority when he removed her from her post last summer, and has said she plans to run again. Her return would undermine progress.

The comptroller's report, as harsh as it is, is also a benefit to the school board's new leadership, which should use it as a road map for beginning to turn around the troubled district so it provides the quality education its students deserve.


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