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Editorial: Hempstead board is learning and unlearning

Hempstead School board president Lamont Johnson in the

Hempstead School board president Lamont Johnson in the Hempstead High School auditorium where he was voted into the new position on July 1, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The learning curve is going to be steep for new Hempstead school board president Lamont Johnson. That was clear even before last week's unfortunate meeting schedule snafu. Johnson, a former cop, has all of one year's experience on the board -- and that was under the leadership of predecessor Betty Cross, whose long and controversial tenure included a disregard for doing things the right way.

The good news is that Johnson is learning -- and his actions seem to show he rejects Cross' business-as-usual style that prioritized secrecy and minimized public participation.

The scheduling misstep came when the board tried to hold a "special meeting" in the office of the school district's law firm in Carle Place. That smacked of Cross' penchant for scheduling these kinds of sessions on short notice to keep away both the public and the media.

No board meeting should ever take place outside the district.

When Johnson realized he had received bad legal advice, he canceled the meeting and relocated it in Hempstead. Now he needs to wean himself -- and the board -- from these notorious secret sessions. They run counter to his promise to be open and allow more scrutiny of the board's actions. Johnson has as much to unlearn as he has to learn.

Meanwhile, the board awaits action from state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who has barred Cross from continuing to serve as he evaluates a petition that alleges voter fraud by her and her supporters in May's school board election. The district has filed its answer -- in general, a denial of the allegations. Two more rounds of paper responses must be completed in the next two weeks.

Then King must make a ruling as promptly as possible. He should remove Cross permanently, if the evidence warrants, and install challenger Maribel Touré. This would give Johnson and the Hempstead community a full complement of board members to lead the district.