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Uberti: Hempstead school board deflects blame for recent gaffes

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson speaks at

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson speaks at the Hempstead School Board's first ever 'State of the School District' address at Hempstead High School in Hempstead. (April 6, 2013) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

In a functioning district, the school board would at least try to explain the decision-making process that led to institutionalized grade inflation and a typo-ridden summer reading list.

But this wasn’t a functioning school district. This was Hempstead.

About 75 people watched as the board, led by district autocrat Betty Cross, voted 3-1 to fire Carlos Ramirez, the director of technology who publicized Hempstead’s grade-fixing policy. For years, administrators had rounded up failing marks of 63 and 64 to passing grades of 65.

Cross didn’t give a reason for the termination, merely saying that she couldn’t discuss personnel issues. The crowd groaned. They’d seen this movie before. She and district administrators later said they’d decided this month to change the policy – at a closed meeting, of course.

And as for the reading list? “Trust me, we’re dealing with it,” Cross said. Several onlookers scoffed at the statement.

Instead of discussing those two very public gaffes, Cross spent most of the meeting deflecting blame.

“We need help from you and you and you,” she said, pointing toward the audience. “We don’t need you all to throw stones at us.

That’s rich in a district with the dubious honor of having Long Island’s lowest graduation rate in 2011-2012: 38 percent. Parents would be hard-pressed to find anything or anyone in the administration to support.

Cross failed to provide answers about grade inflation and the bungled summer reading list. She refused to address questions from non-residents, while silencing audience members trying to clarify their queries or ask follow-ups.

Board member Shelley Brazley, the only vote against firing Ramirez, pressed Cross regarding a July 9 meeting in which the board agreed to pay Superintendent Susan Johnson for 16 additional vacation days. Brazley couldn’t attend the meeting because it was scheduled at the last minute, she said.

“You know we don’t discuss that in public,” Cross said of the decision.

“We have to be more transparent in our community,” Brazley replied, eliciting an eruption of applause. “Is this even legal?”

Cross failed to restore the meeting to order after that. As onlookers’ heckling continued, she announced an executive session, and the board retreated to a back room.

When it returned five minutes later – with the audience still chirping – Cross promised an “open forum” with parents and students in the near future. But she didn’t provide any details and abruptly adjourned the meeting.

“I’m sorry that you think this was a waste of time,” she said before departing the stage.

Indeed. 

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