The question of how to fill a vacant trustee seat provided the Hempstead school board with another chance to demonstrate some integrity, to show it is responsive to community concerns, and to indicate it takes seriously its educational mission. But once again, the board failed miserably. Its selection of Leonard Myers to fill the open seat smacks of the cronyism and dysfunction that for years has held down Long Island's worst-performing school district. It simply fails the smell test -- on its merits, on the process, and on its symbolism.
Myers, 80, a former businessman, has lived in Hempstead Village for 50 years. More important, he is a former campaign manager and longtime confidant to board president Betty Cross, whose nepotistic hires and backroom dealing is the stuff of legend. It's not like the board lacked for candidates. In August, it asked for resumes and cover letters from anyone interested in serving. Eleven people responded -- but not Myers. The board conducted interviews in November. Then it chose Myers. Cross has not explained the decision or said anything about the qualifications of the 11 respondents. Included in that group were two Hispanic candidates, both of whom were interviewed. Some community members had lobbied loudly for such representation in a district where nearly 60 percent of the students are Hispanic. Instead, the board remains entirely African-American.
The Hempstead school district is beset by myriad problems. Its graduation rate is the Island's lowest. Cross' reign of error has featured continual turnover of district superintendents and building principals. Residents should take matters into their own hands. Those seeking Hispanic representation should draft candidates for May's elections and vote for them. And anyone frustrated by the corrosive lack of leadership should note that Cross' seat is one of those up for grabs.