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Editorial: Troubled Hempstead needs a full school board

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 Hempstead school board has set its special election to fill the seat formerly held by longtime fixture Betty Cross. The board wisely chose an early date -- Oct. 28 -- an urgency promptly underscored by an emerging crisis in Hempstead's schools.

District officials say enrollment has grown since June by an astonishing 15 percent -- from 7,088 to nearly 8,200. Compounding that was a district decision to switch the school day from nine periods to an eight-period schedule. The result has been intense overcrowding -- many middle school classrooms, for example, have close to 40 students and some more than 50 -- in a district already struggling mightily. Students in some classes have been forced to stand, parents say.

Hempstead's school board needs a full complement of people with energy and fresh ideas to tackle both this and the district's serious systemic problems -- some of which are being probed by a wide-ranging Nassau County district attorney investigation that also is looking at May's election. The board's final member will come from the special election ordered by state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who found evidence of voter fraud in absentee balloting by Cross and her supporters in May. Hempstead would be served best if Cross did not run again.