The Hempstead school district has reached a critical juncture. Newsday...

The Hempstead school district has reached a critical juncture. Newsday endorses school board candidates Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Touré for change. Credit: Sam Guzik

The Hempstead school system perennially steals its students' futures.

Year after year, it fails miserably in its mission. That failure is all the more disturbing because the community it serves is beset by entrenched poverty and racial tension.

Education should lift up the young and provide pathways to success.

But Hempstead's graduation rate is 38 percent, the lowest on Long Island. Hundreds of students as young as kindergarten age are taught in moldy, leaky trailers. Race relations are a daily tinderbox.

Fixing the schools is an economic imperative, too. The district's ineptitude threatens to undermine a $2.5-billion plan to revitalize downtown Hempstead, once the throbbing commercial center of Nassau County. The project is exciting but could be doomed. Who would move there to be part of a renewal if it means sending their children to Hempstead's schools?

Many of the district's problems stem from a pernicious lack of leadership. Hempstead's school board has been ineffective and intransigent.

School board elections take place Tuesday. It's time for a change. A big change.

Because of the magnitude of the problems and the urgency to get things right, Newsday's editorial board is taking the unusual step of making endorsements in a local school board race.

Two of the board's five seats are open. They are held by president Betty J. Cross and fellow incumbent Leonard Myers. Cross is at the heart of the board's dysfunction. Her tenure has been marked by nepotistic hiring, backroom deals, a lack of transparency, high turnover of key administrators, indifference to poor relations between blacks and Latinos, and hostility to parent and teacher input. Myers, her former campaign manager whose board appointment Cross engineered in December, is her yes-man. Both must go.

Fortunately, the other five candidates understand the challenges and the need for reform. But two rise above the rest.

Newsday endorses Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Touré.

Running as a team, Cooke and Touré are backed by several key community groups. Both have had or have children in district schools and each speaks with an understanding of Hempstead's problems and with passion about its promise. Cooke, an education consultant, is a 1976 Hempstead grad who yearns for a return to those better days. Touré, an X-ray technologist who emigrated from Mexico and whose husband is black, embodies a district that is 59 percent Hispanic and 37 percent black. She has been a persistent critic at board meetings. The duo says the board must be transparent, willing to work with teachers and parents, and spend more wisely; Hempstead's $24,000 per-pupil expenditure is $3,000 a year above the state average. Both candidates deplore racial tensions in the district. Cooke recalls how poorly blacks were treated by whites upon moving into Hempstead several decades ago and laments, "Now we're doing to new people what happened to us."

Hempstead's problems can't be fixed overnight. But they won't be fixed if the school board is not committed to fixing them.

Hempstead needs new leaders. Newsday endorses Cooke and Touré.


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