The Westbury School District has appealed a New York State Education Department decision overturning the 2008 board of education election.
In its notice of appeal, dated April 9, the school district's attorney, Lawrence J. Tenenbaum, claims that Commissioner Richard Mills' decision to annul the May 2008 election of trustees was rendered in error and is requesting the decision be reopened. Additionally the district is seeking a "stay" for board members Adelaide Brinson and Laura Pierce, who, as a result of the election being annulled, were required to vacate their seats.
The appeal comes in response to a decision rendered last month by the education commissioner in response to a lawsuit filed by Rocco Lanzilotta. In June 2008, Lanzilotta, who lost his bid for the school board by 10 votes, filed a lawsuit against the district, requesting that the election be overturned because of election day "irregularities" and "inconsistencies" that violated education law.
In order for the appeal to be granted, the school district must show that the decision was rendered under a "misapprehension of the facts or that there is new and material evidence which was not available at the time the decision was made." In their appeal, the district claims that the commissioner's decision, in part, included a misapprehension of facts, pertaining to paper ballots, poll inspectors, polling place atmosphere and his overall standard of review. Additionally, the appeal states that "new and material evidence that was not available at the time the district's pleading were filed," such as affidavits they didn't include earlier, are now available.
The district is also requesting that the commissioner "grant a stay of his decision" and allow Brinson and Pierce to remain on the board through the appeal process. The appeal states that removal of the aforementioned board members "will have a devastating effect on the district and on the board's ability to operate and fulfill its responsibilities" and that the board, without Brinson and Pierce, "is currently divided such that it is frequently very difficult for a majority of the board members to agree on matters of significance" as well as "more routine and mundane matters." The district is arguing that without the required number of members, the board anticipates "significant difficulties in addressing the issues before it and conducting its regular business." District officials are also claiming that the "current makeup of the board" is of "significant and particular concern" when it comes to approving a budget "on a timely basis."
Anthony Iovino, attorney for Lanzilotta, believes the appeal has no merit and is a waste of both time and taxpayer money. "What the district is basically saying is that the board is so dysfunctional that it cannot operate in the best interest of the children and the taxpayers of the district so much so that it needs to keep unfairly elected members on this board," he said. "They are spending all of this taxpayer money to keep these two women on the board, even after the commissioner ruled otherwise. It is a waste of taxpayer money and a disgrace to the taxpayers to defend what was clearly an improper election."
At press time, the district's attorney was on vacation and did not return calls. Additionally, school officials could not be reached due to the Easter break.
In a previous Westbury Times article, school district spokesperson Don Miller stated that the Westbury School District "respectfully disagrees with Commissioner Mills' decision," and "stands by the fairness by which last year's election was conducted."
With the 2009 board of education election a little over a month away, granting a stay on the appeal, said Iovino, could cost taxpayers even more. "If the election is run next month, same time as regular school board and budget elections, no extra money will be spent for poll watchers and machines," he said. "If this is stayed and six months later the commissioner denies it, there will have to be a special election." Without a "stay," four seats would be up for grabs on May 19 -the two seats set to expire this year and the seats vacated by Brinson and Pierce; with a "stay" in place, only the expiring seats would be up.
Iovino told The Westbury Times that he responded to the request for the stay April 10 - within the three-day requirement - and plans to address the full brief within the next 30 days. The commissioner does not have a time limit to render a decision, however Iovino is optimistic Mills will do so in a "practical manner."
The next Westbury Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 22.
The Concerned Residents of Westbury will hold a public meeting on Monday, April 20 to discuss New York State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills' decision to overturn last year's Westbury Board of Education election. Guest speakers, along with a moderator, will be present. The meeting, which was planned prior to the district's appeal, will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Westbury Community Center, 360 Post Avenue.