Last Monday, New York State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills denied the Westbury School District's request to reverse his decision invalidating last year's board of education election and annulling the terms of two trustees.
The school district, in its appeal, stated that Mills' March 26 decision was rendered "under a misapprehension of fact" and submitted affidavits and exhibits to refute prior findings. Westbury requested that the decision be reopened to allow for "new and material evidence not available at the time the district's pleadings were filed." The district, in the appeal, also requested a "stay" of trustees Adelaide Brinson and Laura Pierce on the grounds that, minus two board members, the district would have a difficult time "addressing the issues before it and conducting its regular business," particularly in regard to adopting a budget "on a timely basis."
In his brief, two and a half page response to the appeal, the commissioner denied the request to reopen he decision on the grounds that the school district "failed to demonstrate that the alleged new and material evidence was not available at the time the original decision was made." As a result of the denied appeal, the two board vacancies remain in effect.
In response to the commissioner's most recent decision, district spokesperson Don Miller stated that "Westbury Public Schools takes the responsibility of conducting legal, fair and thorough elections very seriously and while [the district is] disappointed with the commissioner's decision, [they] will abide by that ruling and proceed in accordance with state law."
Following last year's board of education election, candidate Rocco Lanzilotta filed a lawsuit against the school district requesting that the election be overturned because of election day "irregularities" and "inconsistencies" that violated education law. Lanzilotta's claim was initially denied but he appealed and Commissioner Mills rendered a decision in the candidate's favor late last month.
"I was completely convinced that the district's appeal was meritless and my thoughts were reflected by Commissioner Mills' denial of their appeal," Lanzilotta told The Westbury Times, adding that he is, however, concerned that the cost of what he describes as a "frivolous appeal" has "unnecessarily cost the financially-strapped district money."
According to Lanzilotta, "had the district complied with Commissioner Mill's order to hold a special election when the decision was rendered on March 26, it could have been combined with the election already scheduled for May 19. Now the district must incur a cost of another election thus burdening the taxpayers even further."
While his attorney, Anthony Iovino of Garden City, is "extremely pleased that the commissioner denied the district's appeal, which we believed was baseless all along," he is concerned about the cost to taxpayers as well. "The board's delay in complying with the decision means that a separate election will need to be held - instead of electing all four seats on May 19," said Iovino. "We regret the unnecessary expense, in legal fees and in the costs of running a new election that has been caused by the district's actions."
According to Miller, the deadline to file petitions for the May 19 election was Monday, April 20 - the same day as the education department's decision came down. As a result, a special election for the vacancies created as a result of the commissioner's ruling will have to take place.
"It is our priority to act quickly and hold a special election as soon as possible to fill the two vacant school board seats and [the district] will be meeting to discuss and resolve the matter shortly," said Miller, adding that holding the elections on separate occasions is the best way for the district to keep things "even and fair for those already running."
The Westbury Board of Education is normally comprised of seven members, however, with the two vacancies there are currently five sitting trustees. With the reduced board, a vote of four is required to pass any resolution, including adopting the 2009-2010 budget. At the April 22 board of education meeting, the first since Commissioner Mills' decision a month ago, the five-member board adopted its 2009-2010 budget by a vote of 4-1 and in compliance with the state deadline.
The board vote and election of trustees will take place May 19. A special election to fill the two board vacancies will most likely take place in June.