Written by Victoria Caruso-Davis Thursday, 28 May 2009 07:14
A second petition has been filed with the New York State Education Department against Westbury Superintendent of Schools Dr. Constance Clark-Snead.
On May 20, Westbury Board of Education Trustee Larry Wornum filed a petition with State Education Commissioner Richard Mills requesting Clark-Snead be removed from position as superintendent. Wornum, who has been outspoken about district and school board decisions over the past two years, said that several issues over the course of his tenure on the board led him to take the action.
Wornum’s petition against the district came less than two days after Westbury resident and attorney Robert Manners filed a similar suit against Clark-Snead and Westbury Board of Education President Pless Dickerson. Last week, The Westbury Times reported that Manners had filed a petition with Commissioner Mills requesting that the superintendent and board president be removed from their respective positions because they allegedly withheld information from fellow board members and the community on several key issues.
In his 12-page petition, Wornum alleges that the superintendent, in his opinion, has engaged in a “pattern of bad acts that have been intended to conceal, withhold or twist facts, to the detriment of the board” and that “some of these bad acts are spilling out into the local community and that they may be illegal, unconstitutional, fraudulent or even criminal.”
The petition highlights about five items but specifically mentions the district’s decision to appeal Commissioner Mills’ March 2009 decision annulling the 2008 trustee election and a tax lien placed on Bethel United Pentecostal Church (two key items in the suit brought forth by Manners).
In 1998, when Bethel purchased the Jericho Turnpike property, which is located in Old Westbury within the confirms of the Westbury School District, it was agriculturally assessed but sale of the site meant a change in use before the eight-year time frame with monies due the school district. At closing, some $700,000 in purchase funds were placed in the seller’s escrow to cover the rollback in property taxes, and, in 2002, the Westbury School District received approximately $500,000 in imposed property tax monies.
However, in the four years it took to settle the claim, an additional $400,000 in penalties, interest and fees – some $325,000 due to the school district – accrued on former owner Thomas Kontogiannis. Since liens cannot be placed on individuals, and Kontogiannis is currently serving time on bribery charges unrelated to the church property, a tax lien has been placed on the property, which, as a church, is tax-exempt.
Bethel’s Administrative Pastor Rev. William Cook told this newspaper that all requests to negotiate settlement of the tax lien have been denied by the superintendent and that he was told the school board would not negotiate the lien.
Wornum’s states that, as a member of the board, he had almost no knowledge of this matter until Rev. Cook called him on May 12 and told him what was going on. In the petition, Wornum questions why the matter has not been brought before the school board. “Why have I been kept in the dark? How could I, as a trustee of this school board, be kept ignorant of such a toxic and explosive issue? Since when does the superintendent start apparently misleading the school board and the community about what is decided? … Why did the superintendent apparently tell [Rev. Cook] that the school board is refusing to discuss this matter when that is simply not true?”
In his petition, Wornum goes on to say that, in his opinion, “the superintendent’s treatment of the matter of Bethel Church amounts to more than a deception of the school board. In my opinion, it is arrogant, cold-hearted, abusive, in bad judgment and with reckless disregard to the church, community, governing laws and the United States Constitution.”
In regard to the district’s appeal of Commissioner Mills’ decision to overturn last year’s school board vote, Wornum alleges that he was never told there was going to be an appeal and the school board never met to discuss the decision to move forward with one. “No meeting was called regarding this matter … I first learned about the appeal from the newspaper … I do not know who authorized the appeal. I do know we never voted on it, we never discussed it and there was ample time to do so,” states the petition.
“I have been on the board for two years and I believe that, administratively, there are many issues within the district that appear to only service the needs of the few and not the entire population,” Wornum told The Westbury Times. “This behavior must stop. The school board runs the district not the superintendent. She is supposed to act on our behalf and should not be acting without our knowledge or approval. I felt I had no other recourse but to follow through in this fashion.”
In response to the allegations brought forth by both Manners and Wornum, the district issued the following statement: “The Westbury School District emphatically denies all the allegations of impropriety brought forth in Mr. Manners’ petition to the State Education Department. The matter at hand with respect to the church involves a longstanding and highly complex issue that had been thoroughly litigated in favor of the district and its taxpayers. In the petition filed by Mr. Wornum, through his own admission, he acknowledges that his accusations are simply his own opinion, one we believe is lacking in fact and truth, and we similarly deny any wrongdoing as he alleges.”
The statement continues, “It is unfortunate that both these petitions place an unnecessary burden on our taxpayers in defending against baseless and frivolous claims.”