Written by Anton News Staff Friday, 23 July 2010 00:00
Although action taken at the Westbury School Board’s reorganization meeting held July 7 saw newly elected members of the Board of Trustees for the Westbury School District sworn in, Dr. Pless M. Dickerson elected by the newly formed board to serve as its president and Dr. Constance Clark-Snead affirmed by the board as Superintendent for the district, Karin Campbell is maintaining that she is still the president of the board and the trustees seated prior to the July 7 meeting are the rightful trustees and should proceed as so.
The prior board, when she served as its president, “vacated” Dickerson’s seat for “failure to perform his duty for missing multiple BOE meetings.” Dickerson filed an appeal and received a stay from State Education Commissioner David Steiner to keep his seat, it pending an appeal.
Campbell contends that the commissioner’s stay did not grant Dickerson the right to act in the capacity of a seated trustee and president of the board, and actions taken at the July 7 reorganization meeting were, in her opinion, not legally authorized.
Campbell assembled two evening meetings, one July 14 and one July 15, which she called official BOE reorganization meetings. The meetings were held outside, at the entrance to Westbury High School. She said Dr. Clark-Snead had denied her request to assemble inside the building.
Campbell expressed her reasoning in assembling what she called official board meetings. If the state commissioner of education deems the July 7 meeting not official by not ruling in favor of Dr. Dickenson’s appeal, and the board in place prior to July 7 is deemed official in its capacity to hold the district’s required reorganization meeting, then, Campbell states, by her holding her so-called board meetings July 14 and 15, the board will have fulfilled its obligation to the state to conduct the board’s business for the next school year by July 16. (It should be noted that part of a written statement dated July 6, signed by Karin Campbell, President, Westbury Board of Education, on district letterhead with the heading, “Urgent Notification from the Westbury School Board of Education,” Campbell states, “The Westbury Board of Education has authorized legal counsel to file an article 78 proceeding in NY State Supreme Court to compel the NY State Education Commissioner to remove the stay that returned Dr. Pless Dickerson to his seat on the Westbury Board of Education, which would allow for his immediate removal.” (The newly sworn-in board elected Dickerson as its president the following evening.)
Those joining her on the evening of the 14th were: Rocco Lanzilotta (present trustee), Stanton Brown (present trustee), Larry Wornum (lost the election for trustee), Rod Baily (appointed trustee by the prior board when it “vacated” Dickerson’s seat), and attorney W. Charles Robinson, who stated he was provided legal counsel to Campbell. About 20 community members were present.
Campbell, in a prepared statement said that evening, “The board of education was advised by legal counsel that the seated board of Karin B. Campbell (president), Rocco Lanzilotta, Stanton Brown, Larry Wornum and Rod Bailey is the legally seated board of education until a decision is made by the commissioner of education with regards to Dr. Dickerson…”
She also stated on the 14th, “In addition, because of the commissioner’s delay in making a decision, NY State Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi signed an “order to show cause” requiring NYS commissioner David M. Steiner to show cause as to why he shouldn’t be compelled to make a decision immediately with regards to Dr. Dickerson’s legal status on the board.” She stated because of “recent developments that have a potential negative and direct impact on our district, we find it necessary to make a statement regarding the egregious actions taken by Dr. Pless Dickerson and Dr. Constance Clark-Snead, that have put the current state of our school district in serious jeopardy, along with potentially disrupting our most precious responsibility, the education of our children.”
Following her statement on the 14th, The Westbury Times asked Campbell how the situation reflects on the school district. She said, “I think it’s embarrassing and it’s unfortunate, I was not prepared to have this transition. I have been on this board for over eight years, and it’s kind of unfortunate that this evening’s meeting was preempted with an unofficial meeting, but we are fully prepared to move forward.”
The Westbury Times also asked her if she had been in contact with the state education commissioner regarding the ruling on Dr. Dickerson’s appeal. W. Charles Robinson responded for her, saying he would “be petitioning him again before the week is out.”
Jaspan Schlesinger LLP serves as general counsel to the Westbury School District.
When The Westbury Times called the office of New York State Commissioner of Education David Steiner requesting comment on the situation with the Westbury School Board and the status of Dr. Dickerson’s appeal, the paper was told that there would not be a comment, as is the usual practice with pending appeals.
According to School Law, a book published by the New York State School Boards and Bar Associations, a vacancy can be declared if “the record clearly shows that a board member has failed to attend three successive meetings and has no sufficient excuse for the absences.”
The Westbury Times reported in early June that Dickerson, who was re-elected to a three-year term in May, said he received a letter May 26 informing him he had been removed. He said that his removal was unwarranted. “I have not been absent three consecutive times throughout the school year, and I am basing that on the records kept by the district clerk,” said Dickerson at the time; a point he continues to make. Dickerson, who is the Interim Superintendent for the Wyandanch School District, has stated that he missed two meeting and was late to a third due to conflicting schedules with the Wyandanch School District.
School Law states that “if the board member has sufficient excuse to warrant absence from the meetings, a vacancy cannot be declared” and a “board’s decision to remove a school board member from office may be removed by the commissioner on appeal.”
On the evening of July 15, Campbell conducted the meeting as though she was presiding over the board’s official meeting. Present with Campbell on July 15 were: Rocco Lanzilotta, Stanton Brown, and Rod Bailey.
Questions from community members present on July 15 reflected confusion about what has transpired over the two weeks. One gentleman summed it up by saying simply, “I don’t know what is official and what isn’t official.”
The Westbury Times contacted the school district for a comment on the July 14 and 15 events. The paper was told that the board is reserving comment until the next scheduled board meeting on July 22.
There’s one person who apparently can resolve the situation, and the community is waiting on his decision: New York State Commissioner of Education David M. Steiner.