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Letter: Tallying Up the Cost

(Editor’s Note: To view the document discussed in the following letter, visit http://tinyurl.com/BOEfees.)

In what seemed like a free for all litigation spree following the May 2010 school board election in the Westbury School District culminated in a decision by the court on Dec. 6 to dismiss the most serious of these cases: then school board president Karin Campbell’s petition against David Steiner, the New York State Education Commissioner. It was somewhat hard for the average resident to make sense of, or keep up with the daily developments and the various twists and turns that were mainly centered on the presumption that Dr. Pless Dickerson’s seat on the Board of Education was legally vacated because of his multiple and consecutive absences at Westbury Board of Education meetings. This charge created a ripple effect in that it raised serious questions about Dickerson’s eligibility for controlling the majority on the board with the victorious “516 team.”

Charges and counter-charges (including issues other that the May election fallout) between the two sides vying for control of the majority on the board were fast and furious, and no time was wasted in filing petitions as each side took action to stand its ground. Petitioners engaged the services of various law firms including Jaspan, Schlesinger LLP, C. Robinson & Associates and Bondi & Lovino. In the September action meeting of the board of education, I asked for a breakdown of the number of lawsuits that were pending against the district and an approximation of the cost that such actions may incur. I was not given an answer then, but at the last planning/ action meeting of Dec. 16, in response to the same question from the audience, the deputy school board president, Rodney Caines, released the following that was received earlier that day (see Editor’s Note above for website link).

This by no means represents the totality of the various lawsuits pending against the school district but it illustrates the monetary cost of whimsical actions, and begs the question as to whether the events over the spring/summer could not have been handled in a manner that would be of less cost to the taxpayers of this community. Some people argue that these are the liberties that citizens in a democratic society enjoy, and it is a civilized and less confrontational way of settling disputes or disagreements, but when one considers the arguments that are waged against ostensibly wasteful spending in the school budgets, and the calls for cuts to educational programs and personnel, it seems to me that there are some inconsistencies here. I can only hope that going forward, the taxpayers of this community will be more vigilant with regards to matters of this nature and to remind our elected officials that impetuous and spiteful action leaves holes in our pockets, but lines the pockets of the lawyers who are only too happy to “help them out.”

Chester McGibbon