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Letter: ‘A School Board in Transition’

As I sat down to pen this article, I couldn’t get the rhythm of Stephen Sondheim’s classic, as sung by Judy Collins, out of my head “Send in the clowns...don’t bother, they are here,” but I immediately dismissed this thought from my mind because I had no intention of going in that direction. I focused instead on Tom and Karin Mattone’s letter that was published in the June 3 edition of The Westbury Times, in which they lamented that they thought they had seen it all. They were commenting on two of a series of issues that the board acted on, which caused many in the community to scratch their heads in wonderment – these being the action of four board members to appoint fellow school board trustee Rocco Lanzilotta as the district clerk last year, and more recently, the board’s action in vacating the seats of three board members on the grounds that they missed three successive meetings without providing reasonable excuses.

The past several months have been rather interesting in terms of occurrences within the board of education (BOE) of the Westbury Union Free School District; each appears to be more intriguing than the one before. Perhaps this is what prompted the Mattones to be second-guessing themselves. In fact, if one should reflect on the past 10 years, it would seem as if there is always something of “intrigue” occurring in the district. We have experienced the firing of a superintendent, the controversial attempted forcing out of another (at least as perceived by many in the community), the annulment of a board of education trustee election, (Brinson/Pierce seats vacated based on a ruling by Commissioner Mills; acting on petition filed by Rocco Lanzilotta following the 2008 BOE election – see April 10 edition of the Westbury Times), the two issues referenced before, and most recently the appointment of my good friend, Rod Bailey on Monday, 6/21/10, to fill one of the seats vacated by one of the three trustees. However, it appears as if this appointment will be shortlived because the very next day (Tuesday, 6/22/10) after the appointment was made, State Education Commissioner David Steiner ordered Pless Dickerson returned to his seat on the board, pending the outcome of his legal appeal. Since the other two seats, those of Floyd Ewing, III and Lawrence Zaino expired on June 30, there will essentially be no need for Bailey.

Since Bailey was rejected at the polls in the recent May elections, and had run and lost in two previous school board elections, some people questioned the wisdom of this move by the board, just as they had questions about Lanzilotta’s appointment as district clerk. The controversy sparked by the vacated seats issue has not gone quietly into the night, as tempers flared at meetings on both sides of the aisle (board/audience) to the point that security, in the form of the police, was summoned as a precaution on two consecutive occasions.

The district seems to be experiencing a protracted period of adjustment at the board level as it struggles to strike a reasonable balance in doing what is legally right and what is ethically just; there seems to be no problem with the former, it is the latter that is causing people to scratch their head.

Chester McGibbon