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Court Dismisses School District Petition Against State Commissioner of Education

A five-month long wait for the Westbury School Board resulted in the dismissal on Dec. 6 of the Westbury School District petition (Karin Campbell was then president of the board of education) against David Steiner, the New York State Department of Education Commissioner.

Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Melkonian wrote in the decision:

“The salient facts are that one member of the four member majority of the petitioner’s seven member School Board lost his bid for re-election in May 2010. As a result of the election loss, the majority of the Board under the leadership of then-President Karin Campbell would become the majority on June 30, 2010. On June 7, 2010, the Campbell majority attempted to thwart its loss at the polls by using its superiority to eject all three of the minority members for three alleged instances of unexplained absence and tardiness, and then fill the vacancy created by their removal of Dickerson with one of the individuals who lost the election. With Dickerson’s removal and replacement, the Campbell majority hoped to retain the majority even after June 30, 2010 when the three newly elected members joined the Board.

“Dickerson appealed petitioner’s determination removing Dickerson from the Board to respondents on June 11, 2010 and sought an immediate stay of his removal from the Board. On June 21, 2010, respondents granted Dickerson’s request for a stay of his removal and directed Dickerson’s reinstatement to petitioner’s board pending resolution of Dickerson’s administrative appeal.

“With Dickerson reinstated to the Board, the Campbell majority attempted to keep the newly elected individuals from being members of the Board and forming the majority with Dickerson by hurriedly holding a special meeting where the Campbell majority postponed the date of the meeting at which the elected members would normally be sworn into office. On July 7, 2010, the Campbell majority filed its first Article 78 petition.”

The judge went on to write:

“Meanwhile the newly elected members arranged to be sworn in prior to the postponed meeting, joined Dickerson to form the new majority of the Board, and promptly rescinded the Campbell majority’s handiwork. Following the new Board majority’s rescission of the Campbell majority’s removal of Dickerson, Dickerson applied to withdraw his administrative appeal on July 13, 2010 and respondents granted Dickerson’s request to withdraw his appeal. Respondents now assert that inasmuch as there is no administrative appeal before the Department of Education, petitioner’s proceeding is moot. The Court agrees with respondents. Respondents are clearly entitled to dismissal of petitioner’s petition and amended petition based on mootness.”

The decision states, “In general, an issue is moot unless the rights of the parties will be directly affected by the determination of the Court and the interest of the parties is an immediate consequence of the judgment.”

The judge wrote, “With Dickerson’s withdrawal of his administrative appeal, there is no administrative proceeding before respondents and the temporary stay is now vacated.

“Petitioner implicitly concedes that petitioner’s proceeding against respondents is mooted by Dickerson’s withdrawal of his administrative appeal. Instead of addressing respondents’ mootness argument, the Campbell majority vainly attempts to distract attention from mootness and to justify the Campbell majority’s attempted coup with long-winded and irrelevant accusations against Dickerson. Notwithstanding the Campbell majority’s new allegations against Dickerson and the new Board majority and arguments that the newly elected Board members have also been removed by the Campbell majority, those new allegations and arguments are not the subject of any pending administrative appeal before respondents. There is clearly nothing remaining before respondents for the respondents to determine and respondents’ stay long ago expired with Dickerson’s withdrawal of his administrative appeal.”

Melkonian also stated, “The Court notes that the amended Article 78 filed by petitioner is in fact not verified and that the unsigned verification contains the now very dubious claim that Campbell ‘is’ the President of the Board.

“Accordingly, the Court grants the respondents’ motion to dismiss petitioner’s petition and amended petition based on mootness and failure to verify the amended petition. Petitioner’s proceeding having been dismissed, there is no need for the Court to render a determination on Dickerson’s and the new Board members’ application to substitute counsel and withdraw the petitions or petitioner’s application to enjoin Dickerson and the present members of the Board from acting and those applications are denied.”

When contacted by The Westbury Times, Dickerson called the matter “favorable” for the majority and said it’s not in the district’s best interest to use public funds in such instances.

He went on to say, “Well, we’re certainly relieved that this matter has been put behind us and we can get on now continuously with the business at hand of educating young people in Westbury. It is a validation of the direction that the majority of the board has taken from July 1 on.

“It’s unfortunate that the district has had to utilize public funds on legalities of this nature, as opposed to educational ones,” said Dickerson.

Trustee Karin Campbell declined to comment on the subject.