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School Board Trustees Removed Due to Alleged Missed Meetings

On May 25, a declaration was made by members of the Westbury Board of Education to remove trustees Dr. Pless Dickerson, Floyd Ewing and Larry “Chip” Zaino, Sr. The three trustees were sent letters the following morning informing them that their seats were considered “vacated” on the grounds that they missed too many meetings.

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.”

District sources state that Ewing and Zaino have missed at least three consecutive meetings while Dickerson, who was appointed interim superintendent of the Wyandanch School District in January, has either been absent or arrived late due to conflicting meetings between the two school districts.

Dickerson, who was re-elected to a three-year term last May, said he received a letter May 26 informing him he had been removed and told The Westbury Times that, in his opinion, 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. “Karin Campbell, as board president, is entitled to her own opinion but not her own set of facts and the fact is I not have not missed three meetings in a row. That is evident in her own district clerk’s records.”

Dickerson admits that there have been occasions when he has either missed a meeting or arrived at Westbury late due to a conflicting schedule with the Wyandanch School District. “There have been occasions where my job has conflicted and I have been late, but that is not an absence. The law allows for removal for absences without a good excuse,” Dickerson said.

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.”

Said Dickerson, “Certainly, my job should be a good excuse for me missing a meeting.” Dickerson, whose term is not set to expire until June 30, 2012, is in the process of obtaining the records from the district clerk. Dickerson, in a May 27 letter to Campbell, the district’s attorney Lawrence Tenenbaum, Board of Regents member Roger Tilles and New York State Education Commissioner D.M. Steiner, states, in part, “please be advised that I reject your letter in all respects. Please be further advised that I have not failed to attend three consecutive meetings of the board of education, as alleged in your letter. In addition, I have not failed to provide a good and valid excuse for any absence, as you have also alleged. Therefore, the position you have taken is completely without basis in fact.”

Dickerson told The Westbury Times that he “fully intends” to take his seat at the next meeting, which is June 9. In his letter, Dickerson states, “As I remain a member of the board with a term that does not expire until June 30, 2012, I will be present at that meeting to execute the responsibilities I was elected to fulfill by the voters of our community and as required by law. I can assure you that any further attempt on your part to interfere in any way with the exercise of these responsibilities will be met with the strongest possible response in the community and in the courts.”

In the case of Ewing and Zaino, both men’s terms are set to expire June 30 and neither of the trustees sought re-election last month. On May 18, Siela Bynoe, Rodney Caines and Leslie Davis won three-year terms on the Westbury Board of Education, garnering the at-large seats currently held by Ewing, Zaino and Larry Wornum (who sought re-election unsuccessfully). Prior to this recent shakeup, Bynoe, Caines and Davis were to be installed at the district’s July 7 reorganization meeting.

However, this recent move by the current board could change that altogether.

Last week, the trustees-elect were offered the option of filling the vacancies prior to their scheduled induction. If either or all three were to accept the vacancy appointment prior to the scheduled July 7 reorganization meeting, they would, according to School Law, be required to seek re-election again in May 2011 to fill the remaining time on the seats; two terms years for whomever takes Ewing’s and Zaino’s seats and one year on whomever takes Dickerson’s. The Westbury Board of Education would then still have to fill Wornum’s seat when his seat expires on June 30.

Filling the vacancies for the next 30 days is not required as only four members are required for a quorum. Westbury has three meetings – a planning meeting on June 9, an action meeting on June 16 and a budget review meeting on June 23 –scheduled between now and its July 7 reorganization meeting.

Outraged by the board’s actions, Dr. Betty Hylton, a former Westbury teacher and current resident, held a rally May 27 in front of the district’s Jericho Turnpike administrative building. The goal of the rally, said Hylton, was to make the public aware of what she calls a “political ploy.”

Hylton believes the board’s decision to remove Dickerson after Bynoe, Caines and Davis were elected, rather than prior to the May 18 vote, is an attempt to retain control. “This whole thing took place after the action meeting last week and after these three new people were elected. The current board did not think they would win [and] this is the board president’s attempt to change the outcome of an election and put the power back in their hands,” said Hylton, adding, “The [current board] knows that these three incoming trustees and Dickerson would put the power back in the hands of the community. It would be a shift that the current board does not want. It all comes down to control of the school board [and] it is unfair to the community.”

Adelaide Brinson, a former trustee on the westbury board of education, added, “The actions taken are ridiculous. I can only wonder what tactics the president plans to take next.”

At press time Friday, requests for comment from the trustees-elect were denied and it was unknown if they planned to accept the vacancy appointments. Additionally, board president Campbell told The Westbury Times she had “no comment” on the issue at this time.