West Hempstead residents were calling for the removal of one trustee from the board of education at Tuesday night's meeting, accusing her of violating the board's code of ethics.
Four residents read statements that they had prepared in regards to a postcard that Trustee Cynthia DiMiceli mailed to community members the weekend prior to the May 15 budget vote.
"In the postcard, she encourages people to vote 'No,'" stated resident Christine Fennes, citing various lines of the code of ethics that she believed DiMiceli broke through her actions, warranting the board to remove her from her position. Fennes accused DiMiceli of speaking to residents in town, telling them to vote down the budget, and putting together a slate of board candidates in an attempt to defeat long-time incumbents Carole Rilling and James Mariano.
"As a board of ed your responsibility is to present the best of our schools," long-time resident and retired West Hempstead teacher Barbara Keilty-Michaleski added. "When a decision is made and voted on, the majority vote is the decision that is presented to the public, despite individual differences."
Keilty-Michaleski accused DiMiceli of using her position to "influence how people should vote," acting in a "detrimental manner" to "undermine" the board, spreading "incorrect" information and "inferring there is money to be found between the lines" when the district has been operating on a frugal budget for years. She then requested DiMiceli resign from the board.
"Why would you work so hard to destroy our district that my children, your children, their children all attend?" asked native West Hempsteader Loraine Magaraci, who disclosed that she had elected DiMiceli to the board. "A failed budget would have had detrimental effects on our district that would have taken years to recover from ... This time you went too far."
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Another long-time resident and father of two West Hempstead graduates, Seth Bykofsky, said DiMiceli offered up "opinion or sheer fiction in lie of fact" calling her actions "nothing short of a breach of public trust."
DiMiceli told Patch she sent the mailings, which she for paid out of her own pocket, to residents to explain why she at the April 17 meeting. (She had tried to present her position during the meeting, but was told by the BOE President that it was not the appropriate forum to do so.)
In the letter addressed to West Hempstead residents, DiMiceli writes:
"We live in a new economy that has placed financial stresses upon families, seniors living on fixed income and young graduates who are looking for work. Having said this, some residents have criticized my disapproval of the Proposed 2012-2013 School Budget. Ever since my children started public school all I heard was '…if you do not vote 'yes' on the school budget you will be labeled anti-public education.' In my opinion, we must change this way of thinking."
Although these statements were interpreted by many as indicating that DiMiceli was encouraging residents to vote down the budget, DiMiceli told Patch, "In my letter, I did not tell anyone to vote 'No.''"
She told Patch her intentions were to explain her views on the budget and to inform residents about certain "facts that [they] may not know of," including the potential loss in revenue the district is facing next year now that Nassau BOCES has of Eagle Avenue. She also wanted to inform residents of the which predicts that, in the worst case scenario, West Hempstead could start deficit spending in 2014.
DiMiceli's critics accused her of "bashing" the school district by writing that the community "must have the courage to face and admit our deficiencies" and that "our standard of education will drop even further along with the value of our homes" if it didn't spend wiser and make provisions for the future.
DiMiceli told Patch she stands behind the statements in her letter, saying, "There's nothing wrong with saying ever single one of us can do better."
As the parent of students in the schools, DiMiceli said she had no intention of taking anything away from the students, but instead wanted to see the district explore other ways of saving money while keeping programs intact such as through contract negotiations, grants and better advanced planning.
"You can't put children and money in the same sentence," she stated, adding that those who do "are playing on emotions."
She also contends that if she hadn't pressured the district to spend more time working on getting the budget's tax levy increase down to 2.58 percent then they probably would have went with the 3.06 percent that was first presented to the board.
She explained that the district's motto is "Dedicated to Excellence," but showed that in many areas West Hempstead was performing below the Nassau County average -- specifically in Math and ELA in Grades 3 - 5, and Grade 6 ELA.
"We need to define what excellence is," DiMiceli said. "If being in the middle is excellence to people of West Hempstead, then I can't fight that. Excellence, to me, is being on my game every day."
Board President Walter Ejnes motioned for the board's Code of Ethics to be reviewed at the next policy meeting, scheduled for October, and asked their legal counsel to weigh in on the matter.
Greg Guercio, of Guercio & Guercio, LLP, did not disclose the contents of the legal opinion he sent to the board, but explained that the only penalty for trustees who violate the Code of Ethics is removal from the board.
"That is an extremely rare, almost unheard of, occurrence," he said. "An ethical violation has to rise to an extremely high level."
What did you think of DiMiceli's letter? Tell us in the comments section below.
Tuesday's meeting also explored the recent NYS test scores, progress on grant-writing and the Strategic plan, and a potential lawsuit regarding APPR. Check Patch tomorrow for a recap of these discussions.