In Defense Of Leadership

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Superintendent Mary Lagnado was terminated because she failed as a leader. Specifically, there was no significant academic performance improvement during her 4.5 year tenure as reflected by the continued ranking of the district at the bottom of the town/near bottom of the county, the atrocious 21% and 23% proficiency levels in grades 3-8 in math and English and the abysmal 18% college graduation rate as reported by board trustee Pedro Quintanilla, in his recent editorial “The ABCs At Our Schools—About Our Children And Community’s Future.”

This is a “crisis” because at this rate 82% or more of the students will become part of a permanent underclass. The board majority had to take this action now because they could not take a chance that the board composition would change in the upcoming election which would preclude her removal.

The questions raised about the approximate $750,000 cost of Lagnado’s package are also “red herrings.” This payment will have no effect on the taxpayers as some have falsely claimed because all districts, businesses and municipalities have reserves for the accumulated deferred compensation of employees through sick/vacation/personal days, remaining contract years, pensions and health insurance if applicable. Consequently this money could not be used for other purposes as suggested by some residents. There were also past criticisms that the board majority retained a law firm without seeking bids from other law firms. As an attorney, I have observed that most governmental agencies, businesses and individuals choose attorneys based upon their reputations for specialization in a particular area without solicitation of bids because lower prices do not equal competence.
Moreover Lagnado and some board members proved their unfitness for leadership in their positions by their failed plot to con the legitimate homeowners/taxpayers into voting for a $172.6 million school bond for additional building construction.

This plot had the following components: (1) Secrecy—Lagnado and the school board majority planned to sneak this proposal onto an early ballot without any community input as to its potential problems; (2) Silence—When my editorial “The 172.6 Million Dollar School Bond Farce” appeared in the 9/24/15 Westbury Times and exposed the unfairness of this proposal to the taxpayers because of the excessive number of illegal students, the financial burden on both the legitimate public and private school parents and the horrific performance of the district, Lagnado and the board members refused to address these issues; (3) Subterfuge—One week after my article was published, which she admitted to reading, Lagnado appeared at a meeting of the Sherwood Gardens Civic Association to pitch the bond. She attempted to avoid admitting that the 42% increase in the student population was due to illegal housing in New Cassel by saying that “I don’t know where these students are coming from.” Moreover, undeterred by being caught in this falsehood, she stated at a November 2015 community bond meeting, “The landlords of the students’ parents pay taxes” when someone asked about the financing of the bond. Of course she did not mention that these landlords pay disproportionately low school taxes because of the two to three families illegally living in single family homes with six or more children residing therein.; (4) Suppression—At the aforesaid bond meeting I was passing out my editorial and Mayor Cavallaro’s editorial “School Bond Is Unwise And Costly For Taxpayers” which exposed that the proposed bond would cost each taxpayer $500-$600 per year. Trustee Pless Dickerson told me that “you can’t pass out anything against the bond” and asked one of the security guards to stop me from doing this. (5) Sensationalism—Lagnado and the board majority got Newsday to publish an article about challenges with the growing student population in a sleazy attempt to guilt and/or shame the taxpayers into voting for the bond.

The taxpayers of the district saw through this scheme by voting for Pedro Quintanilla, Dr. Stanton Brown and Sherley Cadet because they stood up for them by opposing this costly bond and thereafter exposed Lagnado and the board majority’s plan to put a $200,000,000 bond proposal on the ballot in the summer of 2016. They were also the only board members that were ever brutally honest with the taxpayers about the dismal performance of the district and called for higher academic standards and accountability at all levels. This integrity along with the courage that they and trustee Karin Campbell displayed in terminating Lagnado revealed true leadership qualities. Moreover board candidate Reynolds (Ren) Zelaya has also emphasized these same challenges and necessary priorities. Therefore I urge all of you to vote for Mr. Zelaya and Ms. Campbell on May 16, 2017 to keep the board moving in this direction.

—Gregory P. Lewis

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