Overwhelming Support For Westbury Superintendent

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Westbury School District Board of Education President Robert Troiano talks during the July 7 special meeting. Next to him is Superintendent Eudes Budhai. (Photos by Frank Rizzo)

Eudes Budhai’s contract under consideration

Nearly two weeks after hearing a long line of people sing his praises, Westbury Superintendent of Schools Eudes Budhai was asked for his reaction.

“It was an overwhelming experience,” he replied, searching for the right phrases. “There are no words to describe the impact that you may have on people’s lives. And because you do what you do with good intentions and love, it doesn’t resonate until you actually hear it from people.”

Budhai’s contract runs to June 30, 2021, and by its terms, he had to be informed by June 30 of what the Westbury School District Board of Education intended to do.

On June 22, board President Robert Troiano related at a July 7 special meeting and public hearing, the board met in executive session and voted to send a letter to Budhai informing him that his contract was not being renewed “at this time.”

Erica Mendez comforts her daughter, Alianna Manzano, 10, who had just broken down after stating, “I love Mr. Budhai.”

The superintendent had until July 15 to decide if he wanted to be considered in the national search for a new schools’ leader, Troiano informed attendees and those watching on livestream.

Asked by The Westbury Times about his future plans, Budhai replied, “A superintendent stays in a community that values and supports their work, and if that is the decision of the community and the board, then I am willing and able and committed to the district.”

He added, “I’ve been here 19 years now. And if the community and the board wishes for me to stay another four or five years, I will be as committed as the first day that I got here. I’ve been the superintendent for three years and those three years have provided [the board and community] with a proven track record of exceptional work in the district, along with my leadership team and my staff.”

“I think that moving forward it can only get better,” affirmed Budhai, who revealed that he is in the process of finishing his doctorate.

Praise and Criticism

Ten-year-old Alianna Manzano stepped up to the mic. Her mother, Erica Mendez, had already spoken and was encouraging the child, who had something to say. Instead, she broke down and simply cried, “I love Mr. Budhai.”

Alianna, who is entering the fifth grade at the Drexel Avenue Elementary School this fall, put an exclamation mark on a long, sometime passionate night.

People gathered outside the high school before the start of the July 7 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Ren Zelaya)

The board of education, after reorganizing at the start of the evening on July 7, then spent nearly four hours listening to a stream of people take issue with its decision to not renew Budhai’s contract.

Because of an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, only 25 people could be present in the high school auditorium at one time, and once residents spoke, they left so that others could have a chance to have their say. The meeting was livestreamed to a further 25 people in the entrance lobby and another 25 in the cafeteria. Many more were forced to stand outside.

Robert Troiano, who was elected to another term as board president, laid to rest what he called rumors and misinformation. He emphasized that the superintendent had not been fired.

Troiano was at pains throughout the night to correct people who described the non-renewal of the contract as a done deal.

“At this time,” he kept repeating.

Board Rationale

Troiano argued that the way Budhai was tabbed to succeed Mary Lagnado in March 2017, first on an interim basis, did not earn him a solid mandate. The then-board, in a 4-3 vote, gave Budhai a four-year contract in June 2017.

Westbury High School alumnus Jahsua Taylor holds up a sign in support of Budhai.

In 2017, the board had promised to conduct a national search to replace Lagnado, but reportedly never followed through before picking Budhai.

“At the time [Budhai] accepted the position as superintendent, he received advice from school board and community members that the legitimacy of his superintendency would always be questioned,” Troiano observed. “We believe the circumstances at the time unfairly undermined his authority, potentially negatively impacting the execution of his plans for the district.”

He added, “We believe that Mr. Budhai’s credibility will be enhanced if he is selected by the board [after] a full search process. Any recriminations about the manner in which he was selected will be washed away.”

Troiano continued, “We encourage Mr. Budhai to allow us to consider him as a candidate. And that his full body of work as superintendent will be given consideration, along with the qualifications and experiences of other candidates. In addition to serving the interests of the Westbury School District by ensuring [we hire] the most capable person available at this time, we believe conducting the search will serve Mr. Budhai’s interests as well.”

Board member Pedro Quintanilla revealed that he had been opposed to not renewing the contract, and criticized Troiano’s justification for holding the special meeting to hear from the public after the board had already acted.

“The statement about wanting to hear what the community has to say sounds hollow,” Quintanilla charged. “We’re here because the community spoke. Because 1,300 people signed the [change.org] petition saying that Mr. Budhai has done a good job and he should stay.”

Troiano pushed back against Quintanilla’s assertion that the public should somehow have been involved in the decision. School boards don’t operate on polling, he said. They are elected by the community to make difficult decisions.

Troiano observed that he’s been involved in school board politics since 1991, and there was never “an occasion when the board solicited comments from the public before telling a superintendent whether or not it intended to renew his contract. Never. Not one time. And I don’t think any board does that.”

He continued, “The single most important responsibility any board has is the hiring of the superintendent and just as equal, the firing of the superintendent. We operate in this country as a democratic republic. The seven of us members have been elected to the board to represent the people. We are meant to make decision. We are not meant to take polls.”

Many people could not get into the school as there was a limit on indoor gatherings. (Photo courtesy of Ren Zelaya)

“Community input is a significant component of the decision in both hiring and firing a superintendent,” Troiano admitted. “But our mandate is larger than that. Our mandate includes evaluating the superintendent based on a wide range of criteria…that the board has to consider. And it’s better positioned than anybody in the community to make those kind of determinations because we work closely with the superintendent. That is why boards don’t solicit polls to determine whether or not more people support the superintendent than not support him.”

Troiano rejected the belief among some in the community that the board had been “secretive and non-inclusive. Just this meeting—and it is an unusual meeting—demonstrates that this is not the case. We want to hear from you.”

The president then gave out his email and encouraged residents to send him comments and questions.

Public Input

A number of speakers disagreed with Troiano’s justification, and some accused the board of playing politics.

“I find myself sitting here listening to all the rhetoric and all the politicking and it’s very infuriating,” said Westbury PTA Council President Gloria Rosenau.

Westbury PTA Council President Gloria Rosenau chided the board over its decision.

She noted that Budhai is at “almost 99 percent of all functions that any of the individual schools have. The majority of you guys are not there, and you are elected officials. You represent us in this district. As residents, we expect to see people interested in our children. [Budhai] is there for everything that we can conceivably think of. That’s what we want in an administrator. That’s what we want in a board member. Someone who is there for our children.”

Rosenau pointedly added, “And it’s our children, not mine. I don’t have any in the district—you all know that. These children are our future. We need someone there who knows their names, and the children know who he is. And that’s what’s important to all of us. Someone who is involved 1000 percent for all of our children.”

Troiano did admit that Budhai had a lot of stamina and knew many of the students’ names.

The president revealed that he had “given Budhai the option of not attending this portion of the meeting, knowing that it could be stressful. I did, however, tell him that I expected it to be a testimonial to him and he should be quite complimented by that, and I think I proved to be accurate.”

Oscar Munguia started the change.org petition demanding that Budhai be retained.

Oscar Munguia, who started the change.org petition demanding that Budhai be retained, pointed to the outside doors from which shouts and demands to be let in could be heard—and affirmed that people were outraged by the board’s decision.

Munguia wondered if the letter to the superintendent stating the board’s decision would be made public.

“The letter given to Mr. Budhai is between him and the board,” Troiano replied. “It is not a letter that I can provide to the community because we cannot give comments about personnel.”

Troiano praised Munguia for starting the petition and congratulated him for having gotten more than 1,300 signatures (at the time of this posting, more than 1,500 people had signed).

He reiterated that the board had not extended Budhai’s contract “at this time. At some point [the board] may reverse itself.”

Factoring into that decision, Troiano said, would be the meeting’s comments along with submitted emails and text messages—they would all be taken into consideration when the “board moves forward.”

He told Munguia that he would make all the comments on the change.org page part of the record.

Isabella Hamilton-Lomax stated the old saw that the district should not “change horses in midstream.”

Isabella Hamilton-Lomax argued that the board should not seek a new superintendent during the pandemic.

“As a parent in this district, I have really been pleased with the progress I have seen” since Budhai took over, she told the board.

She was disturbed by what she termed “the divisiveness” and was contemplating removing her children from the district.

“It seems like we keep repeating history over and over again,” she said after pointedly referring to the removal or resignation of the previous superintendent, Mary Lagnado.

Under Budhai, she asserted, “There was a level of engagement that I had never seen before in this district as a student, as a community member and now as a parent. To jeopardize that at this time, when we are in the midst of a pandemic, doesn’t make sense to me. Are you going to have [Budhai be] a lame duck during the national search?”

Lomax contemplated a scenario in which Budhai accepted another position and the board would then have to appoint another interim superintendent. With all the uncertainty of the pandemic and the questions surrounding the reopening of schools, that was not a wise move, she argued.

She noted that board members did not have to accept the previous board’s promise to do a national search for a new superintendent after Lagnado left the district and Budhai was tapped as interim superintendent. There was criticism at the time that this search was never carried out.

“The timing is really poor,” she concluded.

“I don’t think you’re questioning the timing,” Troiano responded. “I think you’re questioning the decision.”

He went on to say that Budhai had been awarded a four-year contract  with the proviso that, before he had one year left, he would be told if the contract would be renewed.

“I wish I had a contract like that. Most of us work at will,” he said.

Troiano noted that he has a grandchild in the district, trustee Floyd Ewing has two children in the district and trustee Rodney Caines has three children in the district.

“All three are comfortable with the decision we made,” he affirmed. “Mr. Budhai does not lack for confidence. I think he’ll do very well if he decides to let us consider him as part of the search. But time will tell. I believe Mr. Budhai abounds with confidence and enthusiasm and energy. He has many good qualities just like that.”

People wait their turn to speak in the hallway outside the auditorium. (Photo courtesy of Ren Zelaya)

Troiano added that he acknowledged Budhai’s accomplishments, which were aided by a strong team and supported by the board. He had confidence in the staff, administrators and principals and that “they could carry on even with an interim superintendent, if it takes that course, and it may not take that course.”

Further, board members were experienced with superintendent searches, in working with interim superintendents and, in the person of trustee Pless Dickerson, had a former superintendent of schools on the board.

Lomax again referred to the “politics” leading to the resignation of Budhai’s predecessor, and wondered why the board took the decision that it did with Budhai’s contract.

“He has the credentials and achievements to go somewhere else, and the fact that we would [risk] that and let him go doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Top Students Speak

Class of 2020 salutatorian Iyana McKnight said she wanted to advocate for Budhai in the same way he had advocated for her.

Iyana McKnight, Class of 2020 salutatorian, spoke up for Budhai because, she said, he had been voice throughout her schooling.

“In his time here as superintendent he has made many positive changes that were very impactful to me,” she affirmed. “First of all, the high school expanded and I remember ninth grade, being here when it was so highly overcrowded. Every time I walked in the hallways it took me way longer than the four minutes they gave us to get to class. By the time I got to class my teachers would be angry at me for being late, but it wasn’t really my fault.”

She gave credit to Budhai for having overseen the expansion.

McKnight spoke of how he told her what he wanted to do as far as expanding high school, and she was so proud when she saw it happen.

“He was in this building talking to us all the time, observing, making us feel comfortable,” she said. “He isn’t about the politics, he’s about the education. Which is exactly what you [board members] should be about. It’s not about the politics, it’s about the students.”

McKnight said she has a little sister coming up in the district, and hopes that she would be educated under Budhai’s leadership.

“I don’t see a reason to remove him. Why do we need to do this?” she wondered. “What is the plan? To have an interim? Really? You have someone we trust, someone we know. There’s no reason to remove him.”

Troiano replied, “I guess I have to repeat this several times. I said in my statement that we’re not firing him. We’re not letting him go. We’re not removing him. We’ve simply done what we’re required to do. We would inform him whether or not we would renew his contract. We’re not prepared to do that at this time. We may do it at a later time.”

He added, “Mr Budhai is very lucky to have you as an advocate. You speak very forcefully on his behalf. You made a strong case for Mr. Budhai, so we thank you.”

McKnight concluded, “Mr. Budhai is our voice. For the board to not renew the contract will be like silencing the students. He’s a man for the community and he’s a man for the students, and I would like you guys to consider that.”

Valedictorian Olusola “Shola” Babalola said that growing up in the community and attending Westbury schools “has been a frustrating experience because we’ve had to constantly fight for funding. To fight for this or that program just to support us and to have us be as good as the other schools.”

Class of 2020 Valedictorian Olusola “Shola” Babalola, bound for Harvard, urged the board to stick with Budhai.

She continued, “In all my time [in school] there’s never been an advocate for us—it’s always us who’ve had to fight. Even in elementary school and middle school I saw Mr. Budhai’s face around the schools. I knew his name before he was even superintendent. Now that he’s superintendent he’s become a familiar, comforting and reassuring face. I know who he is. All my friends know who he is. My parents know who he is. My siblings know who he is and it just shows the significant impact that he had on the community.”

Without Budhai, Babalola declared, “We’re not going to have anybody who is dedicated to fighting for us as he has been. The last two or three years this place has risen and I’ve actually enjoyed my school experience knowing that there’s someone out there fighting for me.”

The Harvard-bound student concluded, “I demand that you renew his contract. He’s supposed to be here. This is where he belongs.”

Residents Speak

Stephanie Tunnell commented, “Within the past three years Mr. Budhai has made positive changes and he has been able to alleviate the overcrowding.”

She recalled a time when the hallways were very crowded and classes were held in the library and cafeteria.

Most importantly, Tunnell said, the superintendent was very approachable, noting there aren’t that many people who really take the time to listen

“We have made so much progress in the district so far, and personally, I would feel that it would be a great disservice for Mr. Budhai to no longer act as superintendent. It will be a tremendous loss,” she said.

Susan Pearson also expressed her disappointment in the decision.

Susan Pearson has no children in the district, but liked what Budhai had done.

“It’s clear that the community is in favor of Mr. Budhai,” she said. “From the children, to the parents, to the residents that don’t even have children in the district. Because his impact has not been limited to the school. His impact has also extended to the community.”

Pearson said she had lived in Westbury for 13 years and usually didn’t attend board of education meetings.

“But I thought it was important to come out tonight, not having one child that goes to the district. Because the impact that he has had on the community has been that great,” she asserted.

Citing her experience working for some of America’s largest corporations, Pearson talked of the importance of meshing talents within a team and suggested that a better idea was to search for an assistant superintendent. That line drew applause.

“Why wasn’t there an assistant superintendent [for curriculum and instruction, the position Budhai held under Lagnado]?” she asked.

Troiano referenced a letter written by the board of education in 2017 in which it stated that the reason why it did not hire an assistant superintendent once Budhai was elevated to interim superintendent was because of the large payout (at least $750,000) to outgoing superintendent Lagnado.

Once Budhai accepted the job in June 2017, it was with the understanding that he would not get an assistant superintendent to take over his previous purview, Troiano added.

Pearson warned that Budhai could take all he has learned from his time at Westbury and go somewhere else.

“It sounds to me that there’s nothing the community can do to guarantee the extension of his contract,” Pearson stated.

“Please don’t make statements like that,” Troiano chided. “I said to you that we’ll take all this into account. And that I will give consideration [to public comment]. But I’m also trying to be transparent. I’ve had discussions with the board and I believe that the board is going to want to continue with conducting a national search. I may be wrong, but I’m trying to communicate with you that my belief is based on my discussions with board members. We will give consideration to everything that we’re taking in.”

Alumni, Students, Parents

“Thank you Mr. Budhai,” Monique Hernandez began. “Thank you for who you are, for the leader that you are.”

Monique Hernandez credited Budhai with inspiring her to become an educational administrator. She is an assistant principal in the New York City schools.

She said it was thanks to his belief in her that she earned her certification and became an educational leader. Currently, she is an assistant principal in New York City.

She said that as a recent double lung transplant recipient, she shouldn’t be attending a public hearing, but left her house and put herself at risk to speak out for the superintendent because she believes in him.

“You believe in us,” she said, addressing Budhai. “You stand for the underdog. You stand for the minority students. You stand for the students who need the most.”

Hernandez urged the board to “Listen to the constituents. Listen to the stakeholders. It’s not about me or about you. It’s not even about Mr. Budhai. It’s about the kids, and what’s in their best interests.”

Hernandez noted that a majority of students in the districts are people of color.

“They need a leader they can believe in, and they do believe in him,” she said. “He is the man that we need to continue moving forward, to improve test scores. Everything is improving under his leadership and with the support of his team.”

Recent grad Christian Zelaya warned of electoral consequences should the board choose not to extend Budhai’s contract.

Recent graduate Christian Zelaya made mention of the show of support for Budhai, and added, “At this time, if you don’t realize how important he is, it’s just ignorance.”

Zelaya read portions of the “Community Relations Goals” posted on the district website, which urged the board of education to “ascertain the community’s opinions and desires.”

Zelaya warned that there would be electoral consequences, pointing out that many students had trustees’ electoral signs on their lawns and had voted for them.

“You can’t vote against the community,” he said. “How are you going to go against the community?”

He noted that 1,300 people signed the change.org petition, pointing out, “If you truly care about our positions, then why did you vote against us?”

He concluded, “Mr. Budhai is a necessity. He truly is. The community needs him.”

Troiano responded, “I have acknowledged that there’s great support for Mr. Budhai. I said we would consider that and other factors. There’s more to consider than whether or not the majority of the people support or not renewing Mr. Budhai’s contract.”

Zelaya’s parting words were directed at the other trustees: “Don’t be puppets. Please consider the public.”

Fabiola De Lira said she was born and raised in Westbury, and was an alumna of the high school. She remembered the days when the district was under austerity, and she had to walk to school because no buses were provided.

“I have seen a sea change,” she said. “I now own property in Westbury. I’m a product of this district and am a medical professional.”

Fabiola De Lira contrasted how things were when she went to school with how they were under Budhai’s leadership.

She went on to say that during this pandemic the district needs continuity of leadership. She said she received a good education and has done well, but today’s students had a chance to come out even better than she did.

Turning to the superintendent she asked, “Mr. Budhai, do you want to stay here in Westbury or not?”

Budhai indicated that he did.

“He wants to stay,” De Lira stated as applause broke out. “Do what you need to do because of the ‘technicality.’ But don’t do it because you feel he’s not the man for the job. He’s the man for the job.”

Jairo Reyes said that when he attended Westbury schools, he had no relationship with prior superintendents. But Budhai was different.

“This man has done a lot in three years. He made a lot of changes to this community and to the students,” Reyes said. “This man deserves to be here. We all want the best for this community and this man is the best for this community.”

Incoming seventh-grader Edgar Ramos revealed that his two younger siblings are developmentally challenged and had been diagnosed with ADHD.

Edgar Ramos was impressed with how Budhai interacted with his developmentally challenged younger siblings.

“Every single day my brother and my sister come home with stories about how ‘Mr. Budhai came to our room and he talked to us.’ All of that stuff. And I just can’t feel more proud of what happened to [my siblings] and Mr. Budhai than the news that my sister and my brother gave to me.”

He urged the board to give Budhai a five-year contract.

Mateo Flores asked the board point blank, “Are you going to renew his contract?”

Troiano took issue with the question, saying he had answered it at length and had discussed it several times.

“This is a special meeting,” Troiano emphasized. “This is not a regular meeting. Because we do want to hear [from the public] and we know that there’s a great deal of interest in our decision and I also recognize that there should be.”

He added, “To answer your question, what I said was we’re not extending the contract at this time. He’s not being fired. He’s not being removed. He’s not being let go. What we’re saying is that we might renew his contract at a later date.”

Flores asked what the vote was at the June 22 meeting to not renew the contract.

Troiano said that by law he could not reveal that, since the vote was held in executive session.

Flores responded, “We the people, the taxpayers of this community, are asking this board to have a contract for Mr. Budhai for another five years.”

“No superintendent has shown the love this man has for the community,” the Westbury High School alumnus continued. “And no one has taken the district to the next level in the way that he has.”

Mateo Flores is the president and founder of Westbury Hispanic United Association. He lent his voice of support to Budhai.

He told the board members that there were students outside wanting to know why the board was taking this decision, and pointedly told the board members that, “We are holding you accountable for your actions. I’m kindly asking you to reconsider your decision.”

Flores said he had taken his three kids out of the Westbury system and then brought them back because of Budhai.

He dismissed the national search, stating, “We don’t want someone else. We want Mr. Budhai. One of the things I like about [him] is that he’s not exclusive, he’s inclusive.”

Jahsua Taylor said he was a member of the class of 2019. He sweetened his criticism with words of praise for things the board had done.

“This search will cost money, yes or no?” he asked Troiano.

“We will bring in a consultant. It will cost money,” Troiano admitted.

Taylor conceded that he did not know Budhai on a professional basis, but he did know what he was like “when he takes his suit jacket off, puts on his sneakers, and plays basketball with the students.”

Taylor added his voice to those who said a search during a pandemic did not make any sense.

He and Troiano had a difference of opinion over how many people should be allowed in the auditorium. Taylor said he had contacted an official and was told 25 percent of the auditorium’s capacity. Troiano cited the board’s attorney that the figure was 25 people period.

“It’s the decision of this board to lessen the amount of people allowed into the space,” Taylor charged. “Tonight, the reason we’re standing outside and we’re yelling is because I’m an advocate of the voice. I want everybody to hear what amazing things [Budhai] has done. If he ran for office right now he would win. Look at all the things he has advocated. What matters right now is that we have an efficient leader at the top to welcome our students back in September.”

When Troiano told him he had to wrap things up, Taylor picked up a large poster with an enlarged picture of Budhai and stated, “I stand with the superintendent, along with the residents of Westbury.”

As he walked up the stairs Taylor stopped, turned and directly addressing Troiano said, “Reconsider someone’s livelihood—where is [Budhai] going to find a job? There’s no school hiring but Westbury.”

Westbury High School Class of 2019 member Jahsua Taylor had some strong words for the board.

He wondered why there was no assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. He dismissed the idea that the absence originated with the large payout to Mary Lagnado.

“We need to find more money to bring to this district,” he said. “We need champions of change. That’s what I am. That’s what you groomed me to be. And I was never told to shut my mouth, never. Because what I speak is truth and what I speak is fact.”

Troiano again attempted to limit his time. Taylor appealed to the next speak, Mateo Flores, who stood up and said, “We yield time to Josh.”

“My message to get across is that the superintendent is vitally important,” Taylor concluded.

After another exchange with Troiano, who assured him that he wanted him to be heard, Taylor finally took his leave.

As he reached the top of the stairs he turned and called out, “My faith in this board is gone.”

Julia Amaya recalled attending her first board of education meeting last year, regarding an issue at the Park Avenue Elementary School. She had not gotten satisfaction, and after talking to trustee Rodney Caines, she was approached by Budhai, who told her to call him.

She was skeptical—she had contacted school officials in previous years on other issues when her kids were younger and never heard back.

Amaya said she was at a school event for her daughter, and Budhai pulled her aside and asked why she had not called him.

“I didn’t think I was going to be heard. That’s why I didn’t bother,” she told the board.

Julia Amaya said that, in Budhai, she finally found a school official who responded to her concerns.

Someone else stepped in to help her, but she saw Budhai’s involvement and was also impressed that he knew her sons’ names and that they spoke highly of him.

She said, “I can walk into any building now and he takes the time to say ‘hi’ to me.”

Because of Budhai, she affirmed, she’s becoming more involved in school activities.

“All I can say is I see the changes,” Amaya concluded. “I see the changes in the students and the community.”

Crying Moment

Erica Mendez and daughter Alianna Manzano provided an emotional highlight.

Mendez introduced her daughter, who seemed distressed, and said, “The reason she is so moved is because she’s a very special kid, and not just because she’s my daughter. She likes to be outspoken and if something’s not fair, if she feels that something is not right, she wants it to be known.”

Pointing to Budhai, Mendez declared, “And the man right there has given her that voice. He has gone to many of her school council meetings. She spoke to him about the broken water fountain at the Drexel [Avenue Elementary School] and asked Mr. Budhai, ‘Can we get a water fountain where we can refill out water bottles?’ It was done.”

Mendez, who graduated from Westbury High School in 2006, listed some of Budhai’s other achievements and told the board, “If you don’t feel proud of that, that’s a shame. Because if you do feel proud of that, you should keep a man like that. He’s an advocate for the community, parents, students and the staff.”

She talked of being an honor student throughout school, but never was allowed to take advanced placement classes.

“Does that sound like someone believes in me?” she asked, then pointed to Budhai with a nod at her daughter and added, “But this man believes in her.”

Not rehiring Budhai, she concluded, was to take away her daughter’s voice, as well as her own.

She then invited her daughter to speak, with Alianna breaking down before she could formulate her words.

Troiano suggested her daughter put her thoughts on paper and present it to the board.

“I’ll be delighted,” Mendez replied.

Final Words

“Unity for me is critical,” Budhai told the Times in an interview. “Unity is one of the more powerful things that a community can have. And embracing each other during any given time, especially at a time like this, is what’s going to make a district flourish and prosper in years to come.”

Statements

The Westbury Times reached out to board president Robert Troiano and trustee Pedro Quintanilla for statements.

Robert Troiano

Robert Troiano

The Westbury School District’s contracts with all of its superintendents since at least 1993 have included a provision requiring the board of education to give advance notice to the superintendent about whether it intends to renew the contract before its expiration.

In accord with that provision in Mr. Budhai’s contract, the board of education informed him on June 30, 2020 that his contract, which expires on June 30, 2021, will not be renewed at this time. We anticipate that he will remain in his position through the end of his contract.

The board of education has a responsibility to our community, our students and our staff to ensure that we put in place the best leadership team possible to enhance the district’s academic performance and financial management. In concert with that responsibility, the board of education will be engaging an executive recruiting firm to conduct a nationwide search for the superintendent of schools position as was promised to the Westbury community by a previous board, but never initiated, prior to appointing Mr. Budhai in 2017.

The current board believes it is important for governmental bodies to uphold the commitments made to its constituencies if it is to maintain credibility with the community it serves. Putting a nationwide search in place for our next superintendent of schools is in keeping with that commitment.

The search firm will consider the most qualified candidates from across the country. The board of education has strongly encouraged Mr. Budhai to allow his candidacy to be considered. This will allow us to provide our students, staff and community with the most talented and capable leader available at this time.

Pedro Quintanilla

I want to state categorically that I don’t support the board’s majority decision not to extend Mr. Budhai’s contract. 

Pedro Quintanilla

School policy 300/310 demands board accountability, requiring the board to conduct its own annual self-evaluation. Policy 320 requires that the board conduct an annual evaluation of the superintendent, establish goals, serve him the evaluation and to ensure he acknowledges the board’s evaluation and goals annually.

Furthermore, accountability is a two-way street, and the community must demand the same accountability from the board as the board demands it from the superintendent. The public should demand and look into how well the board is upholding school policies around accountability and evaluations.

Let’s get one thing straight, the board was asked on several occasions during prior board meetings regarding Mr. Budhai’s contract extension. The board president did not signal or communicate to the community that there may be an issue with extending Mr. Budhai’s contract.

Has the board been transparent with the community? Has the board done its job as required by school policy? Is the board majority acting in the best interest of our students, staff and community? 

Mr. Budhai was given goals and a charge by the board majority that appointed him in 2017. Despite a lack of consistent and public support from many board members sitting here today, he has led the district in achieving most of those goals, passed budgets, a bond referendum and successfully overseeing the expansion of the high school and middle school.

All the accomplishments bragged about by trustees in the last three elections, including the most recent one, came under Mr. Budhai’s watch. Not extending his contract is denying and not being honest about what Mr. Budhai has accomplished.

In the middle of a pandemic, shouldn’t the board be focused and united in reopening our schools successfully? Why are we not discussing the re-entry plan, which all of us on the board received today (July 7)? Whose interests is the board of education serving? What is most important to this board, our children or settling political scores?

Can Mr. Budhai improve? Does he have areas that he needs to work on? Of course, we all do! But he has to be given the opportunity and has to be met halfway to be successful. I can assure you this has not happened consistently and sufficiently.

There are board members who have long signaled, they will never accept Mr. Budhai as superintendent since the day he was appointed. The community must ask what is the real reason for conducting a national search for a new superintendent, and is it in the best interest of our students and community?

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

1 COMMENT

  1. In my 60 years in Westbury I have never seen such Student and community support for a Superintendent. Success in our educational mission depends upon the attitudes of our students and the involvement of our community as much as our teachers.

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