Old tensions resurfaced on School Board 28 this week as current and former heads flung accusations of wrongdoing at one another during a public meeting Monday night.
For the first time, the board nominated and elected its officers in public, a change in policy that Board President Shirley Huntley said reflected the wishes of the central Board of Education.
But former board member Debra Schaller-Demers lashed out against the board president Monday night, accusing the school board of violating procedures and illegally amending the school board bylaws.
"I would caution you before you proceed with this election," she told board members just before they cast votes for the four board offices.
District 28 stretches from Forest Hills and Rego Park to Jamaica and includes neighborhoods in Briarwood, Kew Gardens, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven.
Schaller-Demers said the board illegally changed procedure when it failed to notify the public or hold a separate public meeting on amendments to the bylaws. She said the proposed changes were simply added onto a hearing about another issue involving the superintendent's evaluation, and the public had no way of commenting on the changes before they went into effect Monday night.
Huntley denied that the board had broken any rules. She accused the former school board, on which Schaller-Demers had served with Lynn Gross as president, of wrongdoing as well.
"You guys violated every law in the world and nobody said anything," she told Schaller-Demers. "We followed the same procedure you did."
Huntley, who was elected school board president last summer, vowed at the beginning of the year to rid the board of a contentious past often marked by conflicts over race. Since then there have been few issues to roil the nine-member board, which has five black and four white members.
Schaller-Demers said the general calm is because few members of the public are aware of school board business.
"School boards used to be the grassroots voice of the parents," she said after the meeting. "Now they're nothing more than figureheads."
With no discussion and little fanfare Monday night, Huntley was re-elected board president. In addition to making elections public, the board changed the office of vice president into first and second vice presidents, and combined the offices of secretary and treasurer into one seat.
Former treasurer Lee Glover was elected first vice president, defeating Dushan Cvetkovich, who was also nominated. Sandra Dorsett was voted second vice president, and newly appointed member Esma J. Inuka-Rudolph was voted secretary-treasurer.
Rudolph was appointed by the board last month after it removed Stanley Clifton Diaz for excessive absences from meetings.
Board member Jeff Hartman abstained from every vote. He said after the meeting that he held back his vote because he felt the procedure by which the board amended its by-laws might have been improper.
"As I understand it, you're supposed to have a public hearing on the bylaws and we never did," he said. "If you don't have the special hearing, it kind of nulls and voids the amended by-law, so I didn't want to participate in something that would just have to be voided later."
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