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N.Y. Regents Oust Local Board, Take Over District

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The state board of regents in New York last week ousted a local elected school board for the first time and took over the district's operations.

After a 15-hour hearing last week, the state board voted 9-0 to take over the troubled Roosevelt district on Long Island. A state-appointed panel will run the 2,600-student district until a new school board is elected in May.

State investigators in recent months have charged the five members of the local board with mismanaging finances, personnel, and facilities in the district and said that chaos rules the district's classrooms and instruction program. Roosevelt has been under the state's microscope since July, when it was forced to draw up a corrective-action plan. But, the regents ruled, the board failed to act to improve conditions in the district's schools.

"It was transparently obvious that their corrective-action plan had gone nowhere and that this board did not have in mind improving the circumstances of the children of Roosevelt," said Carl T. Hayden, the chancellor of the board of regents. "What we have to do there now is build the kind of education infrastructure that most schools take for granted."

The state's oversight team plans to assemble an administrative-support staff to work with the district's business leaders. A group will be formed to consider classroom and teaching concerns, and the state's oversight team will be charged with coming up with a plan to combat a deficit estimated to be at least $1.4 million.

With the takeover imminent as the regents convened early last week, the Roosevelt board chose not to reopen the district's five schools after the holiday break in an apparent move to pressure the regents. The oversight team was scrambling last week to resume classes, first addressing several fire-code violations in the schools. Officials said all the district's schools should be back in session by this week.

Local board members said the state's intervention in the predominantly black district was racially motivated. Roosevelt schools are woefully underfunded, they say, and state supervision since the summer has not included more money or management help.

Ousted members of the Roosevelt board could not be reached last week for comment.

Legislative Maneuvering

Although the district has been on a state "watch list" of poorly performing schools since 1989, a takeover became possible only after lawmakers passed narrowly focused legislation last summer.

New York law does not give the state blanket authority to remove elected boards. Two Roosevelt-area state legislators successfully pushed a bill last June granting the regents specific authority to take over their schools.

The bill's backers cited the review team's reports of teacher absenteeism, and lack of discipline at the district's combined junior and senior high school.

"If a community could be charged with child neglect, possibly with abuse, Roosevelt would be a strong candidate," the team concluded.

State audits last fall found that the deficit in the district's $30 million budget could reach as much as $1.9 million.

Under the regents' order approved last week, a community advisory panel and a state oversight panel already in place will work with Will Singleton, the district's superintendent, to carry out a six-month plan to get the district back on its feet.

"It was a difficult decision for the regents to make, but there was no other decision that could have been made to protect the welfare of the children," said Daniel Domenech, the chairman of the oversight panel.

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