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Hempstead Eyes Replacing Aging ‘Temporary’ Classrooms

Hempstead has been using the same temporary trailers as classrooms for two decades.

The low-performing Hempstead School District is banking on one chance to finally get hundreds of its elementary school students out of “temporary” trailers they’ve been in for more than 20 years, and into real classrooms. But it will mean that homeowners must agree to pay between $80-$239 more in property taxes annually for a few years.

Approval by voters of a $46.8 million bond on May 15 would allow the district to begin a three-year capital project to demolish and replace the shuttered Marguerite G. Rhodes Elementary School. The project would open up real classrooms to between 700 and 750 students in the 2021 school year – eliminating about half the 55 portable classrooms and easing some of the overcrowded conditions in the three existing elementary schools, district officials said.

Acting School Superintendent Regina Armstrong calls the approval of the bond “essential” to changing the educational atmosphere for children in a district that last year graduated about 36.7 percent of its senior class.

“It’s not the learning environment the school district is okay with,” Armstrong says through a district spokeswoman. “We want to provide the most optimal learning environment for our students … the bond is essential to our getting the children out of the portable classrooms that were never intended to be here this long. It’s also crucial to helping alleviate the overcrowding (in the other elementary schools) and to stop the eyesore in the village.”

The school district owns about half the trailers that provide the classrooms for up to 1,600 Hempstead elementary students, Armstrong says. The other portable units are leased by the district at a cost of $1.5 million a year.

The district’s enrollment of 7,577 in the 2017-18 school year is expected to increase dramatically by 1,520 students to a total of 9,097 students in 2025. The growth is due to an influx of immigrants, officials say. Hempstead School officials expect about $28.7 million in state aid toward the $46.8 million Rhodes School capital project – $1.4 million
of which will go toward getting rid of half the modular units. That would leave a taxpayer-funded balance of $16 million, meaning a 1.59 percent increase to homeowners per year.

The district’s campaign for passage of the bond vote is: “A successful May 2018 vote means a September 2021 occupancy.”

Armstrong says that to have a better chance of the bond vote passing, her goal was to keep the property tax levy low for the proposed 2018-19 school budget. The proposed $215 million budget for the upcoming year carries a zero-percent increase for taxpayers. The budget, bond and two of the school board seats will all be voted on, on the same ballot on May 15.

The modular classrooms date back to an even more troubling time in the district’s history. In 2005, a New York State Comptroller’s audit found that Hempstead School District spent $2.3 million to install and rent portable classrooms. This was part of $5.1 million in spending between 2002 and 2004 that the audit called “careless.” Other findings of the audit included about $1.3 million in contracts awarded without competitive bids and about $1.1 million paid to temporary employment agencies without proper approvals and without analysis of the cost-effectiveness.

This, auditors said, when “school buildings were falling apart, classrooms were overcrowded, and students were being housed in inadequate, temporary classroom space.”

At that time, voters had defeated the last two budgets and a proposed $177 million bond issue to rebuild several of the deteriorating schools. The approval of that would have permitted the district to build new school buildings, repair and renovate others, and eliminate the need for portable classrooms.

Asked what will happen if the bond vote doesn’t pass on May 15, Armstrong says simply, “the children will continue to be educated in trailers.”

The state Department of Education declined to comment for this story.

Hempstead School Audit Finds Questionable Payments

The Hempstead School Board is defending itself in a lawsuit filed by its former superintendent (Photo by Bob Giglione)

A firm hired by Hempstead School District last year for $85,000 to conduct a forensic audit of its financial records released an initial report with its “preliminary findings” to the District in early January.

The memorandum of findings by Plante Moran – a highly respected firm that conducted the forensic audit of the Detroit public Schools – has not been released to the public, but the Long Island Press obtained a copy of it. The district extended the firm’s contract last week.

Findings by Plante Moran auditors include:

· 295 payroll distributions to 129 individuals who were not active employees at Hempstead Schools at the time. “It is unclear why individuals would still be receiving pay after their termination dates,” the memorandum stated.

· Several employees listed with birthdates of Aug 31, 2017, several employees with ages exceeding 80 years old and one employee with a birthdate of 2013.

· A match between the employee master file and the vendor master file identified several “vendors who shared addresses with employees.”

· “Many” employees who received more than $3,000 in overtime pay in a month and a few who received between $4,200 and $8,150 in overtime pay in a month.

· A vendor that received $2.8 million over the last 5 years had provided numerous instances of duplicative billings – including invoices by a single tutor providing home instruction services to multiple students at the same time; and multiple appointments without approval signatures, which is required of parents for the claims.

Michael Lohan Answers Call To Help Fight Addiction

Michael Lohan is helping people overcome substance abuse.

Michael Lohan was driving home to Laurel Hollow when his car left the road and struck a utility pole on Feb. 19, 2005. Lohan, alone in the car, got out before it burst into flames.

Police charged him with driving while intoxicated and without a license. The father of actress Lindsay Lohan served 21 months in prison for the DWI — the latest in a series of drug-and alcohol-related scrapes with the law for the native Nassau County resident.

Lohan says that he had an epiphany after the crash. And since then, he’s had a calling to help those suffering from substance addiction.

“I saw what it did to my family and to so many people we knew,” Lohan tells the Press. “The accident was a life-changing event for me. I felt a calling from God.”

After prison, he went to work for Long Island Teen Challenge, a faith-based addiction recovery center in West Babylon. There he worked under pastor Jimmy Jack, whom he considers his mentor. Lohan says he was also inspired by Lindsay, who had her own troubles with drugs and alcohol and later became involved with actress Jamie Lee Curtis in a California-based crisis line for troubled teenagers called Teen Line.

Today, Michael Lohan — sober for 12 years — splits his time between Laurel Hollow and Boca Raton, Florida, with his wife and two young sons. His life is dedicated to raising awareness about the current opioid epidemic.

A CALLING FROM GOD

In 2012, he opened his first rehab, Dream Recovery International in Florida, where clients were offered luxurious amenities and daily one-on-one therapy. But Lohan says he saw that people were still relapsing after treatment.

He decided to sell his interest in the center and go out to study the industry. He spent two years researching evidence-based therapies for addiction that have long-term success. He now believes he’s found some of the treatments needed for profound and lasting results.

He and his new partners have teamed up with medical professionals to perfect a medical-neurological detoxification protocol they believe quickly and effectively repairs the brain of substance abusers and heals them from the disease of addiction.

“We’ve had tremendous success with this treatment model,” Lohan says. “In a week or two, we’re doing for our patients what a year of being abstinent will do.”

10 DAYS TO DETOX

The individualized detoxification protocol involves approximately 10 days of IV NAD vitamin infusions, plus neurotherapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy for trauma, and brain mapping before and after treatment.

Research shows that NAD — a coenzyme form of vitamin B3 — eases the discomfort of withdrawal, reduces cravings and significantly speeds up the detox process without the use of traditional detox medications. NAD is said to replenish and repair cells throughout the body and restore and normalize neurons in the brain damaged by substance abuse.

“It brings the person back to a state of being clean, like they would be after a year of treatment,” Lohan says. “This is a neurological disease, so we’re approaching it from a medical and neurological standpoint. But, it’s also a spiritual disease. I can’t forget how important God is in this.”

“We just had a woman who came to us, having been on a litany of drugs — some since 1992,” Lohan recalls. “In three days, she had no cravings. In five days, no withdrawal symptoms. By day eight, she felt great and was ready to hit the gym!”

Lohan says the patient left the facility “off all the meds she came in on” and that after just six days of NAD and four neurofeedback sessions, her repeat brain map was 52 percent improved.”

As proof, he videotaped the patient talking about her experience. (See the video below.) And he gave this reporter a copy of the brain scans.

Dr. Kevin Greene, medical director and owner of Bell Eve Addiction Specialists in Cocoa, Fl. and Optimal Wellness Center in Cheshire, Conn. is a certified provider of the Brain Restoration Plus NAD treatment who backs Lohan’s assessment.

“NAD is the miracle molecule backed by scientific research,” Dr. Greene says. “I have seen lives transform before my eyes over a 10-day course of infusion.”

“Withdrawal symptoms are minimal and cravings disappear due to NAD bathing the brain’s receptors in a continuous pool of natural and highly therapeutic coenzymes,” Greene continues. “When combined with psychological and spiritual counseling, and individual and group therapy, patients are now able to make lifelong recoveries.”

Lohan adds: “This (treatment) is rewiring brain chemistry, and correcting it at the same time.”

Hempstead School Board Shoots The Messenger

The Hempstead School Board is defending itself in a lawsuit filed by its former superintendent (Photo by Bob Giglione)

When Hempstead schools hired Shimon Waronker last May, his record of turning around unsafe and low-performing schools in the New York City system made administrators and parents believe he was the savior of the beleaguered district.

Waronker would bring in his team and the New American Initiative model curriculum he developed, and utilize his prior military service, to tackle the challenging assignment. But on January 9, just seven months into the $265,000-a-year job – and after discovering and reporting to authorities what he said was illegal and unethical activity rampant in the district – Waronker was suspended with pay, and his team of expert  fired.

The school board said it commenced an investigation into Waronker’s conduct as superintendent. Waronker quickly filed a lawsuit against the Hempstead School District, three of its board members, and the district clerk. His lawyer, Hempstead-based civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, said in an interview that nothing the school board did in regard to his client has “made any educational sense or had a rhyme of rationality.”

“My client came in late last summer, prepared to spend four years and planned to change the environment … to dismantle the dysfunctional culture” (in Hempstead schools), Brewington says. “What he uncovered was illegality, theft and fraud. And when he told the board to get rid of certain employees, they suspended him.”

In a declaration given as part of his federal lawsuit, Waronker said:

• He analyzed the transcripts of 872 high school students and only 214 or 25 percent had the requisite credits to graduate on time. Nearly 300 hadn’t attended school anywhere from 20 days to 2 years and the district was still billing the state for those students.
• He asked “master teachers” he hired to apply for a $5.4 million community schools grant because an administrator originally asked to prepare the grants, missed the state
deadlines. The teachers were fired a day before they were to submit the application. The board then barred them from finishing the grant as volunteers.
• The high school principal falsified in school records the number of weapons brought into school from over 50 down to only 2.
• He uncovered theft of district property by a teacher, which led to an arrest.
• He did a thorough review of the district facilities and found: vermin infestation, mold, 1,600 students in crumbling portable classrooms, leaking roofs, graffiti, and old boilers.
• He cited examples that show the district is guilty of “educational malpractice.”

“He was asked to bring his team in and he did,” Brewington says. “The team reported  back that the district was a ‘cesspool’ and they needed to clean it up. Then, the people in the cesspool stopped the cleanup.”

Later in the declaration, Waronker said: “It is also clear to me that the actions taken against me have been acts of retaliation for me taking the steps to address the mismanagement and acts that appear to be criminal in nature.

What I discovered in the Hempstead School District is an abomination and a plague on those who are impacted the most, the children.”

According to the district’s response in Waronker’s lawsuit, his suspension is predicated on investigations into seven areas: its former contract with the New American Initiative, a nonprofit that Waronker founded before becoming superintendent (which was noted in his contract); alleged failure by Waronker to submit a Community School Grant on time; implement maintenance and repair plans to address boilers and pipes; implement a Violence Suppression and Security Plan for middle and high schools; report to the board the circumstances involving the termination of the high school principal and the disenrollment by Waronker of approximately 300 high school students.

Waronker disputed all accusations. He asked the court to return him to his post and on Feb. 2, 2018, a federal judge rejected the request. On March 26, the Hempstead school board extended Waronker’s administrative leave period until June 1.

Hempstead school officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it’s unclear whether the district ever received the $5.4 million community schools grant.

Asked if he thought it was possible for the school district to get on the right track, Brewington remains optimistic.

“Nothing is impossible,” he says. “But they can’t expect progress when they’re not making any changes. They need to stop dealing with favoritism and politics and start dealing with reality.”

The Hempstead School Board is defending itself in a lawsuit filed by its former superintendent (Photo by Bob Giglione)

No Place Safe From Heroin’s Wrath

From left to right: Garrett Kassler, his mother, Lisa, his sister, Erica, and his dad, Lee.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a new monthly column exploring the local impact of the national heroin and opioid crisis. Contact the author via elaikin@longislandpress.com

As a child growing up in Plainview, Garrett Kassler loved the Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Once a teenager, it was water and the outdoors. He wanted to open a scuba diving shop, live on the beach, and enjoy a simple life.

His parents, Lee and Lisa, had moved to the upper middle-class suburb when Garrett was a baby, as it promised great schools, little to no crime, a good neighborhood and the perfect place to raise a family.

“We watched our children [including daughter Erica, now 24] flourish from pre-K through high school,” Lee says. “We were active in the PTA, we both coached soccer and Little League, we watched our children closely and made sure they stayed out of trouble.”

Garrett first had trouble dealing with stress while away as a college freshman. A campus doctor prescribed Xanax. His parents were comforted that it was a physician. But Garrett’s mood and behavior began changing.

He eventually told his parents he couldn’t stop taking the anti-anxiety medication. They brought him home, sent him to therapy and the “Xanax problem” appeared to be resolved. Then, oxycodone and, ultimately, heroin, replaced Xanax. For the next eight years, Garrett was in and out of rehabilitation facilities.

“This was our life now,” Lisa says. “We needed to accept the fact that our son was an addict and find help… . We were always proud of him, never ashamed. We learned he had a disease, and it not only affects the user but everyone in the household.”

Garrett seemed to improve and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. But a call came a few weeks into boot camp. Garrett, unable to meet the vigorous demands, was discharged. Home again, he continued to use drugs.

In 2014, Garrett’s doctor prescribed Vivitrol®, an opioid-receptor blocker that stopped his cravings and blocked him from getting high. It worked well.

Clean for 14 months, Garrett volunteered with Nassau County’s drug education and awareness programs, speaking at events and sitting on the Heroin Prevention Task Force. He helped launch the county’s “Shot at Life” (Vivitrol®) program and became a recovery coach. He planned to become a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor.

But he wasn’t in drug treatment. Months after stopping Vivitrol®, he relapsed, and the cycle of using and stopping began again.

“Never once did he deny being an addict,” Lee says. “He’d say, ‘I am wired just a little different then many of you. No rhyme or reason. I just have to deal with it.’”

On Feb. 4, 2017, excited after he passed a drug test and landed a new job, Garrett Kassler would use once more and overdose in his Plainview home at the age of 26. It was Fentanyl, and powerful painkiller often added to heroin, that killed him.

Garrett was one of 195 people to die from opioids in Nassau that year, including another Plainview man his age. The other 194 came from Massapequa, Long Beach, Manhasset, Floral Park and Oceanside. No area is exempt. Suffolk County’s fatal overdose numbers are even higher than those in Nassau.

“Remember, if it could happen to us, it could happen to anyone,” Lee says. “The drug crisis is real. Addiction is real.”

Weeks later, the Kasslers started a nonprofit in his name: The Garrett L Kassler Memorial Fund. Their goal: “to make recovery possible – one person, one family, one life at a time.”

Garrett’s high school principal wrote on the foundation’s and school’s website about the student he knew well at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School.

“His tremendous smile and great laugh were infectious, and his wonderful sense of humor could brighten the darkest day,” Principal James Murray wrote. “He was friends with everyone; no peer group was excluded from his kind and welcoming heart.”

On Feb . 3, 2018, Lee posted on the memorial fund’s Facebook page.

“Tomorrow- One year. Our lives were changed forever. Every day is a rollercoaster of emotion. The sadness, loneliness and heartache, I wish on no one… We miss our boy terribly. Hurt beyond imagine… Life and health are precious. Do not take one moment of it for granted.”

WHERE TO FIND HELP

Long Island Crisis Center
24/7 Crisis Hotline (Call or Text) (516) 679-1111

NAFAS
Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services Helpline: (516) 481-4000 nassaualliance.org (community treatment providers)

Information & Resources
heroinprevention.com L.I.C.A.D.D. 24/7 Hotline for Info & Referrals (631) 979-1700

For those affected by a loved one’s Substance Use Disorder:

Nar-Anon (516) 318-6134 nar-anon.org
Al-Anon/ Alateen (516) 433-8003 alanon-nassau-ny.org
• Families Anonymous (516) 204-3202 familiesanonymous.org

For Free Naloxone (Narcan) Training Community Calendar of Opioid Overdose Trainings
health.ny.gov

Hempstead Schools Draw State Review, Again

School board president Maribel Touré, left, and acting superintendent Regina Armstrong debate issues before the school board. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Persistently struggling: That’s the term that the New York State Education Department used to describe the state of the Hempstead School District as it has once again come under a microscope.

Areas of critical concern that the state identified include student safety, nutrition, deteriorating buildings, gang activity, inability to collect and utilize millions of dollars in grants and funds, and graduation rates as low as 38 percent. To try and improve educational outcomes in the district, NYSED asked the schools’ chief to immediately begin correcting the issues highlighted in a January report, and submit monthly memos on the progress, beginning March 15. And NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia sent an auditor to Hempstead High School in February, to review records and “evaluate if the school met its indicators related to credit accumulation” for seniors to graduate.

“As always, our number one priority is mutual: enable our students to meet their educational goals that will place them on the track to college and career,” Acting School Superintendent Regina Armstrong said in a statement in response to the state’s actions. “We welcome New York State’s cooperation in meeting these goals and will continue to do all in our power to provide our students with the resources they need to succeed in the classroom and secure a brighter future.”

At the same time, Armstrong is overseeing the District’s five-year capital plan, which would start with demolishing the long-shuttered Marguerite Golden Rhodes Elementary school and constructing a new school, to ease the burden of overcrowded classrooms. The three-year, $47 million project would be the first step in addressing the issues and would require residents to approve a bond in May that could raise property taxes from $80 to $235 per homeowner each year to fund Hempstead’s $2 million portion.

What’s more, it’s budget season for school districts, and among the first items on the agenda at Hempstead’s February 15 school board meeting was how to address the inability of school business officials to claim millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements due the district.

The latest saga in Hempstead began when NYSED Commissioner Elia commissioned a report on the District in October 2017. The report highlighted the 10 most critical
areas of concern throughout the District and blamed most of the deficiencies on the “irresponsible behavior” of the school board. The report stated that the board “fails to prioritize student’s needs,” and there’s a “lack of follow through on agreed upon plans and lack of transparency.” References were made to earlier audits that found a school board “too busy fighting to solve problems.” The report concluded that many of the issues facing the Hempstead School District are “longstanding and systemic and that past corrective action plans have been inadequately implemented if at all.”

One issue noted in the report is that the district has been unable to do what’s necessary to collect and use a $5.4 million state grant for “community schools,” allocated to them for the 2017-18 school year, and unable to apply for and collect millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursement funds for eligible services.

Of the District’s 7,600 students, some 70 percent come from families who receive public assistance; 40 percent are not proficient in English; and 10 percent are students with disabilities. Over the last decade, the school district’s enrollment has shifted to 70 percent Hispanic or Latino, 31 percent black or African American, and 2 percent white.

Hempstead’s graduation rates remain among the lowest in the state – with just 38 percent graduating last year, compared to a statewide average of 80 percent. NYSED data also shows that since September 2017, nearly 300 seniors have left Hempstead High School early – a 34 percent drop-out rate. Only three of the district’s 10 schools are listed as in “Good Standing” with the state education department.

The report stressed that first and foremost both the board members and superintendent should have regular state-sanctioned training within the first year of service, which is already required under state law.