>Surviving Funds Flap, for Now
>Hempstead board member still on job
>By Sid Cassese
February 21, 2003
A Hempstead school board member accused of misappropriating funds has beaten back an attempt to remove her from office. But her critics, including a board trustee, vow to fight for her removal, saying she is unworthy of the position.
"It seems this woman is simply a thief," said trustee Youssef Soufiane, who asked the board to seek the dismissal of colleague April Jones-White.
Jones-White, a mother of two children in district schools, was accused of improperly using district funds and then refusing to pay them back. She denied that she misused funds or that she refused to pay back about $3,000 she had acknowledged she owed the district.
"Look, I lost my receipts because I moved three times over three years," she said Wednesday. "And I had emergencies come up and used the district's credit card. But I have been paying that money back and I'm current with my payments."
District Clerk Patricia Wilson had originally asked Jones-White, 48, to account for the expenses, which totaled about $8,200 in district funds that she spent between August 1998 and August 2001. Jones-White agreed in March to repay $3,400 - although it was unclear how the district reached that figure. Among some of the items Jones-White charged were a car rental in Las Vegas and 16 months of America Online.
At a school board meeting on Feb. 6, Soufiane, upset at what he called Jones-White's "refusal" to live up to the agreement to pay back the district $100 a month, introduced a resolution for the board to ask State Education Commissioner Richard Mills to remove her.
The resolution failed 3-1, with Jones-White, board president Regina Lattimore-Gordon, and vice president Betty Cross opposing it. Trustee Sheila Elliott left before the voting started. Cross said she opposed the resolution because "White is a good school board member, and she told me she was paying the money back. As far as I know, she is up to date in her payments."
Lattimore-Gordon said she opposed the measure because it said Jones-White "refused" to make payments. "That was wrong ... she may have been late a couple of times, but she's without a job now, and you don't jump on people when they're down. She's paid up to date."
Jones-White, who had been paying $100 a month, missed installments in September, October, November and December, Soufiane said. Newsday could not determine whether she is up to date on her payments.
"Mrs. White should be treated as other district employees have been for similar offenses. Some of my people were fired for less," said Sheriva Scott, head of the Hempstead Schools Civil Service Association.
In December 2001, A. Thomas Levin, an outside counsel hired by the board from a Mineola law firm, issued a report on Jones-White to the board. Levin said he could not discuss the report.
"Between August 1998 and August 2001, Jones-White charged personal non-school district related expenses totaling $5,258.52 on a district credit card and has refused ... to reimburse the district," said the Dec. 11, 2001, report, which Newsday obtained recently. It added that at about the same time she also took cash advances "allegedly for her attendance at various educational conferences, but failed to furnish receipts or other substantiation" for $3,032.25 in expenses.
The report concluded that the district could institute a civil procedure to recover money owed, file criminal charges, or seek Jones-White's removal.
Jones-White, whose three-year term is up next year, said she agreed to repay the district $3,400 because her inability to find the receipts made her "liable."
"But she stopped making payments in August and did not make another payment until after I failed to get a resolution to seek her removal in January [when she paid $300]," Soufiane said. "But any default in payment allows the district to get a judgment against her."
The office of Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon was notified of the allegations and Levin's investigation, referring the matter to the state comptroller and the State Department of Education.
Dillon's office said the education department said it would not look into it without a formal complaint, and that a state comptroller's office official said the issue would be noted for when the comptroller makes its next district assessment. Frank Quigley, chief of Dillon's Special Investigations Bureau, said: "We closed the case but could reopen it at any time with new information."
Hempstead, New York