And the problems are significant.
West Hempstead is located in New York’s Nassau County, which has the highest median property taxes in the nation, according to CBS 880. DiMiceli says her personal property taxes have doubled over the last 15 years.
Despite all the spending, the district’s test scores have mostly stagnated and student enrollment has declined. Taxpayers are paying more and more, but results aren’t improving.
“That’s not logical to me,” she says.
So when school administrators presented the West Hempstead school board with a $55.2 million budget proposal this spring, DiMiceli grew concerned the district wasn’t addressing the structural deficit that’s expected to begin in 2014.
After the board passed the budget 5-2, DiMiceli shared her concerns in a postcard-letter to West Hempstead residents, explaining why she voted ‘no.’
Economic conditions -- decreasing tax revenue, increasing health insurance and retirement costs for employees -- are creating “tremendous challenges for future budgets," DiMiceli wrote.
"Therefore, if we do not spend wisely and make provisions for the future now, our standard of education will drop even further along with the value of our homes.”
She also noted that opposing a school budget is a sure-fire way of getting labeled as anti-public education.
"In my opinion, we must change this way of thinking," DiMiceli wrote. "I feel that in order to improve the quality of education in West Hempstead, we must have the courage to face and admit our deficiencies and work together to find new ways to raise district wide academic achievement.”
The letter – which is clearly identified as representing only DiMiceli’s views – did not urge taxpayers to vote a certain way on the May 15 budget vote. It only raised questions that she believes the community must begin addressing, sooner or later.
'Good board members learn to compromise'
DiMiceli’s letter drew a stinging rebuke from the board president.
In a letter to the West Hempstead Herald, Ejnes wrote that “good board members learn to compromise, and if a decision does not go your way, it is unheard of to go out publicly and undermine the board’s final decision.”
At Ejnes’ urging, the board will revisit its code of ethics in October to determine the course of action if a member violates the policies.
The school board’s attorney has already reviewed the legality of DiMiceli’s actions, but the board has refused to make his findings public.
“If my critics feel that they are right, they should ask the Board of Education why aren’t they releasing the legal opinion of their own attorney?" DiMiCeli wrote in a recent letter to a local news site. “I will leave that up to you to assume the response.”
Despite the controversy her letter has generated, DiMiceli plans to keep pushing the board to share as much information as possible with the public.
“Certain things can’t be discussed publicly, such as contract negotiations or information about a certain student. But everything else should be public."
Information leads to more transparency and more accoutability, key components to ensuring that a school district is being run properly.
"This is a $55 million a year business,” DiMiceli says. “I do what I think is the right thing to do.”
Contact Ben Velderman at
, or at (231) 733-4202