Teen celebrates Syosset schools victory

Joshua Lafazan, 18, who won a seat on the Syosset Board of Education on Tuesday night, talks about the surreal experience of being the youngest elected official in New York state. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (May 16, 2012)

Minutes after being questioned on Fox Business News about his election to the Syosset Board of Education and his upcoming high school prom, Joshua Lafazan faced his first political decision Wednesday.

Whether to skip school and stay in Manhattan for lunch with his parents, or race back for his Advanced Placement U.S. government class.

"Let's try and maintain some sense of normalcy," Sandy Lafazan told her son and husband, Jeffrey Lafazan.

"I can make it back in time for eighth and ninth period," Joshua, 18, said. He returned to Long Island in time for the classes -- and to hang out with friends.

Thus was his first day as a trustee-elect of the school system.

"This isn't fun and games," he said of his future on the board. "People have to move out of Syosset because their taxes are too high."

Lafazan on Tuesday went up against the district administration and won, earning one of three at-large board seats by a landslide 4,739 votes, compared with fellow victors Christopher DiFilippo with 2,531 votes and incumbent Alan Resnick with 2,474.

Lafazan was the youngest candidate among hundreds running for local boards on Long Island on Tuesday. But a younger teen, John William Allen, two months Lafazan's junior, on Tuesday won a school board seat in the upstate Belleville Henderson Central School district, near Lake Ontario.

Lafazan said he understands what's in store after he graduates. "People need someone to stand up for them," he said. Lafazan is not registered to a political party but is a member of his local Republican group. Due to his status as an elected official, Lafazan had to give up a summer internship with Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and is looking for a new gig.

Throughout his campaign, Lafazan, the first-ever high-school student elected to the nine-member board, has been critical of Syosset Superintendent Carole Hankin's salary and benefits package, which totals more than $541,000, the highest on Long Island.

Hankin, in a statement about the race, said, "The district welcomes the two new Board of Education members and looks forward to working together to create an environment where our students can excel."

Board member Michael Cohen Wednesday said Hankin's job is not in danger despite the election of two vocal critics, Lafazan and DiFilippo.

"At her core, she wants to make school a welcoming place for any kid," Cohen said, adding that Hankin, whose contract lasts five more years, has made a concerted effort to protect programming for students who might not soar academically.

He said also that if the superintendent quit tomorrow, the district couldn't find a worthy replacement for less than $250,000 to $300,000.

Lafazan supporter Peter Ennis, a 20-year resident of the district and a longtime critic of Hankin's, called the vote a "huge rebuke for Carole Hankin at a time where there are families in Syosset going through foreclosure."

Board member Shari Dorfman supported Hankin's administration.

"I think if the biggest concern is her salary, people aren't sophisticated enough to understand the magnitude of the budget and how insignificant her salary is in the entire scheme of the budget," she said.

Dorfman, whose term ends at the end of June, said she's uncertain why residents voted as they did.

"I can't begin to analyze what is in the minds of voters," Dorfman said. "She has done incredible things for this district."

Lafazan said the school district tried to discredit his campaign the day before the vote by accusing his father of walking off with the only list of absentee voters. A robo-call alerted Syosset parents to the incident, identified his father and told residents to call police if they found the papers or suspect.

Nassau police Wednesday said no charges had been filed.

Jeffrey Lafazan said he had no reason to believe the document was the district's only copy. His wife returned it later Monday, he said.

Friends, many of whom helped with his campaign, were quick to congratulate Lafazan Wednesday for his hard work. "We did it," he emphasized. "Not me."

And, he said he fielded a congratulatory call from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who at 18 was a Mineola school board trustee.

Lafazan, set to attend Nassau Community College in the fall because, as a volunteer firefighter, tuition is free, said he aspires to follow a similar political trajectory.

"My next goal is to become a New York State assemblyman, after college," he said, "but I have a lot of work to do on the school board first and I'm looking forward to it." After Nassau Community College, he hopes to attend Columbia University and the University at Albany's law school.

His friend, Jake Asman, 17, of Syosset, said the election was a vindication for young people. "It shows you that anyone can make a difference in the community," he said. "It's not about age. Just because you're young doesn't mean you don't have perspective."

Lafazan will be sworn in as trustee in July, soon after his graduation. "My first priority is making sure that every citizen in Syosset can view the budget" line by line, he said. "I want everyone to have a say in the process."

But before his term begins, the senior class president has a prom to plan. The June event in Manhattan is themed "We are young."

With William Murphy,

John Valenti and Joie Tyrrell

AT 18, FUTURE POLS WON BOARD SEATS

THOMAS DINAPOLI: 1972, Mineola. 18 years, 2 months, 24 days old at time of election. Now the NYS comptroller.

JAMES SHERRY: 1984, Mineola. 18 years, 7 months, 14 days. Now a deputy commissioner with the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

KENNETH WAGNER: 1986, Seaford. 18 years, 4 months, 9 days. Now an assistant commissioner with NYS Department of Education.

DOUGLAS PASCARELLA: 2004, Plainedge. 18 years, 4 months 16 days. Now works in Nassau County government.

JOSHUA LAFAZAN: 2012, Syosset. 18 years, 3 months, 16 days.

Compiled by Laura Mann, David Cassidy and William Murphy

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