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Syosset school board president threatens to quit

School board member Joshua Lafazan holds up Robert's

School board member Joshua Lafazan holds up Robert's Rules of Order as he tries to bring a motion before the board during Monday nights school board meeting at the South Woods Middle School. (Aug 6, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Syosset school board president threatened to quit on the spot Monday night after wrangling with a new trustee in a meeting so contentious the superintendent called it "silly."

Joshua Lafazan, 18 and new to the board, challenged board president Michael Cohen on a procedural matter, telling him he was "out of order."

Cohen, visibly upset, called the situation untenable and said he would not be micromanaged. Lafazan was trying to get the board to discuss at its next meeting moving from paper mailing to electronic communication, which he thinks could save the district thousands of dollars.

"I won't be made a mockery of," Cohen said. "I'd sooner quit if that were to be the case."

The board voted against discussing the matter.

Trustee Alan Resnick told the board he did not want Lafazan to use the proceedings to further his own career ambitions.

"We will accomplish nothing going on in this manner," Resnick said. "I wish you the best of luck in your political career, but you are not going to do it on the backs of this community."

Julie Gropper, 53, of Syosset, said she feels bad for the district. "This doesn't have to happen. If it's going to take away from the kids, then that's sad."

Superintendent Carole Hankin, who spent most of the meeting explaining the rules of order, said afterward that she believes these problems will be ironed out over time. "I really believe this will work out," she said.

Lafazan said after the meeting at South Woods Middle School that the reason it was so fraught was because the board was so reluctant to be transparent.

Before the meeting, Lafazan said that the board, believing he had violated policy by reaching out to the district's bus company to ask questions, sent him a letter through its attorney informing him of the board's rules.

Lafazan said in an email sent to the school board and the community at large that, if he was in the wrong, the board could have corrected him with a phone call or email.

"Please accept that I am on this board to stay, and I will bring transparency to this entity," he wrote.

Cohen said in a phone call before the meeting that trustees must ask the school board to collect such data. They cannot, on their own, seek out such information, he said, adding that the policy protects not only the district but the trustees.

"You only have authority as a board member by law when the board has convened in public or executive session," he said. "So never in my seven years on the board have I called a teacher or an administrator or anyone directly. Ever."

He said, too, that it's "unconscionable" for a board member to air his grievances in public.

"If people don't want to play nice, it will just keep going on and on," he said. "Nobody wants this."

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