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Syosset school board slate vows transparency

Three candidates running as a slate for the Syosset school board want the district to be more transparent and take a closer look at its contracts.

William Weiner, Tracy Frankel and Robert Gershon -- together with two trustees elected last year -- would constitute a majority and alter the dynamics of the nine-member board.

They say they want Syosset to more readily share financial and other data with residents and invite them to play a greater role in the board's decision-making process.

"We need to stop the rubber stamping," Gershon said. "We need to stop saying yes to whatever is on the agenda."

Susan Parker, the only other contender, is running independently, saying she didn't want to be beholden to anyone.

The Syosset district has consistently been among the highest-performing school systems in the state. Syosset High School is ranked 194 nationally this year by U.S. News & World Report.

Board president Michael Cohen said trustees have productive discussions and are not a rubber stamp for the administration.

All four candidates said they were disappointed with the board's Monday night meeting, in which superintendent Carole Hankin told trustee Josh Lafazan, 19, that he didn't add any value to the board and that he lied and hurt the district's reputation.

While the slate blamed Hankin, 70, for the sparring, Parker said the entire board -- including Lafazan -- was responsible, adding that everyone "should have risen above it."

Hankin said in a phone interview Tuesday that she felt compelled to speak out at the meeting to combat what she believed was misinformation about the district, saying it was "hard to hear" and "upsetting" -- a very difficult night.

"It started out in a way that everyone's emotions really came out that had been brewing a long time," she said. "I think saying it was one person's fault would not be fair. I did not start this whole thing. I did respond to it."

Lafazan defended himself during the meeting, saying he speaks the truth and that he offers a valuable perspective as a recent Syosset graduate.

The slate -- which would join forces with Lafazan and trustee Chris DiFilippo -- contends Hankin has too much control over the board and that she can't handle dissent.

She denies this, saying she welcomes new ideas.

Lafazan, a high school senior when he was elected in 2012, has openly questioned the superintendent and her half-million-dollar compensation package. Her pay drew ire from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011, who cited it as an example of wasteful spending.

"The community is happy with what I've been pushing for," Lafazan said.

Hankin, who typically asks for a one-year extension to her contract every spring, said she does not know whether she will continue with the district when her contract ends in 2017.

"Each day you make decisions based on many, many circumstances," she said. "I don't know how anyone could say anything five years from now or four years from now."

Frankel said the district might be making perfectly sound decisions, but its lack of transparency raises suspicion in the community.

"They are doing a lot right, but are not being clear with the public," Frankel said. "They are being dismissive."

She called Monday's meeting "embarrassing" and "a mockery."

Weiner said members of the public don't feel comfortable questioning the board, and Monday night didn't help.

Gershon said he was taken aback by Hankin's comments, calling her remarks "unprofessional" and "uncalled for."

Cohen said the board is in "a good place," raising questions publicly and discussing them. He said, too, that its general consensus isn't suspect: A "vast" majority of items pass unanimously because they involve routine items -- "bread and butter stuff."

The board has made tremendous progress since Lafazan and DiFilipo joined, Cohen said, adding that he welcomes whoever might be elected.

"I have absolutely no issue working with anyone who comes on the board," he said.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Chris DiFilippo's name.

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