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Tensions Spark At School Board Meeting

During a Syosset school board meeting last week, tension arose between Superintendent of Schools Carole Hankin, Trustee Joshua Lafazan, and Fred Gang, a resident speaker on transparency and accusations made against the district.

During public comment, Gang expressed disapproval of the district’s proposed budget for 2013-14, and inquired about reports of the district’s use of software to target various community members with the objective of increasing voter turnouts — which is illegal under New York State election law as Gang pointed out.

“These groups of people are those whom the district thinks are favorable for their support on election day,” Gang said.

Hankin responded forcefully in between Gang’s statements, rejecting his claims as “false accusations” and “misinformation.”

“Every year you come here to speak, we deal with you, and I’m not going to stand for it anymore,” Hankin said. “You are saying something that is absolutely not true.”

Lafazan then expressed outrage at “restricting a resident’s freedom of speech” in the public comment section, saying: “Just because you don’t like what Mr. Gang has to say doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to censor him.”  Lafazan then requested the school district to issue an “official explanation” on whether they use this software or not.

Hankin responded to Lafazan by saying: “There is a difference between free speech and going out and saying something that is a lie — we don’t use this software.” Hankin then cited statements made by resident Janet Wein, who works for BOCES, in which she said she has never seen such practices take place.

Hankin then accused Lafazan of “doing your own private investigation, and making the reputation of Syosset go downhill every day.”

“I haven’t seen one added value that you have submitted all year — I wish you would, I think you have a lot to offer,” Hankin said to Lafazan.  “Every meeting I sit here and say to myself ‘okay, he’ll learn.’”

Lafazan responded by insisting that he “speaks the truth, and whether people disagree or agree, I think they can respect that I tell the truth.”

“I ran last year to be a voice for the 6,600 students in this district because I’ve spent the past 13 years going to school here, and I know best because I’ve been in those classes and programs, so I’m not going to sit here and let you tell me that I don’t offer any value,” Lafazan said.

Hankin said the district has “done an excellent job this year,” yet cited Lafazan’s “foolishness” as a reason the district “has not been able to accomplish even more.”

“I think the boards in the past years have been fabulous, and it’s why we have reserves, we haven’t cut anybody, we’re coming in below the two percent tax cap, and our programs are nationally known,” Hankin said.

As the meeting continued, the mood calmed down, and concluded with trustee Alan Resnick delivering short comments encouraging residents to “get out and vote.”

“The majority of our votes here are unanimous because we all want the same thing, even though we disagree,” Resnick said. “I encourage all of you to vote — we are in this [together] and I really mean that.”