Trustees, Superintendent, and Unions Galore… Everyone Seems to be Campaigning
When it comes to the well-being of children, parents are always bound to stand up for their children. And when it comes to board of education (BOE) elections, teachers, administrators and, yes, parents all have a vested interest. With such a medley of actors, there is bound to be tension. But in today’s hyper-partisan climate, even something such as a nonpartisan school board election is bringing up allegations of inappropriate electioneering. Namely, this is the case of Smithtown CSD and the Kings Park CSD.
Kings Park CSD:
The Doug Cerrato and Jaime Lelle for BOE campaign have publicly released FOIL’ed information from correspondences between Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen and Smithtown News Editor Dave Ambro. The emails, sent from Eagen’s district email address, outline coordinating a media strategy to alter the perception of the parents in attendance at a board meeting held on August 10, 2021.
In their email correspondences, Eagen and Ambro reach the conclusion that the majority of the 80 people in attendance at that meeting were from outside of Kings Park. The Cerrato and Lelle campaign maintains that the meeting only contained two or three out-of-towners, with the overwhelming majority within the district.
Additionally, the Cerrato and Lelle campaign sharply criticized the comments made by Kevin Johnston, a sitting board of education member, touting his support of candidates Patrick Hanley and Shala Pascucci.
“They wish to privatize bus transportation, remove security guards, eradicate administrative positions, increase class sizes, disseminate programs and alter curricula, under the guise of cutting taxes,” reads a screenshot of Johnston’s Facebook post.
Cerrato and Lelle flatly reject that Johnston’s post is an accurate presentation of their agenda and, on some of the points, expressed opposite opinions to The Messenger in prior interviews. For example, Cerrato, in his interview with The Messenger, expressed a desire to give bus drivers raises. To our best investigative abilities, the other statements made by Johnston can either not be substantiated or are pure conjecture incapable of substantiation.
Cerrato and Lelle also found it to be a “Complete violation of the BOE code of conduct.” The code, while not legally binding, is meant to encourage high standards of ethical conduct.
Cerrato and Lelle specifically point to these provisions of the code in their condemnation of Johnston’s comments: 1) “resist temptation and outside pressure to use our position as school board members to benefit either ourselves or any other individual or agency apart from the total interest of our school board;” 2) “agree to honor our positions and the people who elected us by maintaining high ethical standards by not engaging in any activity which presents a conflict of interests, or an appearance of impropriety”
By the same extension, Pam DeFord’s early endorsement of Hanley and Pascucci would also be criticizable under Cerrato and Lelle’s standards.
Cerrato and Lelle have the support of the Suffolk County Police Benevolence Association.
Smithtown Central School District:
Recently, a Suffolk County employee residing within the Smithtown CSD received a phone call from a caller who identified themselves as with NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). The caller stated to the county employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, that they were being contacted because they are a county employee. Furthermore, the caller urged the employee to vote for the incumbent board of education members, Michael Saidens and Michael Catalanotto.
The county employee is now concerned about how the information was ascertained, especially considering that they are not a member of a union that might give their information out for campaign purposes. While most public employee information is grantable to the general public, personal and home phone numbers are not, especially for electioneering purposes.
This follows a litany of complaints from both campaigns during the Smithtown Central School District BOE race regarding missing signage throughout the campaign. Complaints of political bias in the classroom have also come up as the election continues.
There has been a big push from NYSUT to support their Smithtown affiliate, the Smithtown Teachers’ Association (STA), in the form of auto dialed live callings and mass letter campaigns to NYSUT members residing within the district.
Such a push underlines the importance of the race from the STA’s perspective. The balance of power of the board is currently four STA endorsed members to three non-STA endorsed members. With the balance of power on the line, it is clear that the STA has marshaled all available resources at their disposal.