MAHOPAC, N.Y. - At its reorganizational meeting on July 7, the Mahopac Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint trustee Mike Mongon as its new president and Adam Savino as vice president. And because of some prodding by one of the board’s newest members, the process went on in full view of the public, with nominees allowed to state their qualifications and points of view.
The newly elected trustee, 20-year-old Tanner McCracken, who was sworn in at the July 7 meeting, presented a resolution that called for board members to nominate a trustee for president (and vice president). Each nominee would have five minutes to make an opening statement. The floor would then be opened for board members—except those nominated—to ask questions of the nominees. Once completed, a roll call vote would take place.
However, some board members didn’t like the fact that the nominees wouldn’t be allowed to question the other candidates.
“There are some concerns with the motion. In bullet [point] No. 2, you say the floor is open for questioning from the trustees [who are] not nominated,” said trustee Lucy Massafra. “Currently, a trustee is elected by the community; the president and vice president are elected by the trustees. A trustee can self-nominate and has a right to speak. I feel a nominee is shut off from the process.”
Massafra noted that the president has many roles, but holds no additional power, just more responsibilities.
McCracken said that he had no problem amending the resolution so that all board members—including the nominees—could ask questions.
“I would gladly amend the motion so anyone could ask the nominees questions—even nominees,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. You point out it’s not added power, it’s added responsibility and that is exactly why I feel it’s important that we make this a more complex decision-making process. This is the person who the community will engage with. [The president] speaks on behalf of the board; they are the face; they are the voice. They preside. For that reason, it’s important for them to explain why they want the position. I think it’s important for us to vet the candidates… because at the end of the day when we pick our president, I want to make sure this board discusses every possible question it may have.”
However, when the original unamended resolution was put to a vote, it passed by a 5-4 margin. McCracken along with trustees Dave Furfaro, Mongon, Ben DiLullo and Larry Keene voted yes, while Massafra, Ray McDonough, Mike Simone and Savino voted no.
But immediately after that vote, McCracken offered an amended version of the resolution that would allow all trustees to ask questions, even those who’ve been nominated for an office. That resolution passed unanimously.
McCracken noted that the resolution only covered the current nominations for the 2020-21 school year but said he would like it to eventually become permanent board policy.
“But that’s a different vote for a different time,” he said.
At last week’s meeting, there was only one nominee for each position: Mongon for president and Savino for vice president. Still, McCracken felt they should be questioned and vetted in the public forum just the same.
“I think it should apply to any situation,” he said. “If we have just one person nominated, I still would like to hear why they want it and [we should] have the opportunity to question them before they are [voted] president.”
Trustee McDonough said he didn’t find it personally helpful for the nominees to pitch their platforms and qualifications during a meeting.
“My decision [on who to vote for] would not be based on someone talking to me for just five minutes before the vote,” he said. “I will do my homework before that to understand their platforms. So, for me, this is neither helping me nor hurting me. This Is something that is not necessary for me; I’m not saying it’s not necessary for the rest of the board.”
But McCracken said the idea was to make the process more transparent and allow the public to hear from the nominees.
“It gives us the opportunity to hear something from them in pubic,” he said. “With the public watching, it gives them a great opportunity to see the decision-making process and understand the board’s picks.”
It was Massafra who nominated Mongon for president.
“Mike is passionate about education and is an alumnus of the Mahopac schools,” she said. “He is an advocate for educating our students while always considering teacher and staff needs. While making decisions, he considers how students, staff, community and taxpayers could be affected. He also makes himself available and keeps everyone informed. He truly bleeds blue and gold. His enthusiasm is overwhelming, and his passion is so great.”
Accepting the nomination, Mongon, who replaces Leslie Mancuso, who declined not to run for school board again, discussed what his leadership style will be like.
“My leadership style comes from the old football coach in me. Team building is something that is very near and dear to me,” he said. “The biggest part of team-building is building trust and respect. Communication, accountability and a strong foundation. The nice part is we have a nice foundation in place. The problem we’ve encountered and have been working through is the communication standpoint. But we have improved tremendously.”
When he first ran for the board, Mongon said his platform included providing state-of-the-art facilities and improving the campus experience for the students.
“I wanted to create a campus-style place for our students, areas where they could sit down and use their Chromebooks or just sit and congregate and have lunch,” he said. “[I wanted to] have our facilities be state-of-the-art so when other schools come, they’re like, ‘Wow, look at this place!’”
Mongon said he was proud to be nominated for president and said he knows the district will face some difficult challenges in the coming school year.
“I’m proud to be here and proud to have served on the school board for four years and I look forward to working with everyone,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence that we will tackle these issues head-on. We will be professional but passionate and I look forward to taking this to the next level.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” he continued. “Let’s get everything out in the open, let’s get our ducks in a row and be professional.”
Savino said as the new vice president he is ready to hit the ground running.
“Although I don’t have some of the vast experience of some of the other board members, I do bring the passion and the desire and the energy,” he said. “We do have a challenging year ahead of us and I look forward to working with all the trustees and administrators and doing what is in the best interests and safety of our students.”
Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo wished the new president and vice president good luck and said the board and administration are ready to move forward.
“I look forward to working with you and continuing the work we started two and a half years ago,” DiCarlo said. “This board of education took the courage to adopt a strategic plan that drives what we do every day. We have done a lot and have a lot more to do—never stopping. Working together we will get through these difficult times.”