Wantagh BOE meeting becomes campaign forum

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With the Wantagh Schools Board of Education runoff election less than a week away, last week’s board meeting ended with a round of point-counterpoint jousting about the candidacy of board President Peter Mountanos.

The meeting started on a high point, with the announcement that the Wantagh Federation of Teachers ratified a new contract with the district after nearly a year of protracted negotiations. The terms of the contract could not be disclosed, district Superintendent John McNamara said, and calls to union representatives were not returned by press time.

McNamara also took the opportunity to congratulate outgoing Assistant Superintendent for Business Adriana Silver, whose retirement will take effect July 1. He thanked her for her years of service to the district and presented her with a clock as a token of thanks.

But the upcoming runoff election overshadowed the board’s other business.

At issue is Mr. Mountanos’ rental of a New York City apartment. He has never concealed the existence of the rental, nor he has denied using it when his work as a software engineer for Google requires him to work late, or when issues with the Long Island Rail Road make it impractical for him to return to Wantagh. Mountanos has shared a permanent address with his parents in Wantagh since before his 2013 election to the board.

Critics, led by Tara Cassidy, who was a candidate in last month’s first-round election, contend that Mountanos’ leasing of the apartment and his absence from board meetings show that he is away from the district too frequently to perform the duties of trustee effectively. Along with other Mountanos opponents, she claims he has missed an inordinate number of board meetings while telecommuting for others.

Mountanos’ supporters countered that focusing on the rental, which was not at issue during the first round of campaigning, amounted to “nitpicking,” according to parent Kristin Massey. She suggested that many of the improvements in the district’s schools in the past six years were thanks in large part to Mountanos’ efforts and expertise, along with board colleague Kera McLoughlin, who was the biggest vote-getter in last month’s contest.

Kristin Massey, whose children attend district schools, pointed to programs recommended by Mountanos as instrumental in helping one of her children learn computer coding. “It’s amazing that they can learn coding already in second grade,” she said.

Other speakers, including former board member and president Ann-Marie Sturniolo, asked Mountanos to “do the right thing and withdraw” from the June 26 runoff.

Attendance records on the district’s website showed Mountanos missing a total of eight public meetings out of a total of 43 in the past three years and telecommuting to one meeting this past January. Planning and executive sessions were not part of the public record.

Sturniolo also asked why McLoughlin deputized for Mountanos at an awards presentation he was unable to attend. Normal board procedure would have been for the vice president, Tony Greco, to take over in his absence, she said.

A visibly agitated Board Vice President Tony Greco pointed to section 2220, which outlines the protocol for such situations. Greco added that the board would rule on Mountanos’ eligibility but did not give a date for the ruling.

Both New York City and the City of Yonkers mandate a separate income tax for residents, including part-time residents, based on the number of days actually spent overnight in the respective cities. While 183 days is considered sufficient to claim permanent residence, it was unclear whether the permanent designation becomes automatic at that point or remains at the discretion of the individual taxpayer.

The board’s student observer, Melanie Volz, who is Mountanos’ next door neighbor, said she observed Mountanos at home “most nights,” without quantifying, and said he had been helpful during an unspecified family tragedy. She said she hoped voters would focus on what she called “real issues.”

Mallory Wilson contributed to this article.