Last Tuesday, Joshua Lafazan, the senior class president at Syosset High School, became the first high school student ever elected to the Syosset Board of Education and the youngest elected official in New York.
The 18-year-old, elected to the at-large seat by a landslide, said his win sent an important message to young people. “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. So many people decided to tell me ‘You couldn’t run for the school board. You’re too young,’” Lafazan said.
“One of the youngest New York State assemblymen will be a nice achievement as well,” he added.
Lafazan’s win comes amid controversial claims that his father, Jeffrey Lafazan, wrongfully ran off with the only list of absentee voters. Joshua Lafazan called it "an obvious smear-campaign tactic, a last-minute Hail Mary thrown by the school district administration."
His father said he didn't know the document was the district's only copy and that his wife returned it to authorities.
Lafazan also received a great deal of opposition from school administrators before the election. “The greatest asset the Syosset School District has are its teachers,” he said. “But the amount of resistance I’ve been getting from the administration is terrible.”
He said that administrators distorted his nonprofit designated driver program, SafeRideSyosset.org, telling parents that it promotes teen drinking, which Lafazan said is “right within the guidelines of MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] and [Nassau County District Attorney] Kathleen Rice’s program, Choices and Consequences.”
Hundreds of Lafazan’s lawn signs were also stolen before the election.
Despite all of the opposition, Lafazan won the school board seat; and while fulfilling his three-year term, he plans to attend Nassau Community College’s honors program and train as a volunteer firefighter to help defray the cost of his tuition. Starting in his junior year, Lafazan hopes to attend Columbia University.
According to the New York State School Boards Association, “A member of a board of education in New York State takes on one of the most important responsibilities that can be assigned to any citizen: helping to plan the education of the state’s youth.” The board of education “keeps the country’s public schools flexible and responsive to the needs of their local communities.”
And Lafazan, intends to do exactly that. He said, “I’m going to be respectful and polite, and I’m going to push my agenda through. Look, I understand it’s all about compromise.”
Of Superintendent of Schools for Syosset Central School District Carole Hankin, the highest paid school superintendent in New York, Lafazan said, “Quite frankly, she’s overpaid. Either this board is so out of touch with what the community is feeling or they have no consideration for the taxpayer. We ask our teachers to take a pay freeze for the second year in a row, parents have to say ‘no’ to their children more, and private sector jobs are being lost, yet she gets a raise? It’s not about the economics… It’s about leadership.”
Lafazan would also like to see the school budget posted so voters can view it “line by line,” rather than in general categories. He also wants to change the way the public can participate at the board meetings.
“At board meetings members of the community can only speak on topics that are pre-authorized by the school board,” said Lafazan, who’s been attending them regularly since last July. He said the topics are “pre-authorized about 15 to 20 minutes before the meeting, so if you want to talk about your son being bullied, and bullying is not on the agenda, you can’t talk about it.”
“When people ask me what party I’m in, I say, ‘I’m in the party of problem solving,’” said Lafazan.
According to the New York State School Boards Association “The legal requirements for board membership are few, but qualifications for effective service are many.”
Regardless of his age, it seems that Lafazan has all the right stuff.
SOURCES: LongIslandPress.com, CBS New York, New York State School Boards Association