The North Merrick Board of Education is no closer to filling the seat of Trustee John Pinto, who abruptly resigned after last month’s election. A motion to solicit applications from the public to fill the seat stalled in a 3-3 vote at the board’s June 12 meeting.
The second option was to give the open seat to the candidate who garnered the third- highest number of votes on May 15 — Steve Enella, who lost his re-election bid by 12 votes, and has served on the board for more than five years.
However, “picking the next person with the highest votes isn’t the same,” Trustee Jennifer Hyland said. “The public may not have voted the same if they had to choose three people instead of the top two.”
Trustee Ed Corona made the motion to solicit applications, which was supported by Hyland and Tracey Miller. Board of Education President Wendy Gargiulo and the two unseated trustees, Steve Enella and Todd Ransom, maintained that Pinto’s seat should go to Enella.
North Merrick residents voted last year to have “at large” elections for the board, in which candidates all run against one another to fill the open seats, as opposed to newcomers challenging specific incumbents’ seats.
The board was also deadlocked on the same vote at its May 21 meeting.
Gargiulo, in a phone interview last week, said that although she supports giving the seat to Enella, she also had confidence in the letter of intent process.
“If the board votes to take letters of intent, I am confident we will make every effort to pick the most qualified candidate,” Gargiulo said.
However, she also said that “a young board, with a lot of people sitting for their first or second year” could benefit from Enella’s presence, and that appointing Enella would help “heal the community” after a tough election.
“There’s something to be said for longevity and experience,” she added.
At the meeting, members of the public asked about infighting of the board members as it relates to the deadlock. “With the infighting and deadlock, healing won’t happen,” one resident said. “If someone got voted out, appointing the next person isn’t democratic. This is scaring away future voters.”
Trustees said that they disagree sometimes, but infighting doesn’t happen. Hyland also said in a phone interview that disagreements are “healthy and typical.”
While some community members supported soliciting letters from the public to fill Pinto’s seat, one person brought a letter addressed to the board from a group of parents with more than 100 signatures in support of Enella filling the vacancy.
“We are writing to you as your constituents with confidence, that we can convince the board to overcome the deadlock and make a unified decision regarding filling John Pinto’s board seat. If it was not made clear during the May 21, 2018 special board meeting, your constituents support the idea of filling John Pinto’s seat with Steve Enella,” the letter read.
Gargiulo said she did not want the board to lose sight of what was important, despite the deadlock. “The children are the thread that binds us together, and the focus should always be on the child,” Gargiulo said. “We’re focusing on the adults, and we need to turn back our focus to the students of North Merrick.”
The discussion to fill Pinto’s seat will continue at the next Board of Education meeting on July 2. However, new trustees Michelle Gordon and Vincent Lentini will be seated at that meeting, and could end the deadlock.