Southold parents call for BOE vice president to resign after heated exchange with community member

Multiple parents are calling for Southold Board of Education vice president John Crean to step down following a heated conversation at the Board of Education meeting last Wednesday, during which he swore at a district parent.

The exchange took place between Mr. Crean and Glen Homer, the father of a rising sixth-grade student, who addressed the Board of Education about concerns that he and others in the school community had about cutbacks in the band program.

Mr. Homer’s concern centered on the decision to hire only one teacher to replace orchestra director Audrey Grathwohl and band teacher Rene Suprina, both of whom retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year. In a letter to several news outlets, including The Suffolk Times, regarding the incident, Mr. Homer noted that district Superintendent Anthony Mauro cited declining enrollment as the reason for this decision. Mr. Homer presented data at the meeting showing that band participation had rebounded following a steep decline during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as of this spring, was slightly above pre-COVID levels. 

According to Mr. Homer’s letter, while he was making his closing remarks Mr. Crean “began aggressively pointing his finger at me and told me he did not appreciate my snarky attitude and that if ‘You don’t like it then you should just move.’ To this I responded, ‘That was a stupid thing to say.’ His response was, ‘Well, that’s my opinion,’ to which I responded, ‘Well, your opinion sucks.’ His final response was, “F— YOU!” 

“What drives me nuts about this whole situation is that I voted for a budget which allocated money for the salaries for those two teachers that retired, so I agreed to pay for something and now I am paying for it in the form of higher taxes and you’ve unilaterally decided to not give it to us when it’s clearly needed,” Mr. Homer said in a phone interview Monday. “I mean, it’s completely unfair. So that’s one issue. The second issue is them just telling parents if they don’t like it, they can move and screaming obscenities at them in a [public] meeting.”

In a Monday afternoon email to The Suffolk Times, Mr. Mauro said the district plans “to use a part-time person along with other district music teachers to provide for all of our students.

“As our district population continues to shrink (from over 1,000 students to approximately 700 and still declining) we are in a position where we do not need to employ as many music teachers as we did in the past to provide the same opportunities for all of our students,” Mr. Mauro wrote. “Our numbers in all areas are down with our population decline. The Southold music program is excellent and we expect to keep it that way by offering all of the same opportunities with fewer teachers.”

Mr. Mauro encouraged those interested in looking at and discussing the enrollment data to reach out to him for more information.

Mr. Homer also stated that there was an attempt to withhold information about the exchange from the public. He said that the Board of Education meeting video, posted last Thursday after the meeting, didn’t include the audio of his interaction with Mr. Crean. Mr. Homer claims that the current version of the video, which removes the expletive only, was posted Friday afternoon after numerous Freedom of Information Law requests were submitted to the Southold Town clerk.

“We flooded the Southold Town clerk with about a dozen FOIL requests,” Mr. Homer said, noting he was unsure if the clerk contacted the school about the requests. “But then we got in touch with Superintendent Mauro directly, and just said, ‘We’re going to proceed with this and take any and all legal action necessary until you release the full content of that conversation.’ That conversation was clearly muted, because it paints Dr. Crean in a negative light and not until they got an immense amount of pressure to do so, did they then release an updated, unedited version.”

In an email to The Suffolk Times on Monday afternoon, district officials said “No FOIL requests were ever filed with Dr. Mauro. There was a problem with the initial audio, which was pointed out by a parent shortly after it was posted, and the corrected video was then posted.”

In a phone call Tuesday, Southold Town Clerk, Denis Noncarrow, confirmed he received FOIL requests in regard to this incident.

Mr. Mauro said that Mr. Crean “issued an apology to the families in the district for his actions the day after the meeting.” The apology was sent in an email to parents in the community, including Mr. Homer, the following day.

“During a spirited exchange with a community member at the July 26th Board of Education meeting I used language that was inappropriate. I am sorry for that lapse in judgment, and apologize to everyone present in the room and to our staff and students for setting a poor example,” Mr. Crean wrote.

“During the public speaking portion of the meeting, Dr. Crean, one of our board members, made inappropriate comments to a community member. This is something that is extremely unfortunate, and I wish it had never happened,” Mr. Mauro said.

The Suffolk Times also contacted school board president Paulette Ofrias and Mr. Crean for comment. 

In an email, Mr. Crean wrote, “At a recent board meeting, I felt like the board and superintendent were being questioned impolitely. I lost my temper and said things that I should not have said. For that, I apologize.” Ms. Ofrias did not respond to the request for comment.

Mr. Homer said the interaction was disturbing on multiple levels and that the expletive shouted at him is “not the biggest issue.”

“The biggest issue here is that you have an elected official whose job it is to at least be concerned with and/or represent the wants and needs of the people in the community and his response or position is, ‘Well if you don’t like it, you’re free to move.’ I mean, it’s insane that somebody should be allowed to remain in their elected office if that’s their position,” Mr. Homer said.

It is unclear if this incident will change Mr. Crean’s position on the school board. Video of the meeting is available on YouTube on the SOHO TV page. According to the agenda from the board’s July 5 reorganizational meeting, the next public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 23.