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The Bad Superintendent

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As the scandal unfolded, details of Tassone’s private life became public. In April, he reportedly closed on a house in the Las Vegas suburbs with Jason Daugherty, a onetime motorcycle salesman and exotic dancer, who, it turns out, employees remember visited the office a few times. A clerk in the district, Phyllis Zampino, recognizes Daugherty’s name as the recipient of FedEx packages Tassone sent every week from the district for the past year—since about the time Gluckin was forced to retire. No one in the office seems to know what was in those packages. Between Daugherty and Signorelli, Roslyn had plenty to dish about over the summer. If the implication is that Tassone is gay, many Roslynites now claim they suspected as much all along; they just never said so. “This is a very socially advanced community, very liberal,” one of Tassone’s old employees says. “It’s like it wouldn’t have been cool even to bring it up.” Neither Daugherty nor Signorelli has commented on their sexuality, or anything else.

Hindsight has dredged up all sorts of revisionist judgments of Tassone. Some now remember him as popping herbal vitality pills, and, at one point, fen-phen. He used $56,645 in school money to pay for treatments by a Manhattan weight-loss doctor named Steven Lamm, though he told Newsday he paid for the treatments out of his own pocket. Says one parent: “Suddenly it’s not Frank in a Ford Taurus with his pants way up to here—it’s Frank with his hair slicked back and a face-lift.” Parents and teachers couldn’t fail to notice long light scars behind his ears. A few years into his tenure, he showed up to a parents’ meeting with small bruises around both eyes. He said he had been boxing, but people in Roslyn know an eye tuck when they see one.

Not that any of this raised eyebrows at the time. “He made $250,000,” says Bill Costigan. “He was single. He told us he lived in a rent-stabilized building. So when he showed up in a Brooks Brothers suit, that made perfect sense. And he had a $500 car allowance. You could lease a Mercedes with that.”

Judi Winters, a neighborhood activist who, in almost daily e-mail blasts to Roslyn neighbors, has compared the scandal to Vietnam, tells me she has come up with the perfect way to describe Tassone: “Pecksniffian.” The name refers to Mr. Pecksniff, a Dickens character who exploited the weaknesses of others, and who is selfish and corrupt behind a display of benevolence.

“Frank is a tremendous manipulator of people,” fumes Andrew Miller, “which is probably why some people thought he was a great superintendent.”

And while Peter Mancuso, the assistant district attorney handling the case, does admit that Tassone “was not the person who was actually signing the district’s checks,” the prosecutor insists that Tassone “lies at the heart of this. He’s the person who benefited from those checks.”

Gluckin and Tassone, out on bail, aren’t commenting other than to profess their innocence. Tassone’s lawyer, Ed Jenks, is relying heavily on the porous terms of Tassone’s contract to justify the superintendent’s extravagances. Neighbors speculate that Gluckin may cut a deal to implicate Tassone, while Tassone is expected to cast himself as a hapless naïf, entangled by Gluckin’s schemes. Then there are those who believe Gluckin and Tassone are only part of the problem. Pat Schissel, a nineteen-year veteran of the school board who has been castigated in meetings for having accepted the free use of a cell phone and computer from the district (“Dr. Tassone said ‘Okay,’ ” she told me plaintively), suggests that Roslyn is “a Peyton Place situation. It’s hard to keep your values if you ever had them. I think people can get caught up in that. And Frank may have gotten caught up in that.”

So Roslyn is to blame? Naturally, this isn’t the most popular opinion in town. “There were so many things Frank tended to very carefully,” says Charlie Piemonte. “It would be pretty hard to think he was this bumbling administrator who got swept up.”

At the start of the school year, the scandal still hasn’t stopped claiming careers. There’s a new superintendent, a new school-board president, and a new high-school principal. Bill Costigan has stepped down as president, but he refused to leave the board, saying no one was more duped by Tassone than he was. Of course, in making that claim, he has plenty of company.

“My life is now The Sixth Sense,” says Karen Bodner, who was voted out of office in June. Even now, she stays up late thinking about the night after that fateful meeting in 2002, consoling Tassone in the lobby of a Syracuse hotel where the board was staying for a school-board conference.

“He was so distraught,” she says. “He needed to vent—‘How could Pam do this?’ And I said, ‘She must be a sociopathic personality, because it seems like such an amateur way of embezzling money—it’s not even clever.’ And we talked for hours—he’s drawing this out of me! And then later I learn that he’s doing the same thing?

“Maybe he was trying to figure out whether any of us suspected him,” she goes on. “Here he’s a Ph.D., he’s a Dickens scholar. He must have thought we were rich people from the North Shore, we were spoiled, we were whatever.”

Still, she can’t help thinking fondly of the man she considered a mentor. As much as she can know anything, Bodner still believes—maybe she needs to believe—that Frank Tassone was capable of kindness.

“I was going through a separation last summer, and he called me from Europe to see how I was doing,” Bodner says. “He seemed legitimately concerned. And I can’t tell you now that he wasn’t. But maybe that phone call was him making sure everyone was behind him. These are questions I’ll never have the answers to.”

“It’s The Music Man,” I suggest.

“Yes, it is,” Bodner says. “That’s exactly what it is.”


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