The Mount Sinai school board has a new vice president this year.
At the district’s annual reorganization meeting on July 1, Peter Van Middelem, who just finished his first year on the board, was elected to the position in a 4-1 vote. Van Middelem, a retired New York City firefighter, succeeds former Vice President Donna Compagnone, whose term was up this year and decided not to seek re-election.
Van Middelem said his main objectives for the new year include keeping positive communications and relations with the community and the district’s teachers, seeing how new programs, such as Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project, which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers, is implemented, and keeping taps on the new full-day kindergarten program.
“I know that our emphasis right now is to make sure kindergarten is running and up to speed,” he said in a phone interview.
Van Middelem commended his predecessor for all of her work and stated that he had big shoes to fill as vice president.
Trustee Lynn Capobianco, who was re-elected to her second three-year term in May, cast the lone dissenting vote at the meeting. She said she couldn’t support Van Middelem as he allegedly did some political campaigning in his role as president of the Mount Sinai Lacrosse program. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 501(c)(3) organizations are “prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Capobianco said that in doing so Van Middelem jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the organization. According to an IRS database, Mt. Sinai Lacrosse Inc’s status had been automatically revoked in February 2013 for failing to file a return for three consecutive years. Van Middelem declined to comment on Capobianco’s concerns.
“I respect him greatly for the work he has done for that organization, but based on those issues I think the leadership comes into question,” Capobianco said.
While the board saw a change in its vice president, Robert Sweeney, who was elected to his second three-year term in 2014, is staying put as president. Board newcomer Mike Riggio was unable to make the first meeting and was sworn into his position at an earlier time.
Sweeney thanked the board for its vote and seemed to set the tone for the 2015-16 school year. He pointed out how the trustees were all wearing pins that read, “Respect public education.”
“This is an important statement that we are making about our teachers. … We respect them,” he said.
Sweeney continued to speak about the importance and need for public education.
“I wouldn’t be here and in my career without it,” he said.