In 42 years of coaching football, George Mangicaro has never missed a game.
Never, that is, until last Friday night.
The Liverpool Central School District’s athletic director had to stay home from this year’s homecoming game after being placed on paid leave by the district. Mangicaro said the leave is a punishment for bringing allegations against the superintendent. The school board said it was because of the negative environment created by those accusations.
Last spring, Mangicaro brought charges of misconduct against Liverpool Superintendent Jan Matousek before the school board. He also brought the allegations before the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office. The board found the accusations to be without merit and dismissed them. Mangicaro then retained attorney Leslie Savage to represent his interests and continued to pursue the matter with the DA. He was placed on leave starting last Tuesday after refusing to tell the school’s attorney, Dennis O’Hara, the names of others who would testify against Matousek.
Barry Weiss of the district attorney’s office confirmed that it was conducting an investigation. “Mr. Mangicaro brought some information to us and we are looking into it,” he said.
The athletic director
“I went to the DA because I thought it was in the best interest of the district,” Mangicaro said. “This is their tactic, trying to get me to back down.”
Mangicaro could not discuss the specific accusations he leveled against Matousek, as the district attorney’s office has told him not to do so. However, he revealed that the charges concerned “a pattern of deceit, dishonesty and deception on the part of the superintendent over the last two years.” Mangicaro said he had evidence to back up his claims, as well as 10 to 15 other employees who would testify in support of the allegations.
Those people asked not to be named unless an independent investigation was conducted.
“Ironically, the people who came to me wouldn’t speak because they feared retaliation from the superintendent,” Mangicaro said.
Mangicaro took his allegations before the board of education at its May 15 meeting. At the same time, he contacted the district attorney and was given an appointment at the end of June. After the board finished its investigation and dismissed the matter, Mangicaro continued to pursue it with the DA.
“Two to three weeks ago, I got a call from the DA’s office,” he said. “They wanted to talk to me about the materials that I had dropped off back in June.”
Around the same time, Mangicaro received a letter from Matousek ordering him to release the names of those who would testify against her to school attorney O’Hara. On the orders of the district attorney’s office, Mangicaro refused.
Mangicaro received another memo from the superintendent’s office on Sept. 15. The memorandum ordered Mangicaro again to respond to the district’s inquiry and noted that his “continued refusal or failure to do so will be considered an act of insubordination and will be referred to the board of education for further action.”
Again, following the orders of the DA, Mangicaro refused. Shortly thereafter, he found himself placed on paid administrative leave. Additionally, his girlfriend, Bonnie Ladd, head of technology education for the district, was placed on special assignment and Mangicaro was barred from school grounds.
“I believed her behavior to be illegal or at least unethical,” he said. “The board has never called me back to question me. Everything I’ve done, every letter, memo and document I sent to the DA, I copied the board and the superintendent. I just deleted the names of the people who would testify.”
Matousek’s office referred all questions about the matter to Board of Education President Mark Lawson. Lawson stated that the board stood by its findings, as well as its decision to place Mangicaro on paid leave.
“When he brought the accusations to us last spring, we investigated and determined that there was nothing to them,” Lawson said. “They were based on factual inaccuracies and we dismissed them.”
Lawson also acknowledged that Mangicaro had every right to bring the matter before the district attorney. “We sent them our own letter saying that we were happy to cooperate,” he said. “But they haven’t contacted us, so we’re in limbo in terms of the DA.”
The decision to put Mangicaro on paid leave was “not punitive,” Lawson said. “The work situation [in the district offices] has become untenable. Our feeling was that it was so distracting that the administrators were not focusing on what’s important: education.”
The situation was made worse by Mangicaro’s behavior, Lawson said.
“George would only communicate with the superintendent through his attorney,” he said. “How do you supervise your employee if you can only talk to him through his attorney?”
In a letter to Leslie Savage, O’Hara echoed those sentiments. He also pointed out that Mangicaro’s refusal to release the names of potential witnesses was hindering any investigation he or the board could conduct.
Once the matter is settled, Lawson said the board would decide what to do. He noted that Mangicaro is still receiving benefits and full pay.
No end in sight
But Mangicaro still believes he is being punished, and he’s determined to stick to his guns.
“There’s a cancer cell in the district office,” he said. “I have black and white evidence. Things could get very ugly for [Matousek]. I have nothing to hide.”
Though she also could not mention specifics, former school board member Terri Cook hinted that she, too, felt that all was not right at the district office.
“I believe information should be made available to the public,” Cook said. “That’s why I’m not on the board anymore.”
Lawson, meanwhile, is just as sure that Matousek is not guilty of the allegations. “I am personally confident that no misconduct has taken place,” he said. “We looked at the charges and determined that there was no probable cause to go forward. Our main focus is education, and this issue has really distracted time and energy from other issues.”
The district attorney’s office will make the final call as to whether criminal charges will be sought.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.