‘Bad Education’ earns high marks despite criticism from Tassone

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‘Bad Education’ earns high marks despite criticism from Tassone
Hugh Jackman, left, as former Roslyn Superintendent Frank Tassone in "Bad Education," and the real Tassone, right, in an undated photo. (Photos courtesy of HBO and WikiCeleb)

“Bad Education,” the film about the Roslyn School District’s 2004 embezzlement scandal, may have received acclaim on its April 25 premiere, but its harshest criticisms come from the film’s subject, former Roslyn Superintendent Frank Tassone, over his portrayal in the script.

The film stars Hugh Jackman as Tassone, who during his 12-year term was found guilty of embezzling $11.2 million of the Roslyn district’s money with his colleagues, including then-Assistant Superintendent for Business Pamela Gluckin, played in the movie by Allison Janney.

“Bad Education,” which was written and co-produced by Roslyn alumnus Mike Makowsky, had earned a positive reception from critics even before cable network HBO bought it in a landmark deal at the Toronto International Film Festival late last year.

David Ehrlich of Indiewire praised the film at its TIFF premiere, dubbing it a “diabolically smart American crime story” and calling Jackman’s portrayal of Tassone “brilliant.”

Closer to the film’s setting, Newsday’s Rafer Guzman gave the movie three out of four stars.

“If you remember this scandal, or if you feel a little twinge of schadenfreude when any privileged community gets egg on its face, you’ll find much to savor in ‘Bad Education,'” Guzman wrote. “Though not the searing social critique it might have been, it’s a smart, sharp drama set against a Venn diagram of wealth, education and corruption — all hot-button issues of the moment, especially in the wake of the Huffman-Loughlin college admissions scandal. For Long Islanders, in particular, this is a must-watch.”

Film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a “Certified Fresh” rating, with 93 percent of critics reviewing it positively.

 

Tassone had pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree grand larceny, was sentenced in 2006 to four to 12 years in prison, and was given an early release in 2010. As recently as last year, he received a six-figure pension, as he did in prison.

He was highly regarded as the superintendent of the Roslyn school district, ranked No. 4 in the country and known for sending many graduates to Ivy League schools.

In a phone call Tuesday night, Tassone referred to statements he made in his appearances on the April 21 and April 28 episodes of the Coach Mike podcast, hosted by author Mike Bayer. The latter episode had Tassone discussing the film itself.

Tassone told Bayer that he “couldn’t sleep” the night after he watched the premiere on HBO and described it as a “difficult” journey.

“For it to come all back 20 years later, it brought back feelings that were hurtful and that were warranted in many respects, so it was a challenging time to watch the movie,” Tassone said on the podcast.

The former superintendent did say that some scenes in the film were “true and good,” including meeting with younger students for feedback, going to national conferences and being “positive with all the parents and all the students.”

“I always tried to meet their needs and do my best that I could do, and the movie presents that at the beginning,” Tassone said.

He contended that about “40 to 50 percent” of the film was true.

Of the scenes Tassone said were “untrue,” he mentioned ones that depicted his personal relationships and singled out one involving his late wife as among the most concerning.

“I think there were a lot of implications, or at least I felt that [it was portrayed that] I didn’t have a wonderful marriage or that I didn’t love her very much,” Tassone said. “I almost felt it was disrespectful to her.”

The film shows Tassone in a relationship with one man living in Manhattan while having an affair with another man in Las Vegas. Tassone said on the podcast that at the time depicted, his relationship with his partner was “open” and that he “did not keep secrets” from his partner.

He added that the person he met in Vegas was not a former student as it was portrayed in the film, a change that “bothered [him] terribly.”

“I have never, ever in my 36 years in education had a relationship with a student in school or someone who had graduated,” Tassone said. “Now, did I have a relationship at that time? Yes, and [my partner] knew about it. But never with a former student.”

Tassone did agree with one frequent praise of the film, saying that Jackman did a “very good job portraying me,” also noting that Jackman had defended him in an interview on the “Today Show.”

He also said on the podcast that he had paid back the $2.2 million he owed.

“I’m working on trying to forgive myself for what I did, because I know I caused terrible turmoil,” Tassone said over the phone Tuesday. “Even though I spent time in prison and gave full restitution, I’m still not at peace, because I know I betrayed the Roslyn community.”

Rebekah Rombom, the student who originally broke the story of Gluckin’s dismissal in the  the Hilltop Beacon school newspaper, was thanked in the film’s end credits. Rombom did not comment for this story.

The Roslyn School District, which said in 2018 that it had not had any input on the film and that the production would not be shooting scenes on school property, has not yet issued a statement on the film.

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