The Shoreham-Wading River school board on Thursday approved a measure that would allow new superintendent Steven Cohen to begin work on a per diem basis before his contract kicks in August 1.
The measure was passed by a 4-1 vote at the Board of Education meeting, with Mike Fucito and Leo Greeley absent. Board president Jack Costas and members Marie Lindell, Bob Alcorn and Rich Pluschau voted to approve the measure.
Bill McGrath cast the lone “no” vote.
The vote didn’t pass without objection from the public, with five people speaking, including state Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham).
Mr. Losquadro, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate whose wife teaches in the district, raced from a planned affair in Greenport to scold the board members — after catching word of the RiverheadNewsReview.com report about the planned vote, he said.
“If anyone is wondering why myself or any of the other elected representatives in Albany voted for a tax cap, here we are,” he said, referring to the recent passage of a 2 percent year-to-year cap on property tax hikes.
“This is the reason; the inability of the most local government to negotiate effectively to re-open contracts and not to reduce in a time when we are in the worst fiscal crisis of our lifetime.”
An agenda listed on the district website released beforehand made no reference to the measure to allow Dr. Cohen, whose resignation as an assistant superintendent with the Rye City School District was effective June 30, to start early.
Mr. Costas said in an interview before the meeting that if the measure was to be approved, Dr. Cohen would begin employment July 18 on a consulting basis to ensure a smooth transition into his post. Dr. Cohen would be paid $1,240 per day for 10 business days, he said, though the board later said at the meeting the true amount over the two weeks will be $8,750.
The contract of current superintendent Harriet Copel expires July 31.
“Dr. Copel will be able to give him directives and he’ll have a chance to learn the district’s procedures rather than coming in raw,” Mr. Costas had said.
Incoming board member John Zukowski blasted the board for bringing such a measure to the table.
“It seems a little ridiculous to me that we are paying a man, who we are probably paying over a million dollars over the next four years, to come in early to learn about his job,” Mr. Zukowski said. “If he is vested in this district like he claims to be and if he’s the quick learner you all claim he is, he should be here early and he should be prepared to work on his own time and on his own dime.”
Former board member and high school PTSA president Lisa Wild questioned the timing of the board’s vote.
“You have three-and-a-half hours left so let’s quickly do this before the majority changes,” Ms. Wild said to Mr. Alcorn, who sat at the dais for his last meeting as a board member.
“You’re being sneaky,” Ms. Wild said to the board. “Nobody trusts you.”
Mr. McGrath said he voted against the measure because of the price tag of the agreement and since he believes the two-week time period in which Dr. Cohen will be working isn’t ideal.
“I don’t think we should be paying him any more,” Mr. McGrath said.
The two extra weeks in which Dr. Cohen will be paid to work, Mr. McGrath said, is a time many employees take vacation and not many staff members in the district office will be working. He added that other new hires in the district office have started weeks earlier than their appointment date with no additional compensation.
The next board meeting is set for July 7.