Spurned ex-administrator sues Riverhead schools

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Riverhead School District's former assistant superintendent for finance and operations Michael Ivanoff

A former assistant superintendent who was fired by the Riverhead school board in early January has filed a lawsuit against the school district.

But the lawsuit does not allege district or civil rights violations, as had been threatened.

The suit filed in state Supreme Court is of a procedural nature. It claims the school board entered executive session illegally at the Jan. 11 meeting during which Michael Ivanoff was fired as assistant superintendent for finance and operations — and that the vote to fire him should be overturned.

“We are saying that, under the open meetings law, the meeting where I was fired was not ever formed legally,” Mr. Ivanoff said in an interview.

“I haven’t filed anything regarding any type of discrimination or anything yet,” he said. “School board members are supposed to start the meeting at 5:30 p.m. and have the entire board there, and then have the district clerk make a motion to go into executive session for specific topics, according to the state open meetings law.”

Mr. Ivanoff, who was hired by the district in 2008 and was earning an annual salary of $175,000, said he was present at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and the proper procedure was not followed.

But he realizes that even if the court rules in his favor, the board could just redo the vote and fire him again.

“I’m trying to show that the board was not following the open meetings law,” he said.

He said that while he doesn’t expect to get the job back, this might give him a chance to speak to board members and clear his name.

Mr. Ivanoff said he has yet to decide whether he will file another lawsuit claiming the district discriminated against him when it fired him.

In January, Mr. Ivanoff, who is 55, sent a letter to the district claiming he was wrongfully and illegally targeted by Superintendent Nancy Carney because of his age — and her limited understanding of school finance.

At the time, he threatened to file claims both in state Supreme Court and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An EEOC ruling in his favor would allow him to pursue a discrimination case in federal court.

The school board has still never publicly stated why Mr. Ivanoff was fired, saying it’s a personnel issue that cannot be discussed publicly. Former superintendent Joe Singleton has been hired as an interim assistant superintendent for finance and operations at a rate of $800 per day.

Mr. Ivanoff pointed out Tuesday that both the internal and external audits done by auditors hired by the district, and a recent audit by the state Comptroller’s office, gave positive reports on the district’s finances during his time as its chief finance officer.

He also said the district’s bond rating was upgraded during his tenure in Riverhead and maintains that his work saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

School officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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