Riverhead School District

Did Riverhead BOE break the law? Former school board members say ‘yes’

Former Riverhead Board of Education member Amelia Lantz has publicly backed Ann Cotten-DeGrasse’s claims that the board has violated New York State Education Department law. They both resigned from the board June 20.

In interviews this week, Ms. Lantz and Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said new tenure laws took effect in July 2015 that required people moving from administrative positions back to classroom teaching positions to either resign or file a leave of absence from the administrative position. This bars them from having tenure in both positions, and forces them to go through a probationary period before receiving tenure, just as any other classroom teacher has to do, Ms. Lantz said.

However, both women say that Superintendent Nancy Carney didn’t require people to resign or take a leave of absence before accepting a new appointment. Ms. Lantz said she knows of three or four people who’ve recently accepted teaching positions after holding administrative positions, but overall the number is “significantly more than that,” she added.

When reached by email Friday Ms. Carney refuted the claims by Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse and Ms. Lantz, saying only one person was moved from an administrative position to a teaching position during her tenure.

“In that instance, the Board of Education, by consensus, had agreed to allow that employee to temporarily leave the classroom in order to fill an administrative vacancy that existed where we could not find an appropriate candidate,” she said. “The board agreed, again by consensus, to allow that arrangement to continue for another year. The employee has decided to return to the classroom this year and the board has authorized his return.

“Our attorney has assured us that our actions were consistent with the relevant law,” Ms. Carney continued. “I am sorry that the former board members are in disagreement. I wish Ann and Amy success as they move forward in their lives and it is my hope that the Board of Education can continue its important work on behalf of the taxpayers, the children and the families of this community.”

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse supported Ms. Lantz’s claim, and cited specific instances when this occurred, although she declined to name those employees.

“The first instance was a person that was appointed to a teaching position in 2005,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said. “She received tenure in 2008 as teacher and then months later she was appointed as a director. She served in that capacity for nine years. Now they want to move her back to teaching ranks without making her go back through tenure. She didn’t take a leave of absence or resign.”

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse recalled that when she brought the incident to Ms. Carney’s attention, the superintendent said the person could go back with automatic tenure because they’d had tenure in the school district previously. She then asked Ms. Carney contact the school district’s lawyer to get that in writing from them, which Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she never received.

Ms. Lantz, however, said she’s had nearly 10 phone calls with the New York State Board of Education Association and lawyers doing research on the tenure law, all have told her the school district can’t lawfully move employees in this way.

“It’s so convoluted of a mess that I have spent many an hour researching,” Ms. Lantz said. “What upsets me even more is, so let’s say someone says five, six or seven years down the line an administrative position isn’t for them and they want to go back to teaching … [Ms. Carney has] now left that mess for someone else to clean up.”

Ms. Lantz, who served on the board for seven years, resigned with two years left on her term. Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, who served for eight, has one year remaining.

The board faces three options to fill the two open positions going forward: holding a special election, appointing someone, or keeping the seats vacant until the next election in May.

Board president Susan Koukounas said at the June 20 meeting that holding a special election would be too expensive.

“We wouldn’t want to put the cost on the taxpayers,” she said at the time.

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File photos: From left, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Amelia Lantz. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)