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Riverhead’s Board of Education abolishes role of deputy superintendent

In an administrative shakeup, the Riverhead Board of Education voted Tuesday to reassign the district’s No. 2 administrator.

Sam Schneider, who has served as deputy superintendent since 2016, will now serve as assistant superintendent for finance and operations — the role he held when he was first hired in 2011.

According to the resolution, which was approved 6-1, the board has determined that the deputy superintendent position is “no longer necessary for the efficient operations” of the district and thus opted to abolish the position entirely. 

Board member Chris Dorr cast the lone vote against abolishing the position.

“Quite frankly, a district of this size really does not need to have a deputy position,” said superintendent Dr. Augustine Tornatore in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, noting that the deputy position holds more authority.

“As we were taking a look at the restructuring…there were more responsibilities that I took on as the superintendent. That was really the main reason as to why the board ended up voting on transitioning.”

When Mr. Schneider was promoted to deputy superintendent in 2016, then-superintendent Nancy Carney said he would act as the “go-to person” when the district superintendent was unavailable. 

Mr. Tornatore said Tuesday that in the event of his absence, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, Christine Tona, would take the helm. Ms. Tona served as interim superintendent last year after Aurelia Henriquez resigned from the district’s top position at the end of the 2020 school year.

Under the resolution, Mr. Schneider was also granted immediate tenure in his new role. District officials confirmed Wednesday that his salary — listed as $212,069 in his employment contract — and benefits will not be altered. 

The decision to grant Mr. Schneider tenure drew some pushback from community members.

“It shouldn’t be a tenured position,” said Kathy Berezny of Riverhead, a former Board of Education member. “We don’t need lifers in administration. If they don’t do their job, then we can eventually buy them out or dismiss them.”

But the board may not have had much of a choice.

Mr. Schneider’s employment contract for the 2021-2022 school year states that if the Board of Education abolishes his role, he has the right to reclaim the position of assistant superintendent of finance and operations with immediate tenure. That position, the contract states, cannot be abolished without 12 months notice to Mr. Schneider following his resumption of the job.

Mr. Schneider, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, declined to comment Tuesday when reached by the News-Review, but he did issue the following statement that appeared to address his rumored absence.

“I would like to speak about this further but the timing is not proper right now. I look forward to getting back to work,” he said.

Mr. Tornatore and Board of Education president Laurie Downs each declined to address whether Mr. Schneider has been away from his duties, both citing that it was a personnel issue.

A second business-related resolution approved Tuesday was also probed by residents.

The board voted 6-1 to hire Herb Chessler as “acting business official” on a part-time basis at an hourly rate of $125. Mr. Dorr also cast the dissenting vote on that resolution.

Mr. Chessler is an educational finance specialist with the Smithtown-based ECG Group, which manages energy performance contracts for school districts across Long Island.

According to a bio posted on their website, Mr. Chessler has over 35 years of experience in school district finance, 20 of them as a chief school business official.

Mr. Tornatore said the new position was created to provide an “additional layer of assistance” to the district’s daily fiscal operations. That support could include pursuing grant opportunities and handling an influx of federal funding the district has received.

“The more grants we’re able to have is less of a burden to the taxpayer,” the superintendent said, adding that opportunities including the Extended School Day School Violence Prevention grant could help the district launch an alternative high school program.

Some parents don’t quite see it that way, arguing that now two people will be paid to handle the district’s finances.

“We’re paying a lot of money to get that done,” said Angela Ohlbaum of Aquebogue. “It’s so unfair what you’re doing to the district and to the kids, taking away money that should be going to something else as opposed to paying somebody twice for doing one job.”

The Riverhead Board of Education met twice in special meetings since its last regular meeting. On Oct. 4, the board met for just over two hours in executive session, which is not open to the public. The role for Mr. Chessler began the next day, on Oct. 5, according to the resolution.