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With administrator on leave, school board president confirms investigation

A Riverhead administrator whose deputy superintendent position was recently abolished has been placed on administrative leave, district officials have confirmed.

In an interview late last week, Board of Education president Laurie Downs would not specify the allegation made against former deputy superintendent Sam Schneider, but said the district is investigating it.

“An allegation was raised to the superintendent and that allegation is being investigated,” Ms. Downs said. “It’s not fair to the employee to discuss [the allegation] before we know if it’s true.”

The sudden reassignment of Mr. Schneider on Oct. 12 left many in the community with unanswered questions for the superintendent and Board of Education members, who said they couldn’t discuss personnel matters.

During that meeting, the board took several actions that included abolishing his position — thus demoting him to assistant superintendent for finance and operations — and hiring Herb Chessler to serve as an acting business official for $125 per hour. They also awarded a contract to Nesconset-based law firm Volz & Vigliotta for special legal services, effective Oct. 15.

Ms. Downs said the law firm was retained to investigate the allegation levied against Mr. Schneider and noted that special counsel was necessary to eliminate any biases the district’s own firm may have.

“It would not be fair to use our own counsel because of the history of work with the board, the superintendent and Mr. Schneider himself,” Ms. Downs said.

Though she declined to say when Mr. Schneider’s administrative leave began, a letter from superintendent Augustine Tornatore dated Oct. 15 notes that Mr. Chessler began working in the district Oct. 5 and has been an “integral part” of overseeing the district’s day-to-day financial operations.

“Moving forward, we anticipate he will assist our business office with special projects, such as grant applications and fiscal management,” Dr. Tornatore wrote.

In his letter, the superintendent reiterated that the district is “limited” in terms of what information can be shared publicly and asked for patience.

As terms of his employment agreement, the school district was contractually obligated to grant Mr. Schneider immediate tenure in his new role of assistant superintendent for finance and operations. His salary — listed as $212,069 in his 2021-22 contract — and benefits will not be altered, officials said. Mr. Schneider’s contract further states that his current position cannot be abolished for at least 12 more months.

Officials declined to estimate when the pending investigation is expected to be completed and the district’s resolution to retain Volz & Vigliotta lists the end date as “the conclusion of the assigned task.”

The Board of Education is expected to meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. The meeting will be streamed live on YouTube.