Riverhead School District

Former deputy superintendent at Riverhead carried too many responsibilities, leading to ‘conflict,’ forensic audit finds

A preliminary forensic audit report of the Riverhead Central School District’s business office found that the former deputy superintendent in the district carried too many responsibilities, leading to an “environment of seeming discontent, conflict within the business office and disenchantment,” according to auditor Ernest Patrick Smith.

Mr. Smith presented the report at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, the last for the 2021-2022 school year, and the process dates back to last October when the board voted to reassign Sam Schneider as deputy superintendent. Mr. Schneider has since resigned and is now employed in the East Hampton School District.

Mr. Smith, a senior partner of the Melville-based firm Nawrocki Smith, LLP, began the discussion on the findings of the audit by emphasizing that there had been no evidence of any form of “fraud, embezzlement or malfeasance.”

Board member Christopher Dorr interrupted Mr. Smith shortly afterward to ask Mr. Smith to reread that line once again, emphasizing that finding of no fraud.

Mr. Schneider’s name was not mentioned specifically in the presentation, but the discussion centered largely on the deputy superintendent position he had previously held. The school board began an investigation in October 2021 and Mr. Schneider was placed on administrative leave after the board abolished the deputy superintendent position. At the time, the board said the investigation was related to an unspecified allegation.

Mr. Smith said the deputy superintendent had too many responsibilities in the Riverhead Central School District. The role typically focuses on curriculum and instruction, he noted. Mr. Schneider had been in charge of the district’s finances as deputy superintendent.

“In actuality, the responsibilities for the person that was the deputy were well beyond this,” he said. “This included human resources and negotiations, buildings and grounds, security and numerous other responsibilities that were assumed during the process.”

He said the growing list of responsibilities assigned to the deputy superintendent happened over time that stretched the tenure of two prior superintendents, as well as when Christine Tona served as the interim superintendent starting in 2020.

“So what I would say to you, is that the level of responsibility for this and for managing all of these duties and responsibilities as a deputy is very large and in my view based upon the work that we have done and the firm has done, this is largely what the issue was,” Mr. Smith said. “This caused a lot of discontent within the office, lots of conflict, some potential disgruntlement amongst the folks that worked there and in turn led to performance issues and problems within the office.

“The business official needs to stick to the business official duties,” he added.

Mr. Schneider declined to comment on the audit report when reached by phone Wednesday.

Superintendent Augustine Tornatore and the board members did not offer any feedback on the findings during the meeting.

The recommendations in the report were to clearly delineate job duties and responsibilities pursuant to education law 1709, which describes the powers and duties of the board of education.

Mr. Smith mentioned that the roles of district clerk, treasurer were all clearly outlined within section 1709 but the roles of account clerk, payroll and benefits, needed to be defined and described accordingly.

He also recommended new best practices for business operations within the school district. He presented a diagram where the chief executive officer is the superintendent, the chief fiscal officer is the board president, and the chief financial officer is the assistant superintendent for business.

During his presentation, Mr. Smith explained that these results were gleaned from interviews and analysis of many documents the firm collected starting Jan. 7, 2022.

Mr. Smith said amongst many other documents, the firm also reviewed and analyzed financial statements from June 30, 2017 through June 30, 2021. One issue found related to missing personal protective equipment purchased by the former deputy superintendent at the beginning of the pandemic and he noted it as an open issue.

“We are still looking at this particular issue,” he said. “I do believe we will resolve it … We are comfortable with the documentation we have looked at from a purchasing perspective, we are just trying to pin down the inventory of those items that were purchased, so we’ll come back to that,” he said.

Despite those issues, Mr. Smith said that on the financial side the district is doing well and he is confident the district is in a good place to start the next school year.

“You’re going to move into the next year having some very good people to hit the ground running as you begin your next school year,” he said.

Mr. Smith said this is an on-going project and according to the presentation, the next steps for the audit include the completion of the balance of forensic procedures pertaining to the following: 

• Budget transfers

• Budget code restructure, 

• Fund balance reports, 

• Vendor database analysis and purchasing contract review, 

• Transportation department enquiries

• Other procedures deemed necessary to complete the analysis. 

The audit will also involve a “review and analysis of additional documentation received after recovery from the cyber-attack” that occurred late last year.

The district last month formally hired Rodney Asse as the new assistant superintendent for business. That role had been held by Faith Caglianone on an interim basis and she helped prepare the 2022-23 budget that voters approved in May.