Riverhead Central School District's administrative office on Osborn Avenue. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The deputy superintendent position at the Riverhead Central School District is set to be abolished if the board of education approves a resolution on its agenda tomorrow night.

The resolution before the board tomorrow night states that the deputy superintendent position is “no longer necessary for the efficient operations of the School District.”

The school board did not discuss abolishing the position at a public meeting.

Under the resolution, Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider would be reappointed with tenure in the newly created position of assistant superintendent for finance and operations — the position for which he was originally hired when he joined the district in July 2011. 

The responsibilities of that position, including the business operations of the district, were incorporated into the deputy superintendent position after he was promoted in July 2016 by former Superintendent Nancy Carney, who said Schneider would be the most senior person in the administration’s staff besides herself.

Schneider’s employment contract states that if the deputy superintendent position is abolished by the board of education, he has the right to reclaim the assistant superintendent for finance and operations position. That position cannot be abolished without a year’s notice after he has reclaimed the position, and salary and benefits of his current contract, will continue during that time. Schneider’s base salary under his current one-year contract is $212,069 for the current fiscal year. Schneider’s employment contracts have contained this condition since at least 2018. Contracts prior to that date are not posted on the district website.

The professional personnel attachment to the meeting agenda lists the appointment of an acting business official, Herb Chessler, who will be paid an hourly rate of $125.

According to the district’s current organizational chart, the deputy superintendent is responsible for supervising the district’s business office, the district treasurer, the transportation department and school lunch program. There is no “business official” listed on the organizational chart. It is not clear whether that is a new position or if the position is one of the jobs in the business office which are not specifically enumerated on the chart.

According to the chart, the deputy superintendent reports to the superintendent. Several other district officials also report directly to the superintendent, including the district treasurer, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, the executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional personnel, the director of personnel, the director of security, the internal claims auditor and the district clerk.

After the board meeting agenda was posted to the district’s website today, RiverheadLOCAL sought comment from Superintendent Augustine Tornatore on why the deputy position was determined to be unnecessary, whether Schneider’s role and duties will change, and why Schneider was apparently demoted. Tornatore did not reply to an email inquiry.

Schneider replied to a text message seeking comment: “I would like speak about this further but the timing is not proper right now,” he said in a text. “I look forward to getting back to work,” he wrote in an apparent reference to his recent absence from the district office.

After the school board had a special meeting in executive session Sept. 28, without providing any description of the topic(s) to be discussed, rumors began circulating in the community about the deputy superintendent’s possible separation from the district. Tornatore posted a notice on the district website stating that his office had received numerous inquiries about a personnel matter that could not be publicly discussed.

There was a second executive session-only meeting on Oct. 4, for the purpose of contract negotiations, according to the meeting notice. It has not been confirmed whether either or both of the special meetings were for the purpose of discussing the continued need for the deputy superintendent position or matters of the district’s efficient operations, or whether there was another purpose for the closed-door meetings allowed by the State Open Meetings Law. The law states that a public body may meet in executive session to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect the inclusion of an acting business official on the list of personnel appointments recommended by the superintendent for action at the Oct. 12 meeting.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.