Records: Invalid degree let ex-school chief get stipends

The former superintendent, Sherman Roberts, at a Wyandanch The former superintendent, Sherman Roberts, at a Wyandanch Board of Education meeting. (Sept. 10, 2008) Photo Credit: Peter Dilauro

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A former Wyandanch school superintendent used a doctorate from an unaccreditated institution to obtain $3,000-a-year stipends from the district, where he remains director of central registration, according to documents obtained by Newsday.

A report from an independent investigator appointed by the district in January recommends that Sherman Roberts and two other district employees who used invalid doctorates be stripped of their stipends and repay the district. An exact total was not calculated in the report prepared by the independent investigator, Bronwyn Black, a Melville-based attorney.

The district ceased stipend payments to the employees in January. The report says district teachers with a PhD or Ed.D can earn a stipend of $3,375 per year.

Roberts, who served as superintendent from 2006 to 2007 and is a longtime district employee, declined comment Tuesday.

The school board hired Black to conduct the investigation after Mary Jones, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources and secondary curriculum, questioned the three employees' doctoral credentials as part of an audit, the report says. Jones declined comment Tuesday.

The probe concluded in April. The report was presented to the board last week, sources said. Superintendent Pless Dickerson declined comment, and board president Michael Talbert Sr. did not return calls.

Roberts said he earned a degree for doctor of philosophy from Refreshing Faith Bible College of Woodbine, Ga., in 2007, the report says. Larry McCord and Andrew Myones, two other district employees, said they received advanced degrees in 2009 from Rochville University, an online institution based in Texas, according to the report.

Neither Refreshing Faith Bible College nor Rochville University are on the U.S. Department of Education's list of accredited institutions. Rochville, the report said, granted a degree to a dog after its owner paid $500.

According to the report, "Roberts believes that the superintendent and current administration are 'targeting' him." He told the investigator that he believed Refreshing Faith is accredited. Roberts earns $169,996 a year, sources said.

Steven Morelli, the attorney representing McCord and Myones, disputed the report, saying both his clients also hold valid advanced degrees from other institutions. McCord, director of attendance, is an attorney who once was the district's lawyer; Myones, a high school science teacher, is a chiropractor. Each earns $100,350 annually, sources said.

In the report, McCord is cited as saying the allegations are in retaliation for his complaint of sexual harassment.

McCord and Myones were given the stipends by the board of education without asking for them, Morelli said.

"I'm shocked that you have a copy of the report before the so-called subjects of the report. That is pretty much outrageous," Morelli said, calling the investigation purely "political." School elections are next Tuesday, with four candidates seeking two seats.

The investigator reported that the document Roberts submitted from Refreshing Faith Bible College consists of a letter only, not a degree or transcript. This "leads to the finding that Sherman Roberts is knowingly practicing a fraud upon the district," the report says.

A new union contract in the district, effective in 2008, precluded employees who hold JD or MD degrees from receiving the stipend, the report says. Soon after, McCord and Myones submitted "their degree from Rochville University in return for financial gain," it says.

In the report, Myones said the complaint about his credentials stems from "political aspects related to Dr. Roberts, the prior superintendent who is involved in political infighting."

Both McCord and Myones in January sought a waiver of the contract language, given that they already received the stipends and hold other advanced degrees that are the equivalent of a PhD.

"The reason each one of them got a second doctorate degree is because it looks good to the children to have high school teachers with second degrees," Morelli said.

The report said they should be required to return the stipends received from 2009 to date. It also said that as a former lawyer for the district, McCord knew the district should not have paid a stipend until the contract was renegotiated and he should return the stipends he received from 2004-2009. He first received a stipend in 2001.

The report said Rochville once granted a degree to a dog in return for payment.

GetEducated.com, a consumer agency based near Burlington, Vt., obtained an MBA for a pet pug dog named Chester in 2009. Rochville supplied the master's degree with honors for $499, the agency reported.

Vicky Phillips, chief executive of the agency that monitors online degree-granting institutions, said that valid accreditation of colleges is a must. "It's basic consumer safety," she said. "In the case of a teacher, an engineer, a nuclear scientist, you want to make sure they really studied. I never saw Chester crack a book."

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