School district: Child porn suspect Kevin O'Connell won't be paid

Kevin O'Connell leaves federal court in Central Islip.

Kevin O'Connell leaves federal court in Central Islip. (Oct. 16, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

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Kevin O'Connell, the Roosevelt school district official facing federal charges of receiving child pornography, is effectively prohibited from reporting to work and will not receive pay during his absence, district officials said Wednesday.

"Please be assured that the safety and well-being of your children are of paramount importance to us," the district said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday afternoon.

Until his arrest Tuesday, O'Connell was a key figure over the past 11 months in state efforts to improve both student academic performance and the quality of teaching in the 2,700-student Roosevelt school system, the only district ever placed under state oversight.

His salary was raised to $145,000 in August, when he was named assistant to the superintendent for secondary education.

O'Connell has not returned calls for comment. His attorney, federal public defender Randi Chavis, has declined to comment.

He was arrested when federal agents executed a search warrant after they traced an Internet address advertising three video files available for sharing to his home. Examination of computer equipment in O'Connell's home "confirmed the presence of numerous videos of apparent child pornography," the federal complaint said.

At arraignment Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, he was released on $700,000 bond under several conditions, including home detention with electronic monitoring and the stricture that he have no contact with anyone younger than 16.

If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum of 5 years and up to 20 years in prison.

Under conditions of his release, the Roosevelt district's statement said, "Mr. O'Connell is considered absent without authorization and is not entitled to pay. The district has been and will continue to cooperate fully with federal authorities in this matter."

O'Connell is a former principal of Bellport High School in the South Country Central School District. He left that job in 2011, claiming he was pushed out because he refused to authorize the changing of a star athlete's grades. He has sued the district for wrongful termination, and the case is working its way through the courts.

An independent investigation into the grade-fixing allegations found that the student's grades were changed. South Country Superintendent Joe Cipp Jr., who for decades had been the high school's football coach, ultimately resigned from the top post earlier this year. He has repeatedly denied O'Connell's claims.

After leaving Bellport, O'Connell in November 2011 was appointed manager of a state-mandated improvement plan at Roosevelt High School, at an annual salary of $102,476, according to district records.

His job was to work with other district officials toward the academic transformation of the high school, including stricter job evaluations of teachers. In August, he was promoted to the position of assistant to the superintendent for secondary education and his salary was raised to $145,000.

O'Connell was appointed to his post and had a probationary period of three years, with annual reviews. He is not a member of a union.

News of O'Connell's arrest and suspension sent shock waves through the Roosevelt community.

"This hurts my heart," said Diana Coleman, a longtime Roosevelt resident and chairwoman of an agency that runs health care centers. "I'm very disappointed with the amount of improvement that has taken place at the high school. The state should have taken full responsibility for turning things around, instead of allowing individuals to come in and build their resumes without making sure that the children are educated."

O'Connell's salary was paid through a $1.8 million federal grant earmarked for improvements at Roosevelt High School, officials said.

The district's statement said O'Connell's duties have temporarily been assumed by superintendent Robert-Wayne Harris and Marnie Hazelton, the assistant to the superintendent for elementary education.

The district will immediately undertake a search for an interim assistant to the superintendent for secondary education, the statement said.

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