The Brentwood Board of Education unanimously granted newly elected Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez a two-year leave of absence from her job as an assistant school principal Thursday night after a weekslong battle over the legality of "double-dipping."
The move came a week after the Suffolk County Board of Ethics found that Martinez could not keep her Brentwood district seat while concurrently working at her $117,000-a-year job at East Middle School. The board cited a Suffolk "double dipping" law prohibiting public employees from receiving two taxpayer-funded salaries unless they are public schoolteachers or public college professors.
Martinez has said that in her role as an assistant principal, she was exempt from the county law because she is considered a schoolteacher.
Eugene Barnosky, an attorney for the school board, said those rules do not apply in Martinez's situation. Under the district's collective bargaining agreement, she is considered an administrator, not a teacher, Barnosky said. But the rule says "that leaves can be granted at the discretion of the board," Barnosky said, explaining the decision.
Martinez will not be paid during her leave, Barnosky said.
A handful of residents grilled the school board members about the decision during the meeting at the Anthony F. Felicio Administration Center on Third Avenue in Brentwood.
Joseph Fritz, 68, an attorney from Brentwood, said he was pleased Martinez will only collect her legislator's salary, which is $98,260.But even so, Fritz, a school board member from 2005 to 2008, got into a heated discussion during the public question period with Brentwood Superintendent Joseph Bond after the leave was approved.
When Fritz began unfavorably commenting on Martinez's leave request, Bond cut him off.
"It's question time, not statement time, Joe," Bond said.
When Fritz questioned the length of time that Martinez was granted, Bond mentioned one case where a staffer has been on leave for six years to care for a sick child.
"We have people who are out longer than two-year absences," Bond said. "There are special situations . . . every situation is different."
Many questions from those in the audience went unanswered by Barnosky and the board after they cited confidentiality behind "personnel matters."
"We don't go into the substance of how leave of absences . . . ."
Martinez, who was was not at the meeting, did not respond to a call for comment afterwards.
Fritz said the board's decision means "we sent a message that we weren't going to let someone serve herself instead of serving the community."[