South Country board ponders Cipp's future

Bellport superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. at the Bellport

Bellport superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. at the Bellport board of education meeting held at Bellport Middle School. (Feb. 15, 2011) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

The South Country Central School Board met in special closed session Tuesday night to deliberate superintendent Joseph Cipp Jr.'s future, seeking to reach a decision in time for Wednesday night's public meeting, the district's lawyer said.

Cipp was accused by a fired employee of pressuring underlings to change a star football player's grades so the student could win an NCAA scholarship. The school board, facing intense pressure from the community to resolve the case, has promised swift action.

Board president Victor Correa said the situation is complex and that discussions will likely continue through Wednesday.


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"It is going to go right up to the meeting," he said. "There are a lot of factors involved. The board has had ongoing discussions regarding all avenues of closure. It has been extremely difficult to navigate considering the legal aspects related to this particular situation."

Correa wouldn't say if the board remains fractured -- members have fought openly on the issue -- but said they must balance Cipp's rights with what is best for the district and its students.

"That is what a lot of the discussion has been," Correa said.

A preliminary report written by a hired investigator, Melville attorney Bronwyn Black, was leaked to the media in February. Black said Cipp must have been involved or must have known what was going on in relation to Ryan Sloan's grade changes.

Cipp has repeatedly denied the allegations. Sloan, now a freshman at Syracuse University, has said he improved his grades through hard work.

School board member Barbara Schatzman said Tuesday that this has been a difficult time for the district.

"We are taking it very seriously and we are going to do what is best for the district, the community and the students," she said. "It's not easy. It's a lengthy process and it's a serious issue."

Schatzman would not elaborate on where the board stands regarding Cipp's future employment.

The superintendent's personal attorney, Richard Hamburger, would not answer questions and Cipp declined to comment.

Cipp was Bellport's football coach for 32 years until retiring in 2011 and became superintendent in 2010. The winningest coach in Suffolk County history is a prominent if polarizing figure in the community.

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