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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Suffolk County Community College dispute with president Shaun McKay drags on

Shaun McKay has ended his tenure as Suffolk

Shaun McKay has ended his tenure as Suffolk County Community College president. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Since early January, Suffolk County Community College president Shaun McKay has not worked a single day, yet has collected nearly $93,000 in salary, $13,684 in housing allowance and another $4,600 car allowance — a total of $111,135.

That’s because the college board of trustees on Jan. 8 directed McKay to go on paid administrative leave while they decided whether he should serve the final year on his contract. They already have decided not to extend his contract when it expires Aug. 15, 2020.

When McKay was first ordered to take a leave, Theresa Sanders, board chairwoman, declined to comment on details of the issues involved. But she emphasized, “We don’t want to prolong this. Questions have been raised, but we want to be fair to the president, clear matters up and then move forward.”

Sanders said she now expected the board to vote in a special meeting Friday — the day after graduation ceremonies — on a formalized agreement to end the dispute.

“The administration has kept the college running and functioning seamlessly and that's our number-one priority,” said Sanders, noting that executive vice president Louis Petrizzo has served well overseeing the 25,000-student school, the state’s largest community college.

Sanders declined to provide details of a possible agreement, but said board members received an informal briefing in a 15 minute-executive session last Thursday from their attorney, Thomas Volz. Sanders believes the agreement will be “fair and equitable,” and expects it to “meet the needs of both sides. Hopefully we’re just about there.”

Issues may include what McKay has been paid while on administrative leave and what he was to be paid over the final contract year: $308,710 in salary and benefits. What also may be in play is a contract provision allowing the president to retain a faculty position after stepping down.

McKay and his attorney, Domenique Camacho Moran, did not return calls for comment.

An agreement with McKay could avoid a messy battle and prolonged lawsuit — even though McKay’s contract says he can be “terminated at any time” if trustees determine he “suffers from … physical or mental incapacity,” or is found “guilty of incompetence or misconduct” or “moral turpitude.”

However, a board vote on firing could come only after a written recommendation of a trustee committee. McKay also would have to have a chance to respond.

The board has never disclosed the issues involved in McKay's situation. But the trustees' action came after McKay in 2018 took 77 days of paid sick leave and on his return asked for a 10-year contract extension. McKay, according to several college sources, also became less engaged in college operations after his return.

Ending the dispute could help SCCC, with full-time students facing a $250 annual tuition hike amid declining enrollment.

Trustees also are seeking legislative approval of a 2019-20 budget. Officials want a $1.5 million, or three percent, increase in county aid; Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who must file a college budget by May 31, has told SCCC to include only a 1.5 percent hike.

Some lawmakers, meanwhile, say they are upset about the conflict with McKay.

“I’m outraged we’re raising tuition at the same time we’re paying the college president not to come to work,” said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga)

Sanders said county lawmakers, “understand that in this society, you are innocent until proven guilty … and everyone has to be given due process.”

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