In a statement, Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Jill Gierasch said the...

In a statement, Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Jill Gierasch said the district's plan to liquidate the capital reserve fund was designed to have the least impact on student programs, the budget and the tax levy. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Cold Spring Harbor residents have voted overwhelmingly to approve a school district plan to use $7.7 million in surplus funds to settle a pair of lawsuits by former students who alleged they were sexually abused by their now-deceased teachers more than 40 years ago and that school officials ignored and later covered up the allegations.

Residents of the district voted 241-27 Thursday to liquidate the Cold Spring Harbor Central School District's $7.7 million capital reserve fund as parts of its plan to settle its outstanding Child Victims Act obligations. 

The $7.7 million will be combined with $4.5 million from the district's unassigned fund balance, which can be utilized for emergency expenditures, and another $1.8 million in the district's liability reserve fund to settle the combined $14 million lawsuits.

In a statement, Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Jill Gierasch said the district's plan was designed to have the least impact on student programs, the budget and the tax levy.

"The district had no identified projects for the capital reserve and as such, the liquidation of that capital reserve will allow us to pay the settlement amounts without incurring the long-term implications of debt borrowing," Gierasch said. "The effect of long-term borrowing would have impacted future budgets, student programs and tax levies for years to come. Instead we, in essence, borrowed the monies from ourselves." 

The final settlement payments are due to the former students at the end of the fiscal year, she said, necessitating a vote before school board elections in May.

The affluent district still has a separate $5 million fund available for future needs.

The settlements, which pay $8 million to one victim and $6 million to the other, rank as the largest of the nearly two dozen paid by Long Island school districts under the 2019 Child Victims Act, which extended the deadline for when sexual abuse lawsuits could be filed.

The settlements, reached in June, resolve a pair of 2021 federal lawsuits filed by Lynda Cutbill and Susan Sandler, who each graduated from Cold Spring Harbor High School in 1982. Cutbill's lawsuit named art teacher William Kail and Sandler's lawsuit named science teacher Thomas Kohm.

Sandler, then known as Susan Shanahan, was "groomed, and then horrifically and methodically sexually abused" beginning at age 14 by Kohm during her freshman and sophomore years, the lawsuit states. The abuse, she said, included near daily attacks in a storage area and a violent rape during a school trip in Dallas. 

She reported the abuse to school officials, the lawsuit states. But instead of reporting Kohm to law enforcement, the district allowed him to resign and later utilize the school to "stalk, harass, menace, psychologically terrorize, and retaliate against Susan," the complaint states.

In March 2003, Wake County in North Carolina indicted Kohm, charging him with sexual abuse. He was convicted of "Indecent liberty with child" on June 5, 2003, records show, and received a suspended sentence. He died at age 77 in 2009.

Meanwhile, Cutbill said in her lawsuit that she was sexually abused from 1979 through 1982 by Kail "hundreds of times. In a horrific procession, beginning when she was a 12-year-old junior high school student and continuing until she graduated in 1982, Kail targeted, groomed, sexually assaulted, and then repeatedly raped Lynda."

The district later received allegations that Kail was sexually abusing another student but declined to report those to law enforcement or to discipline the teacher, the suit states. Kail died in 2021 at 87.

Cold Spring Harbor settled another Child Victims Act lawsuit in March for $300,000 — paid out of its liability reserve fund — related to 40-year-old allegations filed by a former student against science teacher Domenick Gruosso, records show. Gruosso died in 2008 at 72.

The district said it continues to pursue legal claims against the insurance carriers that provided coverage to Cold Spring Harbor at the time of the alleged sex abuse claims.

Editors' note: This story has been updated to remove the name of a former student who settled a Child Victims Act lawsuit with the Cold Spring Harbor district.

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