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One year later: Hempstead still deadlocked on schools chief

The Hempstead school district placed Superintendent Shimon Waronker on administrative leave 12 months ago and through Dec. 31 had paid him nearly $277,100 in salary and benefits.

Hempstead schools Superinentendent Shimon Waronker gives a presentation

Hempstead schools Superinentendent Shimon Waronker gives a presentation during a school board meeting on Dec. 22, 2017. The board voted 3-2 on Jan. 9, 2018, to place Waronker on paid administrative leave, an action he has challenged. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Wednesday marks one year since the Hempstead school board placed Superintendent Shimon Waronker on paid administrative leave, and no end to their dispute is in sight.

Costs to the nearly 8,000-student district continue to stack up, including Waronker’s $265,000  annual base salary and benefits as well as legal fees from pending court cases. Chief among those is Waronker's lawsuit in federal court, challenging the board's vote placing him on leave.

Waronker's lawyer, Frederick K. Brewington, is expected to hold a news conference Wednesday in his Hempstead office. The attorney declined Tuesday to comment until then.

“It’s better that it be presented in a complete form rather than just a short statement,” Brewington said.

The school board, in an internal labor action in August, brought extensive charges against Waronker, alleging misconduct, bid-rigging and sham hiring, among other accusations. In October, the board filed amended charges, which have not been made public.

Brewington, who released the August charges against his client, has called them “false and contrived to mask the real issues that Dr. Waronker was in the process of helping the district solve.”

Under his contract, Waronker is entitled to a hearing, but no independent hearing officer has been publicly named and no date set for any proceedings.

The district and board leaders this week declined to comment on the yearlong situation, citing pending litigation, said Nicole Epstein of Gotham Government Relations and Communications, which represents the district.

The system paid Waronker nearly $277,100 from Jan. 9, 2018 — the date he was placed on leave — through Dec. 31, according to payroll data Newsday obtained under the Freedom of Information Law. That includes his salary, car allowance and health insurance.

The contract, dated May 11, 2017, runs through June 30, 2021. A full payout of salary costs alone over the remaining term would be $795,000, not including money for paid time off and benefits.

Other costs to the district over the last year include attorneys' fees. The total legal cost so far, including the investigation leading to the board's labor charges, has not been determined, district officials have said.

Waronker, a Harvard-educated administrator with a reputation for turning around low-performing and violent New York City schools, started working in Hempstead on June 2, 2017. He was seen as a reformer who could help turn around the district, which is the largest K-12 system in Nassau County and has struggled for decades with low test scores, graduation rates and factionalism among board members.

But in fall 2017, relations between Waronker and a few members of the board soured, with some trustees criticizing the district's awarding of a $450,000 contract to the now-defunct New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based consulting firm. Waronker was a founder of the firm in 2013 . 

After a shift in the board's majority, trustees at the Jan. 9 meeting voted 3-2 placing Waronker on paid administrative leave while the panel investigated its accusations of mismanagement.

Regina Armstrong, a longtime administrator in Hempstead, was appointed acting superintendent at the same meeting. Over the months, she also has continued in her prior role of associate superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction.

The board on Oct. 18 unanimously approved a resolution indefinitely extending its agreement with Armstrong. The trustees also increased her annual salary from $185,000 to $237,500, prorated and retroactive to Jan. 10, 2018, and provided a $300-per-month automobile stipend.

Waronker's federal lawsuit against the district is ongoing. He alleges the district's action against him was punitive, and that his rights to due process and ability to speak out about problems were violated.

The district has moved to have the case dismissed. Waronker's attorneys are fighting that, saying in a Dec. 28 filing that new information has come to light, including the board's labor charges against Waronker. The district's lawyers have responded that the latest entry from Waronker's attorneys is vague.

The Nassau County district attorney’s office in October confirmed it had received a complaint listing the board's charges against Waronker. Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for District Attorney Madeline Singas, said in October that the office was “reviewing” the complaint. Brosh on Tuesday declined to provide an update on the review.

The district separately filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Mineola on Dec. 28 against the now-defunct New American Initiative, saying the firm “defrauded” the district, billing for work that wasn’t performed, among other practices. The school system's lawsuit seeks more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, interest and attorneys’ fees.

NAI leaders did not respond to requests for comment last week. Waronker isn’t named as a defendant in the suit, but the lawsuit alleges he “breached his fiduciary duty” to the district by drafting its contract with the firm and pressuring district business officials to expedite payments without anyone reviewing whether the services billed were performed.

Compensation breakdown

Shimon Waronker receives a base salary of $265,000  annually under his four-year contract with the Hempstead school district as well as benefits, which include employer contributions for Social Security, medical and pension plan costs and an automobile allowance.

Here is a breakdown of Waronker's gross pay while on administrative leave from Jan. 9, 2018, through Dec. 31.

Salary: $254,807.68

Car allowance: $8,250

Stipend: $14,037.20*

Total: $277,094.88

*The stipend includes health insurance.

Source: Hempstead school district

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