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Investigation into superintendent costs Manhasset schools $72,000 so far

Vincent Butera in a 2013 photo. The Manhasset

Vincent Butera in a 2013 photo. The Manhasset school board placed the superintendent on leave in May. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Manhasset school district has paid more than $72,000 in legal bills and additional compensation as the result of a sexual harassment investigation into its superintendent and the school board placing him on paid leave.

Meanwhile, six months after the board's move against Superintendent Vincent Butera, his job status remains uncertain. District officials have said little publicly since the board voted on the action on May 13.

What to know

The Manhasset school board has declined to comment publicly on the future of its superintendent, Vincent Butera, who was placed on paid leave six months ago.

Board president Pat Aitken said in a recent meeting that “our respective attorneys have been in discussion to seek a resolution.”

By the end of October, the district has paid more than $33,000 in legal bills over the sexual harassment investigation, and about $38,800 in additional compensation for the acting superintendent and a former Garden City schools administrator hired to do his job when he fills in for Butera. 

Butera, superintendent for the 3,000-student district since 2017, was accused by a former subordinate of unsolicited hugs, too-frequent visits to her classroom, and other unwanted attention. He was found to have violated the district’s sexual harassment policy after an investigation that concluded last November.

The name of the accuser, who no longer works in the district, has not been disclosed.

In recounting what led to the investigation, Butera said in May that the complainant said he came too close to her at a retirement party. She also complained of an unsolicited hug, which Butera said was congratulatory, at a professional milestone celebration, and another after the death of a teacher, which Butera said was an effort to console her as he did with others that day.

Newsday requested a copy of the investigation’s report through a Freedom of Information Law request, but the district has declined to release it.

District officials declined to comment for this story and did not respond to written questions about whether Butera remains on paid leave, if the board plans to reinstate him, and whether Butera received any disciplinary action.

In a public meeting last week, Chris Miller, a retired Manhasset social studies teacher from Westbury, asked the board to provide an update.

School board president Pat Aitken, who in previous meetings repeatedly said board members are not in a position to comment, said again they are "not able to respond specifically to questions or comments."

"I do want to reiterate that we do listen to everyone's concerns and opinions," Aitken said. "We read the emails that we get. And we understand that in the absence of anything being publicly disclosed, to some people, it may appear that we're not doing anything, but I can state that our respective attorneys have been in discussion to seek a resolution."

Butera, through his spokesperson, Jamie Moss of newsPRos, emailed a statement Tuesday. He did not respond to written questions from Newsday on whether he’s working to get reinstated or if he’s considering resigning.

He wrote that the matter was resolved last November, referring to the investigation conducted by the Poughkeepsie law firm Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, which began in September 2020.

Last November, "the Board made the decision that no discipline was warranted and I continued to lead the District," he wrote. "The Board’s decision was made with a full understanding of the facts, context, and evidence including motive and, as the Board publicly stated, they believed it was the right decision."

Butera continued: "While the Board has continued to honor my contract, I very much look forward to having this unfortunate matter resolved."

The district paid more than $33,000 in legal bills over the sexual harassment investigation, including $26,398.95 to the Poughkeepsie firm and $7,015.25 to the district’s law firm, Frazer & Feldman, of Garden City.

Since Butera was placed on leave, the board appointed the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum, Gaurav Passi, to be the acting superintendent, offering him an initial monthly stipend of $2,000 that has been bumped up to $5,000.

In September, the board hired Maureen Appiarius, a former Garden City schools administrator, to fill in for Passi at $950 per diem through June 30 or sooner if Passi is reinstated to his position.

By the end of October, the additional compensation the district has paid added up to about $38,800 for the acting superintendent and Appiarius hired to do Passi’s job when he fills in for Butera.

Butera’s contract, which pays him $286,844 plus benefits a year and included a pre-scheduled raise in July, ends in June 2023.

At last week's meeting, Stacy Derogatis, who was considering sending her 4-year-old son to Manhasset schools for kindergarten next year, asked the board for its plan to end what she called a "cycle of crisis after crisis," referring to the uncertainties involving the superintendent and a September hacking incident where personal information of staff and students was stolen.

"I don't want to be another critic," said Derogatis, of Oceanside. "But I just had to comment that in general I'm a little unsettled by a district that is a great one but appears to have a dark cloud over it."

In response, Aitken said: "Things do sometimes happen, and we are doing our best to work through the issues."

In a follow-up interview, Derogatis said she has decided against moving to Manhasset despite having always wanted to live on the North Shore.

"At this point, it appears to me that I will not be sending my child to that school district," she said. "I just don't feel like they are doing what they're supposed to be doing. I don't feel like they're on top of things. … It's almost like they're just brushing it under the rug."

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