Manhasset’s schools superintendent is now on a leave of absence for the rest of the school year over a former subordinate’s substantiated allegations of sexual harassment — an abrupt change announced Thursday after the board of education was criticized for trying to keep the matter secret and leaving him in charge.
The board's initial decision — following an independent investigator finding that Vincent Butera violated district sexual harassment policy with unsolicited hugs, too-frequent visits to the subordinate’s classroom and other unwanted attention — led to student walkouts and teacher protests demanding his ouster.
In a public letter sent Thursday announcing Butera’s leave, the board said a deputy superintendent, Rosemary Johnson, would be in charge on an acting basis.
"The past two weeks have been an incredibly difficult time for the Manhasset school community. Effective today, Dr. Vincent Butera will be on a leave of absence so, that as we close out the school year, the District’s sole focus will be on supporting our students, faculty and staff," according to the letter, a copy of which was shared with Newsday by the district’s outside public relations agency.
The letter did not say whether the leave was voluntary, nor whether he'd be paid during the leave. Michael Ganci, a district spokesman who works for the PR agency Syntax, said: "The district has no further comment."
At a board meeting last week, Butera addressed the allegations, saying that he had "reflected deeply" about "my actions and behavior" and felt "profound regret and sadness."
"Despite my intent, the independent counsel did find that my attention was perceived by the complainant as unwelcome and therefore a violation of district policy," he said.
The months-old investigation had been confidential until being leaked to the local press. The now-former subordinate’s identity has not been disclosed. The board has refused to say whether, and if so how, Butera was disciplined.
At the board meeting last week, Butera recounted five examples of his conduct:
- At a retirement party with 100 people and a DJ playing loud music, "I came in close proximity to the complainant and had a work-related conversation."
- "After a courageous fight, a teacher tragically passed away and so many had become overwhelmed with emotion. And I hugged the complainant in an effort to console her, as I did with others that day."
- "The complainant states that I came into her classroom frequently"; Butera says he regularly observes teachers’ pedagogy.
- While documenting a basketball fundraiser for the district’s Twitter account, he said he took photos and videos of her child, who was being spotlighted during halftime. "I offered to share the files with the complainant" and sought her private email address because the media "were indeed too large to go over the district’s email system."
- "Upon reaching a significant professional milestone, the building principal called every teacher to the library, where I along with other administrators and a board member offered a congratulatory hug."
Butera has been superintendent — the district has about 3,200 students and 300 teachers, according to the U.S. Department of Education — since July 2017, his LinkedIn profile states. It says he was superintendent for Bayport-Blue Point, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Long Beach and principal in Franklin Square. He was paid $282,516 in 2020, according to Albany-based Empire Center's online database.