More than $72K paid by Manhasset school district for expenses related to sexual harassment probe: report

Robert Pelaez

The Manhasset school district has paid more than $72,000 in legal fees and other compensation relating to an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Superintendent Vincent Butera, according to a Newsday report.

The report indicated that the district paid more than $33,000 to a pair of law firms for investigations into allegations initially filed by a Shelter Rock Elementary School teacher in September 2020. After the filing, the district hired the Poughkeepsie law firm Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert to investigate the allegations. Two months later, the firm found that since Butera’s actions were perceived as unwelcome by the teacher, they violated district policy.

According to Newsday, the district paid Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert more than $26,000 for its work and paid more than $7,000 to its own law firm, Frazer & Feldman.

Acting Superintendent Gaurav Passi, who was appointed to replace Butera on a temporary basis in August, is still being paid the salary he received as the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and personnel. Passi also receives monthly stipends of $5,000, which increased from $2,000 several months ago. 

The district also hired Maureen Appiarius, a former school administrator in Garden City, to serve in Passi’s previous role as assistant superintendent for curriculum. Appiarius receives a $950 monthly stipend to serve in that capacity through June 30, or sooner if Passi returns to his original position.

Those payments also amount to more than $38,000, according to the Newsday report.

District officials declined to comment.

Despite not serving as superintendent, Butera is being paid his annual salary of $286,844 after a recent raise he received on July 1, according to his contract. Butera’s contract includes benefits and expires in June 2023. 

The allegations made against Butera by the elementary school teacher claimed that he made the female employee feel uncomfortable after hugging her twice in school and frequently visiting her classroom to “just stand in the back and stare,” according to NBC News. Both incidents were described as “creepy.”

Rosemary Johnson, deputy superintendent for business and operations, issued an impassioned defense of Butera at a school board meeting over the summer. She called Butera an educational visionary with an unblemished career. She then argued that a personnel change had led to Butera’s sexual harassment scandal.

Johnson did not provide specific evidence for her claim that personnel decisions sparked the scandal. Johnson argued that the school board’s previous decision to keep the findings private and not fire Butera was the right one.

Butera said he did not coordinate with Johnson before she made the remarks to the board.

“I am grateful and appreciative of her support as well as the support of others who spoke at the meeting,” Butera said in a statement to Blank Slate Media in August. “People who know me know that I always treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

Other current and former educators have asked how the district will ultimately handle Butera’s situation, questions that have been met with little to no insight from the Board of Education.

Board President Pat Aitken told members of the public that the district is not in a position to provide specifics about the situation, but its attorneys continue to work towards a resolution, during a board meeting two weeks ago.

“While we’re not able to respond specifically to questions or comments, I do want to reiterate that we can listen to everyone’s concerns and opinions,” Aitken said. “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.”

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Robert Pelaez

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