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SAGAR RESERVES RIGHT TO SUE SCHOOL BOARD OVER JOB

West Seneca School Superintendent Richard Sagar, given until June to find a new job in the wake of complaints by female teachers and others, has taken a preliminary step toward filing suit against the School Board.

Sagar, 52, filed a notice of claim against the board Tuesday. Such a notice is a legal formality required if he acts against the board later.

He said he has not decided whether he will file suit, but his attorney advised him to file the notice of claim "to preserve my right (to litigate) if that's what I decide to do."

"I don't really know what I'll do," he said. "But I will say that literally hundreds of people have said to me they're surprised I haven't already sued."

Sagar has been engaged in a bitter battle with the board, which voted June 30 to give him a year to find a new job, plus six months' pay and benefits after that if he is not already working elsewhere.

It was the final act of the previous board and came following complaints from female teachers and others about Sagar, superintendent for six years.

The trustees have been mostly tight-lipped about the dispute, citing general issues such as leadership ability. But they acknowledge that the complaints played a key role in the decision to force Sagar out.

Attorneys for the district investigated the complaints and found no illegal conduct. A 1997 investigation of teacher complaints conducted by New York State United Teachers also cleared Sagar, though the union official who oversaw the probe says Sagar was warned he was "flirting with sexual harassment."

Sagar denies receiving such a warning. He contends that both sets of complaints were made to discredit him during teacher labor negotiations, noting that both surfaced during contentious contract talks.

He says he upset employees by instituting new practices, such as visiting classrooms and getting tough on tenure.

He also believes anti-Semitism played a role in the move to force him out, saying he was told by a grandmother in the district that former Trustee Janice Dalbo made anti-Semitic remarks in which he was mentioned.

Dalbo has denied that allegation.

Board President David Smaczniak could not be reached to comment about the possibility of litigation.

Trustee Howard Avnet -- Sagar's only board ally -- said he felt Sagar had "little choice," noting that the superintendent has had little luck getting interviews since the controversy.

"His reputation was destroyed," said Avnet. "I know if I was in his position, I would sue."

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