Schenectady school district pulls the blinds shut

Ah, transparency. So wonderful when one is posturing, so awful when it comes to making good.
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Ah, transparency. So wonderful when one is posturing, so awful when it comes to making good.

I refer to the Schenectady City School District, which, after soothing assurances about doing a transparent investigation of one of its employees, has finally decided to keep the report of that investigation a secret and release not even a sanitized summary of it as earlier contemplated.

This was the investigation into the doings of the notorious Steve Raucci, former head of buildings and grounds for the district, now awaiting trial on charges of arson and terrorism for his alleged bullying of subordinates and deemed dangerous enough that he is being held without bail.

It’s true, I had little confidence in the investigation to begin with. It was conducted by a colleague of the school district’s own attorney, not a genuine investigator but merely a BOCES human resources director. Several employees, past or present, with knowledge of Raucci’s activities, told me they never heard from her.

Furthermore, since her report was clandestinely submitted to the Board of Education, I have learned that she did not interview any of the half dozen or so people who are suing the school district, that is, aggrieved parties who would presumably have the most intimate knowledge of Raucci’s activities.

So I had little interest in her work until now. But now I am just dying of curiosity. What in the world could they be hiding?

On Friday the school district released a statement slamming the door shut, and by way of excuse quoted the outside lawyer it has hired: “I am asking my client not to share or comment on the report, any summary of the report or any portion of the report.”

Why? “In light of pending claims and legal proceedings,” was all he offered, referring to the lawsuits he has been hired to fend off.

So this was a lawyer (Patrick J. Fitzgerald III, of Girvin & Ferlazzo) without any familiarity with the Freedom of Information Law, apparently. He thought he could deny public access because public access would inconvenience him.

And for those who would like even more attitude, the school concluded its press release with this statement, in bold-face type: “Follow-up questions and interviews will not be entertained.”

Isn’t that wonderful? I don’t know who these people think they work for.

The formal, legal end fell to Sal DeAngelo, the school’s records access officer, in the form of a denial of my Freedom of Information appeal for the report, though I don’t expect he wrote the denial himself. It’s a miniature legal brief, with a lawyer’s fingerprints on it, arguing that the report comes under two exceptions provided for in the law, which, not being credentialed in the legal arts, I will not attempt to rebut myself but will leave to others.

We’ll see how it plays out.

But it does make you wonder — doesn’t it? — what the school board had in mind on April 1 when they commissioned Rachel Rissetto of BOCES to conduct “a comprehensive, transparent and trustworthy investigation,” as Resolution No. 090401.25 phrased it. Was it their idea of an April Fool’s joke?

And speaking of jokes, we have the belated disclosure that there was an additional little expense for the school administrators’ conference held at Dunham’s Bay resort on Lake George from June 29 to July 1, beyond the $4,500 that the school district previously acknowledged.

There was the $18,000 fee of the principal speaker — plus his expenses, not yet billed, payable through a grant.

Categories: Opinion

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