Trial shows deep ailment in schools

The picture of not just a sick maintenance boss, Steve Raucci, but of a sick school administration i

The picture of not just a sick maintenance boss, Steve Raucci, but of a sick school administration in Schenectady continues to take shape in Raucci’s trial on charges of arson and terrorism.

Consider the following, culled from the last two days of testimony:

When Raucci got a confidential call from a CSEA labor relations specialist telling him he had a reputation as the godfather of his unit and that “headquarters is scared [poop] of you right now,” he was sufficiently proud of the information that he passed it along in an e-mail to Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo and Director of Human Resources Michael Stricos along with other administrators.

After the Burnt Hills home of Hal and Debbie Gray was splashed with paint and both their vehicles trashed, a witness testified that Raucci led a caravan of school vehicles, loaded with school employees, on school time, to observe the damage, presumably as a lesson to them, after which, his former secretary testified, he was called into San Angelo’s office, where he said he merely got his “wrist slapped.”

When the former athletic director, Gary DiNola, got his tires punctured and had an explosive placed on the windshield of his car following a long dispute with Raucci and reported this to Superintendent Eric Ely, Ely said, well, he had heard rumors that this sort of thing had happened in the past, but it was a police matter, not a school matter.

In a morning staff meeting, Stricos, the head of human resources, personally presented Raucci with a framed picture of Marlon Brando as the Godfather, which we had heard about before but without direct eyewitness testimony.

The testimony came from Ron Kriss, former supervisor of custodians, whose tires were punctured and his pickup “keyed” after he filed a sex harassment suit against Raucci. And then both his vehicle and his wife’s were trashed again, this time with some kind of acid or paint-remover, at their home, after he won a Workers Compensation claim against the school district based on Raucci’s bullying treatment of him.

A certain pattern becomes apparent: Get on the wrong side of Steve Raucci, and the next thing you know your house is spattered with red paint, your car is spattered with acid, and your tires are punctured.

He wasn’t shy about it. Kriss testified that at one point Raucci screamed at him that “things could happen to your property.” The first step would be your vehicles get keyed. Second, they’re sprayed with acid. Third, you get “a brick through your front window with a note on it.”

What would set Raucci off into such a rage as that? Almost anything, such appears to have been his paranoia and his lust for petty bureaucratic power.

Gary DiNola got on his bad side merely by asking for keys or access cards so indoor track coaches could get into the weight room and the locker rooms at Mont Pleasant Middle School when they were having athletic events.

Raucci gave him the runaround. DiNola insisted, very reasonably, and the next thing you know, Raucci was telling him in an e-mail, “You have crossed a line with me … I am not a tolerant person to begin with. I’m even less tolerant of people who show me disrespect,” sounding like the nut case I believe him to be.

What do you do in a situation like that? You appeal to the superintendent, which is what DiNola did, apologizing in advance for “the ridiculousness of the matter.”

And what was Superintendent Ely’s response? “You know the chain of command. Work through Steve, and if it cannot be resolved go to his supervisor, Dr. San Angelo,” who was of course Raucci’s main protector and from whom he boasted he could get whatever he wanted.

That exchange was on Nov. 29, 2006. The next night, at his home in Ballston Lake, DiNola’s vehicle got trashed and the explosive was placed under its windshield wiper, with a partially burned cigarette sticking out of the end as a fuse. DiNola found it in the morning, soggy from rain that had fallen overnight and presumably extinguished it.

That’s when he went to Ely personally, and that’s when Ely told him it was a police matter, not a school matter.

You sit in court and listen to this testimony and read these e-mails and look at the photographs of the vandalism, and you ask, how did this go on for so long?

You listen to sober adults like Debbie Gray and Gary DiNola choke up on the witness stand and stammer that they’re terrified, that they wake up at night at the least sound, that they want their lives back, and you ask the same thing: How could it go on?

So many people in the school district knew about it or suspected it. Raucci was so open about his threats and his bullying.

The answer is the one I’ve given before and won’t belabor again: He was useful to the school administration and to the school board — in winning elections and in suppressing labor grievances — so they indulged him.

Ely, San Angelo and Stricos especially indulged him — the evidence of that is abundant — and behind them was the school board under the leadership of Jeff Janiszewski. Raucci was a key member of their team.

Disclaimer: The fellow is presumed innocent, and so far in the trial there has been no hard evidence that he is the one who planted the explosives and committed the vandalism, though we know that DNA evidence is yet to come for one of the attacks.

But as the little pieces of the picture slowly fit together, everything points to him and nothing points anywhere else. How the jury will see all this I would not dare to conjecture.

Categories: Opinion

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