E-mails are news to Sch’dy school board board members

Board of Education President Maxine Brisport said she previously had not seen the e-mails being intr

Board of Education President Maxine Brisport said she previously had not seen the e-mails being introduced into evidence at the trial of former district facilities director Steven Raucci, particularly the one from Superintendent Eric Ely warning him of a pending criminal investigation.

The e-mails reveal a close relationship between Ely and Raucci, who faces 23 counts of terrorism and arson charges for allegedly planting explosive devices at homes and vandalizing property of his enemies.

“I read them online like most people did,” Brisport said Monday.

The e-mails were apparently not part of a sampling compiled by investigator Rachel Rissetto, who was hired by the board to investigate allegations that Raucci harassed and abused colleagues. The board spent almost $13,000 on the 190-page report, but has declined to release most of it to the public. Ninety-five percent has been blacked out.

Board member Gary Farkas said the e-mails were new to him as well. He said Rissetto put e-mails in her report that she thought were representative of the relationship between Ely and Raucci.

“The ones in the report weren’t as revealing as these were,” Farkas said. “They spoke more to a relationship that I wasn’t aware of.”

However, Farkas added, it is difficult to assess tone from an e-mail. When asked whether Ely can continue to serve as superintendent, Farkas said it is too soon to say.

“I can’t make a judgment 100 percent on those [e-mails]. It will force us to have another discussion,” he said.

Shortly after Rissetto completed her report last June, the school board extended Ely’s contract until 2012 while also granting extensions to other top administrators.

Brisport said Wednesday’s meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the Mont Pleasant Middle School Auditorium, is specifically to get an update on the budget. Ely’s employment is not on the agenda, she said.

“As with any other meeting, someone can introduce new business,” she said.

School officials have repeatedly declined to talk about what Rissetto recommended and to what extent those recommendations have been implemented. Brisport again said the full report would not be released, citing advice of the district’s legal counsel.

“We were told that due to pending litigation we can’t really talk about that report. I haven’t been given the OK to talk about it,” she said.

District officials had denied a Freedom of Information Law request for access to the report.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said previously that any information in the report that constituted an opinion could rightfully be withheld, but statements of facts must be disclosed.

The Daily Gazette and Albany Times-Union appealed the decision. In January, state Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer upheld the school district’s right to keep the report secret.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the school’s outside legal counsel, said at the time that the report was not a final policy determination and was essentially an intra-agency document.

The Board of Education met Monday night in a closed session following a community forum with John Harrison, principal of Mercer Island School in the state of Washington, who is a candidate for associate superintendent of Schenectady High School.

Brisport said before the meeting the executive session was just to have a follow-up interview with Harrison and not to discuss Ely’s status.

Ely, who is a candidate for superintendent jobs in Arlington, Mass., Erie, Pa. and Billings, Mont., declined to say why he sent the e-mail to Raucci.

“I’m not going to comment on any current court case. It’s been my position all along. It’s not going to change,” he said.

Ely did say he gave an interview for the Rissetto report but would not discuss it further.

“That’s their decision to keep that report private. I will respect their decision on that,” he said.

He also would not say whether any of his prospective employers had access to the Rissetto report.

Brisport also said the district has not reached out to any outside agency such as the State Education Department for help in moving through the legal matters.

“I think as a school district we’re quite capable of moving the district forward on our own,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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