Ely rejected in Montana; fight goes on

Tsk, tsk. Eric Ely, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, has been turned down for

Tsk, tsk. Eric Ely, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, has been turned down for superintendent by Billings, Mont. The school board there unanimously voted last night to eliminate him and one other of their four finalists.

This increases the likelihood that a new school board to take office in Schenectady on July 1 will find Ely on its plate, so to speak, and will have to decide whether to carry him for the remaining two years of his contract or bring him up on charges and fire him.

It will be an interesting choice, and I for one look forward to seeing how it plays out.

What do you do with a superintendent who doesn’t quite qualify for a criminal indictment but is guilty of non-criminal “nonfeasance or misfeasance,” according to Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney?

Ely, after all, has been exposed as a patron, protector and soulmate of a guy who was terrorizing employees of the district, a guy who was puncturing tires, spray painting houses, and planting explosives, that is, the notorious Steve Raucci.

It was attested to by witness after witness in Raucci’s recently completed trial, and it was documented by e-mail after e-mail.

Ely took complaints about Raucci’s bullying, vandalizing behavior and blew them off.

Just eight days before Raucci was arrested, in February of last year, when someone urged Raucci to change, Ely wrote to him encouragingly, “You stay just the way you are.”

Four days before Raucci was arrested Ely wrote to him, “There are not many I trust. You are one. Thank you.”

And most dramatically, Ely tipped Raucci off to a state police investigation of him six months before the arrest.

Now let us look back to June of last year, when the school board under the leadership of then-President Jeff Janiszewski was on the verge of extending Ely’s contract for another year beyond the two years it still had to run anyway, just as a way of protecting him from a possible new board.

And please remember this was at a time when I was modestly reporting indications of the very relationship that was finally confirmed in Raucci’s trial and was also exposing the reliance of Janiszewski himself on Raucci for help in winning in school elections.

A good many people were incensed that the board was going to extend Ely’s contract along with the contracts of other members of Janiszewski’s team, like Michael Stricos, Larry Murphy, and Shari Greenleaf, and they made themselves heard.

One of them sent Janiszewski an e-mail asking if he was going to vote for the extension — the e-mail has just come to my attention — and this is what he answered: “Yes … I will vote for it. Why wouldn’t I? … His accomplishments are extraordinary compared to most superintendents … I will not be manipulated by the character assassination that is being executed by the opinion writers of the Daily Gazette. That publication has painted a distorted picture of the Superintendent and undermined his public support, but those of us on the Board need to make a fair decision based on reality as we know it, not media manipulation of public sentiment.”

This squared nicely not only with his own public pronouncements, but also with those of his young-adult daughter, who showed up at the board meeting at which the contracts were extended and emotionally declared me a liar. Me!

It also squared nicely with the pronouncements of one of Janiszewski’s loyal followers on the board, Lisa Russo, who received the same e-mail question and responded at great length that yes, she would vote for the extensions, although if she were still a mere PTO member, “and had no other knowledge, I would have a very difficult time understanding things as they stand, especially the way things have played out in the press (editorials and Strock in particular), and I would sure have to ask a lot of questions.”

Now the corrupt house they built is falling down around their ears. Stricos and his fellow protector of Raucci, Michael San Angelo, will both be gone by the end of the school year. Ely is desperately looking for a job somewhere else, even as he continues to strike out. Raucci, convicted of arson and other crimes, faces the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Does that mean the end of the secretive, manipulative reign of Jeff Janiszewski as godfather of the Schenectady school district?

Don’t bet on it. Even now he is quietly promoting an old friend for the job of superintendent, that being Gail Smith, a former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in the Schenectady district, who retired at the end of 2002 after a 36-year-career.

And we still have to wait and see if he runs for re-election in the May voting, or if he will find some front people he can manipulate to run in his stead.

It won’t be easy without Raucci to provide envelope stuffers and telephone callers for him, but over the course of 20 years he has shown himself oddly determined and impressively adept at manipulating the school district, so I’m not prepared to say his days are finished. Not at all.

Ely’s days are numbered, one way or the other, but not necessarily Janiszewski’s.

Categories: Opinion

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