For a few minutes at the meeting of the Schenectady school board last night the elephant in the room was finally recognized, and the effect was stunning.
I refer to the scandal that has engulfed the district for the past year, which the board has resolutely declined to recognize, that being the scandal of Steve Raucci, facilities director, exposed as a vandal and arsonist enjoying the support and protection of school administrators, including Superintendent Eric Ely.
During the public comment part of the meeting last night, a speaker from the floor, Rita Stapf, whom I don’t know, really lit into Ely and the board, telling them they were up to their ears in the scandal and urging them to “do the right thing — fire Ely.”
It was a terrible faux pas by the board’s standards, which run strongly to ignoring everything that does not reflect glowingly on the school district, and the board president, Maxine Brisport, quickly tried to rein Stapf in, telling her that “personal attacks” were not allowed.
No matter. Another fellow, out of order, jumped right in and presented the board with a petition demanding that Ely be suspended.
That was Robert Barnes, a candidate for the board in next month’s election, who later told me he had gathered some 100 signatures on his petition in just two days of going door to door.
It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen, and Superintendent Ely, his dignity offended, lost no time in marching out of the room — this was in the auditorium of Hamilton Elementary School — sort of like a United Nations delegate walking out of the General Assembly in protest at an insult to his nation. It was grand.
And that was not all. After a great deal of budget discussion, mostly dealing in the customary effusions of praise for a what a glorious school district we have and how magnificent the staff is and how splendid the children, Diane Herrmann, the dissident board member elected last year, attempted to introduce a resolution to hire “special counsel to advise the board on certain matters of personnel.”
She didn’t explain what she had in mind, but you didn’t have to be psychic to guess.
She wanted some lawyer other than the school district’s own Shari Greenleaf, a loyal team member and notorious scofflaw in her private life, to advise them on how to get rid of Ely. And maybe get rid of Greenleaf, too, for all I know.
It was another faux pas, this being the school board that is more a private club than a public body. To go outside the club for legal advice on sacking the club’s own chosen administrator, even an administrator who tipped off an arsonist to a criminal investigation, well, not today, thank you.
If there was any surprise, it was that Herrmann’s motion to expedite the vote and waive the 48-hour waiting period got as much support as it did.
It needed five votes (from six members) and actually got four, including Herrmann’s own, though it was unclear that one member, Lisa Russo, knew what she was voting for.
It was killed by Jeff Janiszewski (godfather of the club) and Gary Farkas (he who thought Steve Raucci, setting explosives, slashing tires and spray-painting houses, was simply being a “hard-ass boss”).
So we are not finished yet with the drama of the Schenectady City School District.
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