Janiszewski not running, not talking

Well, that’s it, all you fans and followers of Schenectady schools: Jeff Janiszewski, the guy I thin
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Well, that’s it, all you fans and followers of Schenectady schools: Jeff Janiszewski, the guy I think of as the godfather of the school district, is packing it in. And without a word of explanation.

Yesterday, as the 5 p.m. deadline for filing petitions to run for the school board approached, I was in the clerk’s office at Mont Pleasant Middle School, the official place to file, waiting to see who might slip in at the last minute, and one person did, but it wasn’t Janiszewski. Meaning that his reign will be over as of June 30.

He is definitely not running for re-election.

He didn’t even do us the courtesy of an announcement. Too bad. I would have liked to hear a swan song, or a General MacArthur-like “fade-away” pronouncement, but nothing doing.

For five years as president, from July 2004 through June 2009, and before that as a behind-the-scenes manipulator, he ran a secretive operation that made the school board little more than his private club, and he did it with skill and dedication. He created budgets and then surreptiously campaigned for their passage behind the false front of Friends of Schenectady Schools.

He recruited candidates to run for the board, favoring people likely to defer to his charm and intellect, and then supported them through the false front of the New Citizens Convention.

He enlisted the teachers’ union to foot the bill, and he enlisted the janitors and maintenance workers, under the command of the infamous Steve Raucci, to do the grunt work of his campaigns, stuffing envelopes and manning CSEA phone banks.

Did a board member resign in mid-term, like Brian Ansari in 2004? He picked a replacement, Lisa Russo, without any public participation and got his pliant board to accept her.

Did another board member die in mid-term, like Chauncey Williams, the following year?

He picked that replacement also (Maxine Brisport), and again without involving the public, but this time he had a co-member with him on a two-member search committee, and that co-member was Lisa Russo.

And so it went.

If by chance an outsider got elected, like Linda Bellick, he charmed her into his web and made an admirer out of her.

Now, alas, Bellick, who got clobbered in last year’s election but then was appointed by Janiszewski’s team to fill a vacancy, also failed yesterday to submit petitions to run again. And she likewise failed to honor us with an announcement.

Maybe the two of them just silently sidled over to Jim Casino’s house for a keg party — Jim Casino being the board member who distinguished himself last year with Facebook photos showing him and his teacher-wife boozing it up with their high-school-graduating son and friends.

What a bunch.

City Council member Joe Allen, not necessarily a bosom friend of mine, figured Janiszewski out within two months of Janiszewski’s becoming board president.

He called him a “dictator” who held secret meetings at his house, and said, “He’s pulling all the strings and making all the decisions.”

He certainly was, and not necessarily in a disinterested fashion, either, having in mind that one of the first actions of the board upon his becoming president was the creation of a new position in the school district and the hiring of his own wife to fill it, which gave her a nice little jump, from $12 an hour as a teacher’s aide to $40,000 a year as a “behavior intervention specialist.”

And if the administration overlooked the requirement of a Civil Service test for the job, well, you could count that as a fringe benefit.

And then there was his superintendent, Eric Ely, picked in the same manner as his board members, that is, without public participation.

In Ely’s case he didn’t even have the required New York certification when Janiszewski and his team promoted him, in 2005, from assistant superintendent, where he had served just a year and a half.

“This is a prudent and wise decision,” Janiszewski said at the time. “We have a guy who in a year has shown us he’s pretty strong.”

And one year later, when he generously gave Ely a four-year contract rather than the usual three, he declared, “We want the world to know that that’s our leader.”

I say Janiszewski gave him the contract, because it was understood that other board members deferred to him as their superior. He led, and they followed.

Of course the real fruit of his secretive and manipulative regime was the amazing scandal of Steve Raucci, the guy who ran the entire buildings and grounds operation while holding the misleading title of “head utility worker,” which allowed him both to collect overtime and to avoid a Civil Service test of his own.

I need not walk you through the bullying and the crimes that Raucci committed nor the complaints that were made to both Ely and Janiszewski without result. I’m sure you’ve heard enough about them.

But I will say again those crimes were not committed in a vacuum. They were committed in an environment that had been created by somebody.

Now Janiszewski rides off into the sunset. Of course he still has his day job, with the state economic development agency (at $111,700 a year), where he is a leader of the Public Employees Federation; and his wife still has her behavior intervention gig with the school district, now worth better than $50,000 a year, but the power will be gone. The power to manipulate and run a school system from behind closed doors with disdain for the mere public, which for me has been the single most striking thing about him. The supreme arrogance that allowed him to conduct business in private and shout down, if necessary, objectors in public. It was as if he was so completely sold on himself that he didn’t have to answer to anyone.

He charmed and lectured and bullied, always as if admiring himself in a mirror. Until the business finally blew up in his face.

He did not have the good grace to bow out publicly and certainly not the good grace to express any contrition for the disaster that his regime became, but I shouldn’t be surprised.

Now, poor me, what I am going to do as he rides off into the Schenectady sunset? He has another couple of months, and that’s all. I can’t even identify any ringers that he might have put up among the nine or possibly 10 board candidates, which I’ve had my eye out for.

Well, I still have Ely to write about, anyway, and I will just have to do the best I can.

Categories: Opinion

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