Do you remember six years ago when I wrote about a phony organization called Friends of Schenectady Schools, which was really just a front for the Board of Education?
There’s no particular reason why you should, but I remember because it was my first peek into the devious doings of the school board under then-president Jeff Janiszewski. Those devious doings included a partnership with the custodial workers’ unit of CSEA, led by one Steve Raucci, who did the grunt work of getting the annual school budget passed and getting pliant citizens elected to the school board.
I recall it now as I peruse emails that the school district has made available to us as part of a legal settlement.
I have one in front of me written by Janiszewski immediately after my first telephone conversation with him, on May 10, 2005, directed to then-superintendent John Falco and the aforementioned Steve Raucci, chief janitor (now doing 23 years to life in prison.)
“Mr. Strock called tonight,” Janiszewski wrote. “Wanted to know all about Friends of Schenectady Schools. Going to kill us in his Thr or Sun column. Could threaten the budget. I informed him of the role each group played in this campaign. I tried to give him the truth, but his spin will be that the Board is in the pocket if the unions working together to dupe the public.”
Which I get a great kick out of. (And never mind the typos.)
Because the funny thing is, in his immense self-confidence, he really did give me the truth. I didn’t know anything. I was just wondering about this previously unknown-to-me organization, and through some possibly artful questioning I got out of him the curious facts that it was an organization with no membership, no telephone, no office, consisting of just him and his little coterie on the board, working with the teachers’ union and the custodians’ union to get the budget passed.
The custodians stuffed envelopes and manned phone banks at CSEA headquarters; the teachers paid for the bulk mailings from the otherwise unidentified Friends of Schenectady Schools.
If he had lied to me about it, I wouldn’t have been any the wiser and probably would have let it go.
A week later, on May 17, the day before the budget vote, he wrote again to Raucci and Falco, this time including board members and also his friend Mike Campon, who was the link between CSEA’s regional office and the custodians’ local.
“Here’s our status of tonight,” he said. “The budget is in doubt … Strock’s crusade againt our campaign clearly has had an impact … We need an exceptional turnout of employees to prevail … We need all hands on deck at CSEA tomorrow for the get out the vote effort,” and so on.
This is interesting, of course, as illustrating what I said right along, that Steve Raucci, later exposed and convicted as an arsonist, was a valuable team player in the school district. He had the confidence of the school board president, as these emails show, and he also had the confidence of first one superintendent, John Falco, and then of another, Eric Ely.
The school budget did pass that time — I ran no crusade against it, just ridiculed the deviousness of the board — and a few hours after voting closed, an email went out from Janiszewski’s friend and fellow board member Warren Snyder to the same group of personages, with Raucci at the head of the list.
“Thank you all,” it said. “Tonight we once again demonstrated the a broad based coalition would pass the school budget with a 60% yes vote. Carl Strock will NOT intimidate us.”
(Again, never mind the typos.)
Well, it takes me back in time, ladies and gentlemen. Eventually Steve Raucci got arrested and went on trial and the floodgates opened. We learned all sorts of things about the inner workings of the Schenectady school district that we never would have imagined.
But this was the beginning. This was the first intimation of a special relationship between the school board, the school administration, and a weird, obsessive, little tyrant, now being revisited in this cache of emails. I confess that I’m proud to see my name in them. I’m going to save them for my grandchildren.
a lot of columns
It was a great embarrassment to me to be the subject of the Gazette’s trivia quiz the other day and yet another indication that I am headed to oblivion, since youngsters are not subjected to such attention. The question was, in what year did I begin writing this column. You don’t ask such a thing unless it’s been a very long time.
The answer the next day was the not-overly-precise “late 1987,” and the blogged comment was, “That’s a lot of columns.”
I wanted to crawl under a rock. Instead I manfully got out my calculator and did some rough figuring. Since Dec. 7, 1987, it has been approximately 3,380 columns.
And to think that when I started I was unsure if I could write my way through a month.
The harder question, the one that gnaws at me, is how many I have left. If you know any way to calculate the answer to that one, please let me know.