Schenectady County

Raucci serious about energy efficency

In a war that Superintendent Eric Ely appeared to fully support, school district facilities director

In a war that Superintendent Eric Ely appeared to fully support, school district facilities director Steve Raucci searched every nook in every classroom in the district for illicit microwaves and refrigerators.

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Read Steve Raucci’s emails by clicking HERE

To save the district approximately $10 a year in energy costs, as one teacher calculated it, Raucci searched for hours to find one unapproved refrigerator. He was paid overtime for his work.

He described the war at length in emails, which were released by the school district under the terms of a lawsuit settlement with The Daily Gazette and the Times Union newspapers. Raucci is now serving 23 years to life in prison for setting explosives on homes and vehicles, including some owned by school employees, in a yearslong campaign of intimidation.

His emails showed his growing rage with school employees who refused to give up their refrigerators.

It started with energy savings. Raucci noted that in many school buildings, there were dorm-size refrigerators and microwaves in most of the classrooms. He wanted to consolidate, placing appliances in the faculty lounges and the main office. That had the added benefit of discouraging teachers from eating in their classroom, which was not allowed because of a recurring pest problem.

But a few teachers dug in their heels. There was the diabetic who needed constant access to his insulin, nursing mothers who had to refrigerate their milk and teachers who simply wanted to keep their food in their classroom.

One teacher said Raucci should understand that professionals have the right to toast their bread. Others wrote about long lines at the microwaves as they waited to heat up their lunch.

At first, Raucci reacted calmly, allowing additional appliances but insisting that they be unplugged when not in use. He said he would decide which appliances got to stay.

Principal Alan Zemser fought back, accusing Raucci of trying to “usurp the authority of the principals.”

Zemser said he’d make his own decisions about each appliance in his school, adding that Superintendent John Falco had asked each principal to make their own judgments.

But a few months later, Eric Ely became superintendent and Raucci began inspecting school buildings at night in search of appliances.

In October 2006, he cut three extension cords in one night to try to stop teachers from using appliances he had not approved. In each case, the power cords were leading into locked closets that he couldn’t enter — and turned out not to be attached to appliances.

Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo quickly spoke with Raucci then sent Ely an email saying that Raucci had agreed never to cut cords again. Instead, San Angelo wrote, Raucci would notify the principal.

Raucci also wrote to the principal of the building in question, Gregory Fields, saying, “It has come to my attention yet again that I could be acting in extremes or treating people like children when trying to instill the importance of the Energy Conservation Guidelines that are set up throughout the school district.”

But Raucci defended himself, saying extension cords are a fire hazard.

For a few months, the secret inspections appeared to stop.

Then Ely sent out a memo banning all “unapproved” appliances, and Raucci took action.

Empowered, Raucci set out to enforce the new directive. Many emails sent to Ely seeking permission for an appliance were forwarded, without comment, to Raucci, who wrote back to the applicant.

Raucci was confident enough of Ely’s support that when a teacher demanded a written, signed refusal for a refrigerator, he gave her Ely’s name.

With his new authority, Raucci began searching school buildings, opening filing cabinets and closets in search of any proof that the occupants were hiding unapproved appliances.

“I’ve found refrigerators, microwaves, toaster ovens and ‘electric blankets’ in drawers, closets, under desks, camouflaged under classroom material and even behind books on a bookshelf or on a window sill with the shades drawn,” he boasted in a 2008 email to Principal Michelle VanDerLinden. “The more they try to outsmart me, the smarter I get.”

In another email, he implied that he broke a teacher’s private lock in a closet and found a refrigerator powered by an extension cord. He opened the closet, he said, because he suspected the extension cord led to an illicit appliance.

Teachers began to criticize his methods, and the insults clearly struck a nerve. In an email to Principal Sean Inglee, Raucci fantasized about using those insults on the teachers who hid appliances in their classrooms.

He had just found a microwave hidden in the back corner of a classroom under a red tablecloth.

“I bet if I confronted the person in that room and told her what a sneaky, selfish, childish thing to do, she would say, ‘How dare you, I’m a professional and I expect to be treated like one,’ ” Raucci wrote.

He ended the email by implying that she was a child.

“Please see that she removes the microwave by the end of the day Friday or daddy will be by Saturday morning and take it away,” he wrote.

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