The specter of Steven Raucci may soon stop hanging over the Schenectady City School District.
There are only two Raucci-related lawsuits left, the final step in a years-long crisis that led to the dismissal or voluntary resignation of nearly every top district administrator. The district had to pay its superintendent $144,500 to leave, and it has spent $275,000 on lawsuit settlements, although most of that was covered by insurance.
Raucci is now serving 23 years to life in prison after a Schenectady County Court jury convicted him of placing explosives on vehicles and homes in a campaign of intimidation against various individuals, including school employees.
Now the final lawsuits are nearing settlements, giving district officials hope that it will soon be over.
“We can’t close the final chapter and move past this until the last lawsuit is wrapped up. Seems we are getting there,” said interim Superintendent John Yagielski, who came out of retirement to lead the district after his predecessor, Eric Ely, was paid to leave.
School board President Cathy Lewis, one of four residents who swept the election a year ago amidst great community concern about the district’s leadership, is ready to put Raucci into the past tense.
“That would be lovely, to have that be behind us,” she said. “It ends that particular era.”
It would also mean the district would no longer be facing the possibility of a sudden, large expense — big settlements go beyond the district’s insurance — and it would put an end to regular news stories about employees Raucci mistreated.
The district paid former employee Ron Kriss $250,000 after he sued on the grounds that Raucci had sexually assaulted him. Raucci would run his hand up an employee’s leg until the worker flinched away, a technique he called the “man game.”
Records released by the district after a lawsuit by The Daily Gazette and the Times Union showed that Ely asked Raucci whether he had played the man game, and that Raucci said yes. Ely told him not to do it again.
The district also paid $25,000 to James and Barbara Bachus, who said Raucci assigned James Bachus to menial jobs and turned off the heat to Barbara Bachus’ classroom. Raucci apparently believed James Bachus was going to try to unseat Raucci as president of their union unit.
Still unsettled are lawsuits by Harold and Deborah Gray and Raucci’s secretary, Barbara Tidball.
Tidball has sued the district on sexual harassment grounds, citing a memo Raucci gave her in which he said she was there for his pleasure and must take care of her appearance to please him. Among his specific instructions were rules regarding her hair style and weight.
The Grays sued the district because Raucci vandalized their property. He was convicted of three separate attacks, spraying their home and truck with red paint and leaving intimidating messages.
They argue that even though the incidents occurred on Raucci’s personal time, the district was to blame because managers did not properly supervise him and did not punish or fire him for his work-related misdeeds.
Emails released by the district show that even when others complained about threats from Raucci, his supervisors did not investigate him. In one case, the human resources director helped quash a complaint, and Raucci proudly reported that fact to Ely. In another case, after teachers and principals told Ely that Raucci seemed to be deliberately withholding heat or air conditioning, Ely responded to a complaint by telling Raucci to cut all air conditioning to the complainant’s wing of the high school.
Now, Ely and Raucci’s supervisors are gone. The budget, which had been rejected three times in two years by the public, passed this year with an 80 percent approval rate.
Work to rebuild the district’s administrative functions isn’t done yet: the board hopes to hire a new superintendent by February. But with those issues mostly resolved, the board can now focus its attention on improving the district’s graduation rate.
“We need to focus on youth and education rather than adult problems,” Lewis said.
Some progress has been made. The high school is no longer on the state’s “persistently dangerous” list, and the new attendance deans got most of the ninth graders to show up for school regularly last year. Board members hope that the many changes made to the ninth grade led to more students moving on to 10th grade, but school officials are still collecting data to see how many students had to repeat ninth grade this year.
“We’ve formed some plans that we think are working,” Lewis said. “It just takes awhile to evaluate them.”
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