The Schenectady City School District will conduct an independent investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct by suspended facilities director Steven Raucci and any supervisor who covered up his alleged activities.
Raucci, 60, of Niskayuna is facing charges in three separate bombing or attempted bombing incidents in three counties dating as far back as 2001. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said he carried out these attacks as part of a pattern of intimidation.
The Board of Education took this step Thursday after meeting for nearly two hours in executive session. Board President Jeff Janiszewski stressed that the third-party investigation would focus on just allegations of sexual harassment and other workplace violations, and not the criminal allegations against Raucci.
“The board’s role is to ensure that the district cooperates fully with law enforcement officials as they conduct their criminal investigation,” he said. “Information that has come out of court proceedings with regard to workplace misconduct, however, must be investigated.”
Janiszewski said recent court proceedings have implied that a supervisor may have been aware of misconduct and did not act.
Of particular concern was a memo Raucci had written that Carney included in his application to deny bail for Raucci. In the memo dated July 7, 2008, Raucci told a new female hire for a messenger position to “Take time every day to keep your appearance pleasing for your supervisor.”
In addition, Carney alleged that Raucci had won a school district power struggle and that “higher-ups were beholden to him.”
Janiszewski said the board had never seen this memo before.
The district is also being sued for $8 million by former employee Ronald Kriss, who alleges harassment by Raucci dating from May 2003 through October 2006. Kriss said he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and an anxiety disorder and Raucci allegedly made demeaning comments against him. Kriss won a workers’ compensation ruling in his favor. He also alleged that Raucci touched employees inappropriately and sexually harassed them.
Kriss also alleged in his affidavit that the school district’s director of human resources, Michael Stricos, was close to Raucci and even purchased gifts for him — including a photo of Marlon Brando from “The Godfather” movie.
Ely said the district did an internal investigation into these allegations and is prepared to litigate them in court.
On the Raucci matter, the board has asked School Attorney Shari Greenleaf to meet with Carney to request information about the alleged misconduct to the extent Carney is willing.
Then, Greenleaf is to prepare a list of candidates who could perform such an investigation. This could include other school attorneys, BOCES labor relations specialists, retired school labor personnel or other similar professionals.
Janiszewski said he hoped that somebody could be hired within a couple of weeks.
“The investigator will have full access to district records and can expect full cooperation from district employees,” he said.
This person will prepare a comprehensive report and work with Greenleaf to prepare recommendations for the board. The report’s findings will be made public to the extent permitted by law.
“It’s the board and superintendent’s sincerest hope that a complete, diligent and transparent investigation, followed by appropriate response, will maintain the community’s confidence in the school district,” Janiszewski said.
Superintendent Eric Ely said in a prepared statement that he welcomed the external scrutiny and believed the investigation was “very critical.”
Few people attended the meeting besides the media.
Parent Kristen Kwiatkowski said she believes Raucci should be terminated because he had an explosive device in his office at Mont Pleasant Middle School. She said her son stayed home from school for a week because he was upset.
Raucci remains employed by the district. Ely placed Raucci on paid suspension for one week following his arrest Feb. 20. Then, Ely changed it to an unpaid suspension March 2.
Janiszewski said the district has to be careful with what it says because it is a personnel matter and there is a process that must be followed.
“People can jump to conclusions based on what’s been heard,” he said.
Raucci’s employment is governed under the Civil Service Employees Association Local 847 contract. Raucci had served as president of the chapter, which has currently been taken over by the state.
The CSEA contract states that no employee with a competitive class permanent appointment who has completed the probationary period or those who are in the noncompetitive class who have more than one year of full-time service shall be disciplined, except for “just cause.”
Just cause is a legal term that means, in general, an employer must have a real cause or basis for dismissal, as opposed to firing someone arbitrarily, according to the dictionary Web site Babylon.com.
The contract says the district may “immediately suspend without pay any employee who is charged with an act which generally is understood to constitute a crime or in a matter where termination is the penalty sought pending the disposition of the matter.”
Monte Klein, director of public employment practices for the state Public Employment Relations Board, said PERB does not determine what is “just cause.” This is defined to be whatever the employees and employer meant at the time the contract was signed.
PERB gets involved only if an employee files a grievance against the employer and then his or her job gets changed — such as a demotion or transfer — in retaliation. PERB does maintain of list of “neutral” arbitrators it provides to the parties involved.