The Schenectady school board has hired an ostensibly independent investigator to look into inferences by District Attorney Robert Carney, among others, that school officials knew of and tolerated the ways that buildings and grounds supervisor Steve Raucci intimidated colleagues and underlings before authorities finally charged him with terrorism in February. And while Rachel Rissetto, the human resources director for the Clinton Essex Warren Washington BOCES, has experience with these sorts of investigations and will be given “unfettered access” to all school files and employees, the inherent conflict of interest in her being hired by the very people she’ll be investigating calls into question how impartial she can be.
Rissetto says she anticipates interviewing all school board members, any school employees or anyone else she deems appropriate to determine just who knew what and when about Raucci’s conduct. Her report, she says, will be strictly confidential between her and school board President Jeff Janiszewski. That’s a big problem in and of itself, since Janiszewski has been running the school board — some say the entire district — for a long time, and may himself have been involved in the Raucci scandal.
As Carl Strock reported in his March 17 column, Raucci routinely coerced underlings to help promote Janiszewski’s hand-picked school board candidates — stuffing envelopes on school time in Janiszewski’s presence for his shadow organizations, New Citizens Convention and Friends of Schenectady Schools.
While the school board properly saw fit to hire an outsider for this investigation, it didn’t go far enough outside — Rissetto’s day job as a school administrator, and her former school board position in Waterford-Halfmoon, could easily be perceived as giving her a pro-administration bias. If the district really wanted a credible probe, it would have hired a person without school ties of any kind — or sought the assistance of an impartial, investigative body from the state.
Rissetto’s work is probably doomed, especially if she follows the guidelines set forth by Janiszewski, who says he wants her to produce one report for the public, without naming names; and another for him and the board that does, along with making recommendations. Perhaps the names of witnesses could be redacted, but not those of anyone implicated. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Confidentiality might be a good idea — not between Rissetto and Janiszewski, but between Rissetto and the employees she hopes to hear the unvarnished truth from. Raucci isn’t the only person who so intimidated employees that they refused to divulge their names when calling or writing the Gazette with tips on this story. If these people fear that they can’t speak in confidence with Rissetto, they won’t speak.
She should also make an effort to talk with past employees and administrators who came in contact with Raucci, as they may be more willing to speak freely about what went on.
While much depends on how it turns out, district officials may have a tough time persuading taxpayers — who are forking over $100 an hour for Ms. Rissetto’s services — that the investigation represents their best efforts to get to the bottom of the Raucci affair.