In the last month, voters in Schenectady have shown what they think of how the school board and Superintendent Eric Ely operate. It’s fairly clear, by their election of two new, independent board members and the outrage they expressed at being disrespected and bullied in the recent budget fiasco, that current members’ days on the board are numbered.
So what do school leaders do? Change their ways? Show a little contrition? Hardly. They once again show their total contempt for the public by preparing to extend the contracts of the very people least deserving of a vote of confidence: Ely and Human Resources Director Michael Stricos, two officials who might well be replaced as more new board members are elected and the Janiszewski board loses its grip on power.
And power, as we have seen ever since former buildings and grounds director Steve Raucci was arrested in February for setting explosives, is what it’s all about with this crew. They use it, and misuse it, and won’t give it up easily. Before more new board members can be elected — even before the two just elected, Diane Herrmann and Joyce Wachala, can be seated — they want to take care of their people and lock them in. Not just Ely and Stricos, but school attorney Shari Greenleaf and technology director Lawrence Murphy.
What has Ely, who is now two years into a four-year contract, done to deserve a contract extension, ensuring that he remains here at least until June 30, 2012? He turned a blind eye to Raucci’s intimidation tactics and mishandled the district’s response to a spate of suicides. Then, after voters shot down the district’s first budget, he bludgeoned them into approving an even higher, revised one by threatening them with an outrageously and unnecessarily high contingency budget based on enrollment projections that he himself didn’t believe.
As for Stricos, he ignored complaints about Raucci and helped manipulate the Civil Service system to create jobs for people, including Board President Janiszewski’s wife, without them having to take a competitive test. For this he would be rewarded by having his contract extended through June 30, 2011.
At tonight’s board meeting, the contract extensions will be considered (as potentially controversial things often are with this regime) as part of a “consent agenda” — seemingly routine items agreed to in advance, in secret meetings of dubious legality, and then passed at a public meeting with no debate.
With all that has happened in recent months, this is neither the time nor the way to be extending high officials’ contracts. Will any board member stand up and say that tonight? If they did, not only would they be doing the right thing, they would be breaking with the Janiszewski/Ely machine and at least giving themselves a chance to be re-elected.