Schenectady school officials have acted with such utter contempt toward the public over the past few months, it was hardly surprising to see the pattern continue Tuesday night when the contracts of two employees with suspect job performances — Superintendent Eric Ely and Human Resources Director Michael Stricos — were extended yet another year.
Why the big rush, given that Ely’s contract wasn’t due to expire until 2011 and Stricos’ until 2010; given that two recently elected board members are due to be seated next week; given that the supposedly independent investigation into whether Ely, Stricos or other district employees knew about the terrorist activities former building and grounds supervisor Steven Raucci allegedly was engaged in is due for release shortly?
It was also not surprising, though more than a bit disconcerting, to see how school board President Jeff Janiszewski treated — again, with utter contempt — the sizable crowd that had waited patiently through an hour-and-45-minute executive session and wanted to be heard. Janiszewski got into an ugly shouting match with an audience member who demanded that the board not adjourn before entertaining some public comment. Perhaps the board wasn’t legally obligated, but it would have been the reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. And given that the deed had already been done — rubber-stamping the controversial contract extensions took all of a few minutes once the executive session was over — the board had nothing to lose, except, perhaps, more respect.
Not that Janiszewski, other board members, or people like Ely seem to care what the public thinks of them or the job they’ve been doing. If they did, they’d have been more forthcoming about things like the student suicides, the Raucci affair, the school budget fiasco, etc. and more responsive to the complaints. But despite growing evidence that the public has lost confidence in this board and superintendent, the affronts continue. And given the unlikely prospect that they’ll resign, there’s probably not much that can be done until next year, when Janiszewski and Maxine Brisport are up for re-election.
A citizen complaint to the state Education Department could result in the commissioner removing one or more board members, but that would take a minimum of six months to play out and require evidence of an intentional violation of law, neglect of duty, or disobeying a decision, order or regulation of the commissioner. In other words, a long shot, and given the time frame, not very productive. Still, it’s worth trying.
There’s also the possibility that the two new board members — who ran as mavericks — will persuade at least a couple of their colleagues to break ranks with Janiszewski. That also seems like a long shot considering that he hand-picked most of them and they’ve voted right with him on most occasions.
The school board’s action Tuesday adds insult to district residents’ injuries, and will cost another few hundred thousand dollars to undo (by buying out some contracts). But given what’s already occurred, it will be a price well worth paying. If voters only remember to take the necessary first step next May.