It cost the Schenectady City School District nearly $13,000 for the report into Steven Raucci’s alleged workplace misconduct — a document that the general public cannot see.
Rachel Rissetto spent 21⁄2 months reviewing allegations that the former facilities director harassed and demeaned colleagues and that supervisors knew of his behavior and did nothing. Her fee was $100 per hour.
In response to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Daily Gazette, the district said that Rissetto spent 55.5 hours interviewing people, but who she interviewed and other documents she reviewed have been blacked out.
She spent 44.25 hours on something called “brief,” which district spokeswoman Karen Corona said refers to reports that Rissetto drafted. Rissetto spent 12.25 hours on prep work, 13.5 hours on summary, three hours on research and 3.75 hours at a Board of Education meeting. The total cost was $12,925.
Former Board of Education president Jeff Janiszewski, who led the board when it commissioned the report, said he believes it was worth the expense.
“We obviously had to properly assess whether we had problems in senior management in the Raucci matter. You can’t ask senior management to investigate itself,” he said.
Among the behavior alleged was that Raucci told a newly hired female employee to “keep your appearance pleasing for your supervisor” and that he inappropriately touched co-workers, including former employee Ronald Kriss, who is suing the district for $8 million. Kriss won a workers’ compensation ruling in his favor.
In addition, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, who is prosecuting Raucci on charges of arson and terrorism, alleged that school officials were “beholden” to Raucci; he resigned after his arrest from his position as the district’s facilities supervisor.
The school board announced last week that no part of Rissetto’s report would be made public after initially saying that it would release a summary. The board’s outside legal counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald III, advised school officials against commenting on the matter, citing real and anticipated litigation against the district. Seven people have filed or expressed an interest in filing lawsuits against the district.
“It’s very frustrating for me,” Janiszewski said. “I would rather be able to put more out there. When there are lawsuits against the district and thousands of dollars potentially more in taxpayer money at stake, we’ve got to act in the best interest as guardians of the taxpayer money.”
The school district said Rissetto also worked an additional 51.5 hours that were not charged. Most of this involved travel time. She drove 2,916 miles as part of her work for the district. She is also not being reimbursed for $45.71 in food and $54.45 in postage, according to Corona.
The expenses show that Rissetto’s work was completed on June 15; she met with the Board of Education behind closed doors for more than three hours in an executive session that night. Janiszewski said at the time that the report was merely a draft. He defended that comment Tuesday by saying that the board gave her feedback on the report and thought there might be changes.
“We thought there were matters of fact and law that she ought to take into consideration. At that evening, I didn’t think it was final.”
Janiszewski said he could not elaborate on what those matters were without revealing the content of the report. He said Rissetto did not have to comply with the board request because she was an independent investigator and about a week later, she told School Attorney Shari Greenleaf that she considered her work done. In her regular employment, Rissetto is human resources director for the Clinton Essex Warren Washington BOCES.
Overall, Janiszewski said he thought the report was fine and he agreed with Fitzgerald’s assessment that the district would be vindicated in legal proceedings. He added that it is frustrating because when lawsuits are filed, the court papers are out in the public domain but legal counsel advises them not to respond.
“You leave the impression that the accusations are accurate,” he said. “It’s just good legal practice not to respond.”
Janiszewski said that the district’s liability insurance carrier, Utica Mutual, advised it to bring in outside legal counsel once additional plaintiffs came forward.
When contacted by telephone about the cost of the inquiry, school board President Maxine Brisport said, “Who told you that?” and questioned whether the newspaper had to write about the story a day after a story about the district spending $18,000 of federal funding for the guest speaker at its retreat.
When informed that the information was obtained through a FOIL request, she said she could not make any comments on the report because of pending litigation. “It’s not necessarily that the district has anything to hide,” she said, but all of parties involved have to be protected.
Brisport added that she wished the district did not have to do the report: “It was an unfortunate expense that had to be done to get an understanding of the situation.”
Brisport said district officials have prepared a summary but wanted legal counsel to review the summary before it was distributed. Fitzgerald did not want the report to come out at all, according to Brisport. In fact, he did not want the board to send out a news release saying there would be no release of the report.