What to do with Schenectady school Superintendent Eric Ely? He has been compromised, to put it mildly, by revelations made during the trial of Steve Raucci, the former employee convicted of arson, and he’s looking for another job.
A couple of school board members have said privately they hope he finds one, but publicly all seven board members are mum, just as they have been mum from the beginning about the l’affaire Raucci.
One apparent problem is that Ely has a contract, which, thanks to the same board, has two more years to run. (They graciously extended it for him even as the Raucci scandal was blowing up around them.)
Should they let him continue serving for two more years?
Should they suspend him with pay, as one candidate for the board has proposed?
Should they buy him out, which would cost at least $400,000?
It’s an awful, awful problem — until you read the contract. And then, really, it seems no problem at all.
His contract provides that he can fired “for cause” by a supermajority of the board, defined as five of the seven members, and “cause … may include, but is not limited to, a failure to comply with or adhere to any of the provisions of this Agreement.”
In other words, if my knowledge of English serves me, he can be fired for anything that five members agree is adequate and reasonable. It doesn’t have to be a violation of some specific provision in his contract.
He is entitled to a hearing, but that hearing is to be conducted by the school board itself, not any outside body or arbitrator, and it “will not be a formal evidentiary hearing conducted pursuant to the strict rules of evidence,” like a criminal trial.
It would be a more informal proceeding, at which, however, the superintendent would have the right to be represented by a lawyer and would be entitled to cross-examine witnesses and challenge evidence. After which the board would vote whether or not to sack him, with no appeal provided for.
So if the board had the five votes, it would be a simple matter of going through the prescribed procedure.
As for the specific charges, which would have to be presented to him in writing at least two weeks before the hearing, that would be a walk in the park, since the groundwork has been done by the Schenectady County district attorney, who successfully prosecuted Raucci.
The documentation of Ely’s nonfeasance or misfeasance, as the DA put it, is mostly public record, available at the rate of 65 cents a page from the clerk’s office on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse.
If the school district is short of money on account of state-aid cuts, I would consider loaning them my own copies.
What might a reasonable person regard as adequate cause to fire a superintendent in the middle of his contract?
Well, how about tipping off an employee to a criminal investigation of him? That would be the e-mail that Ely sent to Raucci on July 28, 2008, as the state police began putting together the pieces of Raucci’s multi-county vandalism. I will take my own copy out of its frame and let them borrow it if they promise to give it back.
How about allowing the billing of $50,000 in overtime, without documentation, by that same employee, as approved by an assistant superintendent? That is documented in a report from the state comptroller, which I don’t actually have in my possession but which the school district must have in its files. If it doesn’t, I’m sure the comptroller’s office would provide a copy.
How about failing to respond to a complaint from the athletic director, in 2006, that an explosive had been planted on his windshield and his tires punctured immediately after Raucci had accused him of “crossing a line” with him? That would be in the trial transcript, testimony of Gary DiNola.
How about having the astounding judgment to declare to Raucci, “There aren’t many I trust. You are one. Thank you,” after five years of Raucci’s tyranny and a rampage of crimes that Ely should have been aware of? That is in an e-mail dated Feb. 16, 2009, four days before Raucci was arrested, and again, I would be willing to lend out my copy if the district can’t spring for the 65 cents.
And plenty more besides. You wouldn’t need to go through the entire record to satisfy the contract’s requirement of “cause.” Any one of those items would be enough.
If you wanted, you could add a catch-all cause of “coddling and protecting an employee who was running a reign of terror in the Operations and Maintenance Department of the school district when he should have known that said employee was running said reign of terror.”
Ely would no doubt flaunt the recently unwrapped investigative, or non-investigative, report done by Rachel Rissetto, concluding that he had no way of knowing what was going on, but that is so flagrantly deficient as not to be taken seriously, since it did not cite any of the documents I just mentioned.
As for getting five votes on the school board, that will hang on the election of May 18, when four seats are to be contested.
ely in wikipedia
Meanwhile, connoisseurs or collectors who would like a brief biography of Eric Ely are directed to Wikipedia.
That great online resource has had an Ely entry posted for over a week now, and it seems to have survived an effort to remove it. It was labeled for a while as being “considered for deletion” but then was also “flagged for rescue,” and now it appears with no qualifiers.
There’s not much in it that I didn’t know, but it’s still nice to have in one place. It is strictly neutral in tone, as Wikipedia requires, and it’s impeccably footnoted, as Wikipedia also requires, but there might have been some question about whether the superintendent of Schenectady schools was really notable enough to warrant his own entry.
I don’t know exactly what Wikipedia’s standards are.
Upon information and belief the author of the entry is a Capital Region attorney who contributes many articles to Wikipedia and has no particular interest one way or the other in Schenectady schools. He writes articles just as a hobby, as many contributors do.
I don’t know who wanted the entry deleted, either. It wasn’t necessarily Ely, which was my first suspicion; it could have been just another Wikipedia contributor who doubted the worthiness of the subject.
I doubted the worthiness myself, though I am ethically barred from commenting very far, seeing as how I am one of the sources quoted.
As impartial as the article is, it is certainly not something that old Eric would want a prospective employer to read. It succinctly summarizes the Raucci scandal, for example, pointing out among other awkward facts that Ely as superintendent tipped off Raucci the arsonist to the criminal investigation of him.
You can just imagine the chairman of a search committee at some school district in Maine or North Dakota going online and coming up with that little gem. Whoa!