There is much to dislike in the deal that the Schenectady school board struck with its discredited superintendent, Eric Ely, like paying him a lump sum of $100,000 even if he immediately lands a new job, as he just has.
But there is one thing that in my calm and reflective way I consider truly despicable, especially in an educational institution, and that is the commitment to suppress the truth about this train wreck of a superintendent.
Paragraph 24 of the school board’s written agreement with him says, “The members of the Board of Education agree that individually and collectively they shall make no derogatory comments about the Superintendent …”
That’s right, no derogatory comments, even though most of them wanted nothing more in the world than to get rid of him, which was the entire purpose of the deal.
What’s more, to field inquiries from prospective employers in the future, Ely gets to “designate two current or former Board members from the District to offer employment information,” and if other board members are contacted they must refer the inquirer to Ely’s own chosen spokespeople. What’s even more, those handpicked references — may I guess that Jeff Janiszewski will be one of them? — “shall provide an agreed upon letter of reference,” which I take to mean the letter must be agreed upon not just by them but also by Ely himself.
This is a legal commitment to deceive, nothing else.
Down the road some innocent search committee in Idaho or Maine will write to the president of the Schenectady school board asking for a reference on this former superintendent who is applying for a job — How did he do? Is he a good fellow? — and the president of the board will be bound to keep mum and just pass the unsuspecting inquirer to one of Ely’s few remaining friends, like Janiszewski, who will provide a glowing letter approved by Ely himself.
Indeed in the school district where Ely just got hired, in Southbridge, Mass., he gave as references not only Janiszewski but also the current board president, Maxine Brisport, who earlier wrote a glowing letter on his behalf and then told me she did it only because she wanted to get rid of the guy, which I duly reported in this newspaper.
How’s that for gall? And how’s that for a testament to Ely’s own integrity, about which, however, we should not be surprised.
One endorsement that has been publicly repudiated and one from Jeff Janiszewski, whose standing is such that at his penultimate board meeting he had to accept a thank-you plaque (from Brisport) on the sly, so as not to incur the wrath of the public, and at his final meeting was heckled so that he could hardly make his contemptuous remarks heard over the uproar.
That’s who a search committee will have to depend on — Brisport, who got voted out of office, and Janiszewski, who sneered at the end that “it was media hype all the way,” and “Eric Ely did a fine job as superintendent of Schenectady schools.”
Yes, Janiszewski, who had the wisdom not to run for re-election after his chief campaign helper, Steve Raucci, landed in jail.
This is fraud, in my estimation.
You know what I would like to see? I would like to see the school board, or rather the five members of it who voted for this settlement — Janiszewski, Brisport, Lisa Russo, Gary Farkas, Ron Lindsay — hold an assembly in the high school and explain to the students, as a matter of civics, why this was a good thing to do and why it’s an example they should follow.
Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Explain why it’s right and proper to deceive someone who makes a good-faith inquiry about a former employee or associate of yours. Maybe so you can “move forward,” as Lindsay offered the other night.
Explain why it’s permissible to get rid of a problem of your own by foisting it off on some unsuspecting third party.
Especially when you’re rolling your eyes reverentially and saying everything you do is “for the kids,” as Brisport regularly does.
For the kids of Schenectady, maybe, but how about the kids of some other school district somewhere else in the country?
Explain why it’s OK to burden those kids — especially when you have in hand a list of charges, prepared by a lawyer, that you could bring against this superintendent of yours so as to fire him “for cause” without having to pay him or concede to him anything at all.
Explain why it would be too much of a nuisance to go through that process, even though he agreed to it in advance as part of his contract, and better just to give him a couple hundred thousand dollars of your parents’ collective money and be done with him. And vote to approve the deal before making it public.
Which would be another good one to explain, as a matter of civics. Why it’s good governance not just to make a deal like this but to make it in secret and only disclose it after it’s been ratified.
I don’t attend school assemblies, but I would attend that one, if it ever happened.
Let me hasten to make an exception for Diane Herrmann and Andy Chestnut, the two boards members who voted against this shameless settlement. A tip of the hat to them, even if they could have done a better job of revealing the truth of the thing and campaigning against it rather than just casting their negative votes.
And a raspberry to Ron Lindsay, recently elected as a reformer, who was supposed to help bring “transparency” to this previously secretive board.
Transparency, my foot. For the second crucial vote of his tenure (for the first he was absent) he threw in his lot with the selfsame secretive crowd that he ran against, that is, the Janiszewski club.
Now after presiding over the greatest scandal in the history of Schenectady schools, Ely pockets a quick $100,000 and rides off to serve yet another school district.
It sometimes seems the people of Schenectady can’t win for losing.