Schenectady city school employees, while being paid by the district, stuffed envelopes and called taxpayers as part of a campaign for passage of the school budget in 2008, according to email sent to then-school facilities director Steven Raucci by one of his underlings.
Personnel on the district’s clock were present at all but one of the vote-getting events leading up to the 2008 budget vote. In all, 15 people worked on the campaign for at least two hours while they were on the clock for the district.
The email confirmed allegations made during Raucci’s criminal trial that workers were often illegally performing voting-related tasks while they were supposed to be on the job for the school district.
That directly contradicts statements made in other emails by both Raucci and Jeff Janiszewski, then president of the school board. Both acknowledged that using school funds to pay for campaign work is illegal. When Janiszewski directly asked Raucci how he was able to get such a large group of his employees to consistently help at the phone bank and on mailing nights, Raucci said every worker was a volunteer.
But after the budget passed in 2008, Raucci’s head custodian sent him a list of employees who had worked on the campaign.
On May 8, she wrote, five school employees stuffed envelopes at Brandon’s Ritz Terrace Restaurant on school time. Another six people, plus “the Facilities crew” worked on their own time, she wrote.
On May 14, the school district paid five employees to address envelopes at Brandon’s. One other person came on his own time, as did the Facilities crew.
On the clock
The phone bank was entirely staffed by school employees who were on the clock on May 20, she wrote.
Six people volunteered their own time to run the phone bank on May 18, she wrote.
The district blacked out the names of the people listed as working on the campaign while on school time. Interim Superintendent John Yagielski did not return a call seeking comment.
The records did not include any response from Raucci to the list of paid workers and volunteers, but in several other emails, he appeared to hint at offering rewards to employees who were willing to work on the campaign. “Once again, thanks for all your efforts. It will be ‘remembered,’ ” he wrote in an email to his workers.
In another email, addressed to all of the district’s union leaders, he said that he was the only union president who had made sure his workers helped get the budget passed.
“I will do whatever it takes to instill in anyone the importance of passing the budget, especially when it impacts each and everyone of us,” he wrote. “We, as union officials, need to do a better job in getting the message out on the importance of participation.”
He also told the union leaders that their employees should see the budget work as “part of their job.”
He was proud that he could bring so many workers to the phone banks and mailing nights.
“What does mean something to me is doing everything in my power to accomplish any task, request, job or project asked of me. That applies both in the district and out. You know that just by comparing what I can do with my 100 staff members versus the 700 plus teachers when it comes to helping the district with budgets and board elections,” he wrote to Janiszewski in 2008.
Janiszewski was clearly concerned that employees were working on the campaign while on the district’s time, or pressured to volunteer, or leaving work on personal time and thus abandoning tasks that needed to be done.
Emails from Janiszewski on the topic seemed to begin in 2006, after Principal Alan Zemser complained that a custodian had left work early because Raucci told him he had to hand out election-related fliers. He had left important tasks undone — and he was still on the clock.
When Zemser reported it, custodian Daniel Smith put in a request for personal leave for that time period.
During Raucci’s trial, Smith testified that Raucci told him to put in for personal leave — and gave him overtime pay later to make up for it.
In an email about the incident read into evidence during the trial, Zemser asked whether other custodians were asked to also do illegal work. The question was never answered in court.
But in an email to Janiszewski at the time of the incident, Raucci denied any wrongdoing. He went on for one and a half pages about why Janiszewski should believe that his workers were volunteers.
“As I stated to you on the phone in so many words, I did not ask or put anyone in a position where they have felt they were forced into being a team player,” he wrote. “Everyone who was involved in participating with the Budget and Board vote volunteered their personal time because they felt the urgency to assist the district with getting information out to the community about out Board candidates and the importance of passing the budget.”
Janiszewski said he was convinced.
“Calm down. I am satisfied from our conversation that everything that your group did to participate in the campaigns was 'by the book’ and there were no improprieties,” he wrote.
But emails indicate he continued to question Raucci over the next three years.
Raucci repeatedly cited phone calls from Janiszewski on that issue, and emailed him reassurances.
When a union leader asked Raucci for help on Schenectady Democrat Ed Kosiur’s 2007 campaign for state Assembly, Raucci wrote Janiszewski to report that he would be able to produce 20 workers by the next morning.
“Before you ask, no, I am not taking people from work,” he added.
The emails to and from Raucci are among more than 11,000 pages being reviewed by The Daily Gazette after they were made available by the school district to settle a lawsuit brought by the Gazette and the Times Union. The newspapers went to court after the district refused to release the emails.
The school district agreed in an out-of-court settlement to provide the emails, with some redactions. The documents can be scanned only with handheld devices. Reporters are now reading through seven boxes of documents.
Raucci was convicted last year and sentenced to state prison for placing explosives on the homes and vehicles of people he viewed as his enemies or as enemies of his friends in what the prosecution said was a campaign of intimidation waged to keep his power in the school district.