Yes, Eric Ely is on the road again, or at least he’s trying to be. After getting bought out of his job as superintendent of Schenectady schools, where he distinguished himself in the oddest ways, old Eric landed a superintendent’s job in the much smaller school district of Southbridge, Mass., which declared itself pleased to get such a worldly figure and gave him a three-year contract.
A few months ago, just a year and a half into his new gig, the ingrate was already shopping around, emerging as a contender for the superintendent’s job in the little burg of Pickerington (population 18,291) in his native Ohio.
That didn’t pan out, so now he is a contender in Billings, Mont., which is pretty funny, because when he was under fire in Schenectady and was desperately applying all over the country trying to find a place that would take him, Billings was one of the places he tried and one of the places where he also made it as far as finalist.
That was two years ago almost to the day, and now here he is again, knocking on the same door — Take me! Take me! — even though he was unanimously rejected the first time, after the Billings board became aware of his history in Schenectady.
That history included most famously a chummy relationship with the bullying and tyrannical head of buildings and grounds, Steve Raucci, who was ultimately convicted of 18 felonies and misdemeanors, consisting mostly of vandalizing and planting explosives on the homes and vehicles of school employees who got on his bad side but also of keeping an explosive device in his office at Mont Pleasant Middle School. He is now serving a sentence of 23 years to life.
• When Ely became aware of a state police investigation of Raucci, six months before Raucci was arrested, he gave him what he called a “heads up.”
• Eight days before Raucci was arrested, when the school board president urged him to change his ways, Ely wrote to him, “You stay just the way you are.”
• And four days before he was arrested, Ely wrote to him, “There are not many I trust. You are one. Thank you.” Which was an email I kept taped to my wall for a while, after it came to light in Raucci’s trial.
Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney said Ely’s behavior constituted “nonfeasance or misfeasance” but did not descend to the level of criminal, warranting an indictment.
Which maybe you could call a recommendation, though it’s certainly not a hearty one. I don’t know if Ely includes it in his résumé.
Billings at least had an idea of Ely’s Schenectady record, thanks largely to the efforts of one conscientious board member who has since departed, but other school districts farther down the line will have a harder time of it, owing to the shameful deal that Schenectady gave him to expedite his departure.
The Schenectady board agreed in writing that they would “make no derogatory comments about the Superintendent” that they were trying so hard to get rid of. Imagine that!
They also agreed that in the event of inquiries from other school districts they would refer those school districts to two past or present board members selected by Ely himself and would not otherwise answer any questions.
And even those two hand-picked references would have to supply a letter approved by Ely.
So if someone in Pickerington or Billings or anywhere else wants to do the standard reference check, that’s all they will get out of Schenectady.
I did contact one member of the Southbridge Public Schools Committee, similar to a New York board of education, to see what the reaction there might be to Ely’s efforts to leave them.
That was Patricia Woodruff, who told me philosophically, “People have to do what people have to do,” and answered “yes” when I asked if she was satisfied with old Eric’s job performance.
Alas, I forgot to ask if she too had pledged to make no derogatory comments, so I don’t know how much weight to give her answer.
Anyway, if you’re driving through Massachusetts and you see old Eric by the side of the road with his thumb out, give him a wave for me, just for old time’s sake.