Schenectady’s former school superintendent has landed in hot water at his latest job.
Eric Ely, now superintendent of the Southbridge, Mass., school district, was placed on paid leave Wednesday. By midday Thursday, his name had been erased from the district website, his blog was eliminated and the only message on the superintendent’s page was a press release announcing a temporary acting superintendent.
The school board — called the Southbridge School Committee — held an emergency meeting Wednesday night before making the decision. Board members met behind closed doors and later would not answer questions from the public or the press.
In a news release, committee Chairwoman Patricia Woodruff said the committee received a complaint about Ely. She would not disclose details of the complaint, but the committee called in the school district’s lawyer and decided to pay Ely to stay home indefinitely.
The committee will “review” the matter before making any final decisions, but she implied that Ely isn’t coming back anytime soon.
The committee assigned his job duties to another administrator temporarily, while committee members consider who to choose as acting superintendent.
For now, Terry Wiggin, the district’s director of finance and operations, is the temporary acting superintendent. Wiggin declined to comment on the situation and none of the committee members responded to phone messages and emails sent to them by The Daily Gazette.
Ely has had some trouble with the committee before. This summer, he got rid of an experienced elementary school principal, replaced him with a new principal, then hired former Schenectady Assistant Superintendent William Roberts to mentor that principal, according to the Worcester Telegram-Gazette.
His proposal for the principals narrowly passed the school committee by a vote of 4-3. The three members who voted against it were so irate that they said Ely ought to be fired. Two weeks later, the committee held a vote on Ely’s termination, but it failed by a vote of 4-3.
Some committee members also objected to the new principal Ely hired for the middle/high school. She has been criticized for allowing more violence in the school, although the police chief has disputed whether violence has increased.
In Schenectady, the school board paid Ely $144,500 to leave in June 2010. He took the Southbridge job the next day.
Some residents in Schenectady urged the school board to fire Ely, but the board negotiated a buyout instead.
Ely had come under fire for apparently tipping off school employee Steven Raucci to a multi-county investigation against him. Raucci, the district’s head of facilities, was convicted of placing bombs on homes and vehicles to intimidate owners. Some of his victims were school employees who had argued with him about school issues or fought him over union issues.
Raucci was also accused of playing the “man game,” in which he allegedly ran his hand up an employee’s thigh to see when the man would flinch. Ely admitted to a school investigator that he knew about the game and told Raucci to stop.
Ely was accused of having reason to suspect Raucci was setting explosives on cars, but in emails and notes released by the school district, he never said he knew about it. However, he said to an investigator that he went straight to Raucci when Athletics Director Gary DiNola said an explosive had been left on his car.
According to the investigator’s notes, he told Raucci, “If anything is happening here, it needs to stop.”
Emails released by the school district under a court settlement with The Daily Gazette and The Times Union showed he had some reason to suspect Raucci. In one email to Ely, Raucci said he had a reputation for making “ ‘house calls,’ which could affect someone’s health.”
But Ely did not go to police to discuss that comment in the context of what had happened to DiNola’s car. Instead, he simply told DiNola to talk to police.
In other emails, Ely encouraged Raucci to turn off air-conditioning in a high school wing to retaliate against a teacher asking for building maintenance.