Schenectady’s former schools superintendent is facing a deepening problem in Southbridge, Mass., where he got a job after he was paid to leave Schenectady.
The Southbridge School Committee appears to be moving toward firing Superintendent Eric Ely.
Last week, Ely was placed on administrative leave in response to a complaint against him, according to the Southbridge School Committee. Now, the committee has hired an attorney to conduct an investigation.
Such a step is generally required to formulate official reasons for termination, but it’s always possible the investigation could determine there’s no contractual reason to get rid of him. An investigation in Schenectady led to that determination, and the school board eventually decided to pay Ely $144,500 to leave.
The Southbridge School Committee has not said publicly whether it’s considering termination, but announced it will be hiring an interim superintendent. That’s a change from a week ago, when committee members planned to tap someone as acting superintendent until Ely could return.
An interim superintendent generally serves between two superintendents’ tenures, while an acting superintendent simply holds the job until the current superintendent comes back.
School Committee Chairwoman Pat Woodruff also said the district is investigating a second complaint against Ely. That complaint, which was filed by an assistant principal when she abruptly resigned this year, said Ely had trained his new middle/high school principal to be a bully.
But Woodruff said that complaint was filed long before the one that led to Ely’s suspension. The committee has not disclosed any details of the most recent complaint.
“This is a totally separate situation,” she said of the first complaint.
The district is also investigating that complaint, using another private attorney.
Woodruff added that she wants the new investigation to be completed long before the end of the school year.
“We’re hoping it’s quick,” she said.
But she said she thinks Ely has also been a good superintendent.
“I think he’s done a very good job,” she said.
The committee hired attorney Ed Doocey of Quincy, Mass., to conduct the investigation.
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.
He also selected an administrator with no principal experience to run the new middle/high school in its first year. Some residents and committee members criticized both plans.
The proposals narrowly passed the school committee by a vote of 4-3. The three members who voted against it said that Ely’s plans for the new middle/high school went against the promises he made to the public about the project. They were so irate that they called for Ely to be fired and pushed the issue to a vote, which failed by a similar 4-3 count.
Criticism has mounted over the course of the school year, with some committee members saying the inexperienced principal is allowing more violence in the middle/high school. In media reports, the police chief has disputed whether violence has increased.