In 2010, Schenectady schools superintendent left under a cloud; a decade later, so does another

In July 2008, then-Schenectady Faculties Superintendent Eric Ely emailed Steven Raucci, the one-time district amenities supervisor who terrorized different district workers, to provide Raucci a “heads up” he was the goal of a legal investigation.

The e-mail message didn’t emerge publicly till almost two years later, when throughout Raucci’s month-long trial on expenses of terrorism and arson, prosecutors used the emails in outlining a yearslong investigation into Raucci’s conduct.

“Only a heads up on these allegations,” Ely wrote to Raucci, inside minutes relaying a message he obtained from a college lawyer that Raucci confronted a multi-county investigation. “We have to discuss taking a head on method fairly quickly,” the previous superintendent suggested.

The brand new proof raised the warmth on the already embattled superintendent and inside days board members – and shortly after, college board candidates – known as for Ely’s ouster.

“I’m extraordinarily disheartened and really involved concerning the issues being revealed, and I feel it’s time that we begin to look to show across the district,” then-College Board President Maxine Brisport mentioned on March 20, 2010, the day after the troubling testimony emerged. “That will imply making some drastic adjustments at varied ranges of the varsity district.”

By the top of June, Ely was out of the job – albeit with an exit bundle price over $100,000.

The district employed former Shenendehowa Superintendent John Yagielski, who was tasked with a mission to rebuild belief with the neighborhood, stabilize deep funds challenges, take care of points in district insurance policies and handle district enterprise whereas board members may seek for a brand new chief.

Yagielski’s stint lasted two years, however after an in depth seek for a brand new superintendent, the varsity board landed on its new chief: Laurence Spring, who on the time was superintendent of the Cortland Enlarged College District, about 25 miles northeast of Ithaca.

“I feel he’ll deliver a recent new method to the district,” Cathy Lewis, who was the varsity board president on the time and has served on the board all through Spring’s tenure, mentioned of Spring when his hiring was introduced.

On the time, board members, together with Lewis, Ann Reilly and Andy Chestnut, who have been elected within the aftermath of the Ely scandal and have served on the board throughout Spring’s tenure, lauded Spring’s emphasis on analyzing knowledge – each good and dangerous – and his give attention to pupil fairness.

“We ought to be leveling the enjoying subject to provide all youngsters an equal begin,” Spring, now 50, mentioned when his appointment was introduced in February 2012. “If I used to be not preventing that battle, I feel I’d have a tough time sitting nonetheless.”

He took over as superintendent in June 2012, transferring to city along with his spouse and two school-age kids. And after a run of almost eight years main the district – a run that included elevated state funding, improved commencement charges and reward from far corners of the state – Spring abruptly resigned this week in a terse letter that gave no rationalization for his departure, which comes with properly over a yr remaining on his contract. The superintendent appointed because the district emerged from a cloud of scandal resigned underneath a cloud of secrecy and unanswered questions.

The resignation took many locally unexpectedly, coming amid an unprecedented nationwide well being disaster and a troublesome transition to distant studying for college students and lecturers alike. The varsity closures will final till no less than April 15 and doubtlessly far longer, and districts are nonetheless anticipated to develop budgets regardless of uncertainty round a public vote scheduled for Could.

The board met Wednesday, its first digital assembly because the closures took maintain, transferring shortly via an agenda with no clues of what was to drop because the board completed its enterprise. After commencing with a string of fast votes, together with to simply accept the donation of a viola from an nameless Saratoga Springs highschool pupil, Board President John Foley moved to waive the “48-hour rule,” so the board may act on a movement not included within the posted agenda.

The board accredited the movement earlier than they may act on one other: settle for Spring’s resignation. The board then appointed Aaron Bochniak, district director of planning and accountability, as appearing superintendent. 

In a brief interview after the varsity board accepted his resignation letter Wednesday evening, Spring mentioned “for me the timing is true” and that he deliberate to work on his doctoral dissertation. Many individuals mentioned the timing couldn’t be worse. 

Spring has been pursuing a doctorate of schooling at Vanderbilt College since he arrived in Schenectady, in response to a background bio posted on the district web site. An analogous background net web page from his days operating the Cortland college district mentioned he was pursuing the diploma whereas he was there too. Spring earned a bachelor’s diploma in historical past from SUNY Geneseo and a grasp’s diploma in schooling management from the College of Rochester, in response to his bio.

Spring, who as soon as joked he would outlast each present member of the varsity board by the point his tenure main the district ended, resigned with a separation settlement that included vows of secrecy for each he and the varsity board to maintain in perpetuity. These vows embrace guarantees the board and its members wouldn’t disparage Spring and that Spring wouldn’t disparage the district, vows that thus far either side have saved.

The separation settlement between Spring and the varsity board suspends his wage as of March 25 however permits him to make use of up his paid private and trip time via late April, at which level his resignation will likely be closing. The district will nonetheless present his medical insurance via June.

Spring was set to make almost $270,000 in complete compensation this college yr, among the many highest within the Capital Area; his wage this yr of $205,600 was up over 13 % from the $181,200 in wage he made upon his 2012 arrival. 

Board members — all of whom are elected by district taxpayers — have refused to clarify the sudden departure, and a few members didn’t reply to the Gazette’s request for remark following the resignation.

“Something that I do know is a personnel matter,” Board President John Foley mentioned Friday. “The doc speaks for itself,” he mentioned when requested why it was vital to incorporate the non-disparagement clause within the separation settlement.

Steps ahead and steps backward

Spring’s tenure has largely been formed by uneven progress. The district reached its highest commencement price in over a decade final yr, almost reaching 70 % as a district final summer time. However the starting of the varsity yr flashed crimson with warning indicators as knowledge on pupil attendance and habits confirmed main points, particularly at the highschool.

Through the years, Spring has been a number one voice within the area advocating for Schenectady’s “fair proportion” of state funding, making the case that districts that serve low-income college students and college students of shade are disproportionately impacted funding shortfalls underneath the state’s key college funding formulation.

The district has seen among the many largest funding will increase within the area lately, serving to to spend money on new applications and preserve an area tax levy that has been successfully held flat, if not diminished barely, lately.

“Actually historical past reveals that from a monetary perspective a few of the under-funding state of affairs has been improved upon,” board member Andy Chestnut mentioned Thursday. “Though it’s nonetheless fairly severe.”

After years of finishing up funds cuts that resulted from the long-term fallout of the Nice Recession, lately Spring has overseen main investments within the district, specializing in totally different approaches to figuring out and supporting college students. Main new applications have included: diversion that lets college students go for remedy as an alternative of prolonged suspension, a so-called “common schooling continuum” that connects struggling college students with a spectrum of providers much like how particular schooling works and a summer time enrichment program that brings college students to highschool for 10-hour days throughout a part of the summer time months.

“I’m happy with the work we did and I want Schenectady properly, and loads of success going ahead,” Spring mentioned by e mail Friday, responding to a message left on a private mobile phone.

However Spring has had his share of detractors through the years, with dad and mom, lecturers and neighborhood members elevating issues about college security and stability and the efficacy of district communications with households.

Throughout a college assembly in January, college students’ dad and mom and members of the family packed the room to voice issues over college security. A number of dad and mom on the assembly mentioned their youngsters come residence and share accounts of fights regularly, they usually urged the varsity board and district leaders to prioritize pupil security above all others. “We have to cease specializing in different points proper now, as a result of that is probably the most severe challenge,” one mum or dad mentioned of the protection issues.

At a similarly-packed college board assembly in 2017, over 100 lecturers turned as much as air grievances concerning the studying and educating setting in Schenectady faculties. They argued the self-discipline procedures established by directors had fostered a chaotic ambiance, the place college students misbehaved with no penalties and disrespected lecturers. They known as for extra corridor screens and behavioral specialists and choices for college students not assembly the expectations of conventional lessons.

“The present state of affairs is a shame and disservice to the residents of Schenectady, particularly to folks,” one of many lecturers mentioned on the assembly.

After the 2017 assembly, Spring defended insurance policies lecturers had known as into query – like selling college students from one grade to the subsequent regardless of low educational efficiency – and made the case that he agreed with a lot of their issues. The district wanted extra funding to implement extra applications for college students, he mentioned.

All through his tenure, Spring typically defended still-lagging indicators or regression in take a look at scores or commencement charges by pointing to the great challenges Schenectady college students and lecturers face. He argued persistently that the district’s college students wanted extra providers, extra alternatives, extra lecturers and educational specialists – and extra money to assist that work.

“What’s in place is transferring towards addressing these issues,” Spring mentioned following that assembly with the pissed off lecturers. “I don’t suppose it’s sufficient, we want extra.”

Because the district transitioned its management, Bochniak assured district workers that “the objectives, work and route of our district stays the identical” in a message he despatched out on the shut of his first day as appearing superintendent. 

However within the hours instantly following Spring’s departure, some board members appeared stunned by the velocity with which the resignation unfolded and not sure what precisely was to return subsequent. 

“This has all occurred so shortly, we haven’t been in a position to get a plan in place,” board member Katherine Stephens mentioned when reached following Spring’s resignation. “Personally, my head is spinning, every little thing that is happening, so I actually can’t say something about what’s subsequent for the district.” 

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