Billings School District 2 trustees asked their tough questions of two of the four finalists in the search for a new district superintendent Monday night.

Trustees first spoke via video with Eric Ely, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District in Schenectady, N.Y., who is battling controversy back home as his past facilities manager is on trial for arson, terrorism and vandalism charges.

“Before this controversy occurred, there was never any question of my integrity,” Ely told the board.

Ely reiterated that the facilities manager, Steven Raucci, had worked under seven superintendents before Ely took over the district and pointed out that some of the allegations against Raucci occurred before Ely had joined the district.

Ely was most recently accused in testimony at Raucci’s trial of tipping off Raucci to the police investigation surrounding him.

Ely said he confronted Raucci each time an accusation came up and each time got the same response.

“He denied any wrongdoing,” Ely said.

Trustee Mary Jo Fox posed the most pointed questions, asking Ely about specific individuals and instances that suggested Ely knew of some of the problems surrounding Raucci but chose to look the other way.

Each time, Ely simply told his version of events and said he worked with Raucci as best he could.

Trustee Joyce Weber asked if this controversy would be a distraction for Ely if he were to take over SD2 and wondered how he would curry favor with a public that didn’t seem to trust him from the outset.

“Right now, my biggest concentration is running my school district,” he said.

That same focus and dedication would be brought to Billings, he said.

Ely also answered questions about his approach to strategic planning and leading versus managing a district.

“You can’t lead if you can’t manage,” he said.

Many of the questions directed at Scott Rogers, superintendent of the Minidoka County School District in Rupert, Idaho, revolved around his ability to successfully jump from a 4,000-student school district to one with 15,000 students.

Rogers said that he successfully jumped from a district of 500 students to his current district of 4,000 students and pointed to the various improvements in student achievement and labor relations that resulted from his leadership.

He said he believed his move to SD2 would be “as smooth as the last time I jumped.”

Asked specifically about how he would lead a district facing enormous budget shortfalls — SD2 is projecting a $6 million shortfall by 2013 — Rogers spoke about the importance of avoiding multi-year labor contracts.

“There has to be some changes in contract language,” he said.

He also talked about performance pay for teachers and administrators and finding ways to reward and foster quality teachers and principals.

“Make tenure a goal, not a default,” he said.

Regardless of how people feel about merit pay for teachers, Rogers said that the idea is becoming more popular and that, at some point, “we’re all going to have to grapple with that.”

Trustees will meet again at 5:30 p.m. today to interview by video Keith Beeman, assistant superintendent of human resources for Chino Valley Unified School District in Southern California, and Keith Meyer, assistant superintendent of Helena Public Schools.

Contact Rob Rogers at or 657-1231.

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