Superintendent finalist Ely gets named at New York trial

Prospective SD2 superintendent says he dealt with issue
2010-03-11T23:26:00Z Superintendent finalist Ely gets named at New York trialROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
March 11, 2010 11:26 pm  • 

The name of the Billings School District 2 superintendent candidate from Schenectady, N.Y., came up in a criminal trial this week when a retired principal testified that the superintendent ignored complaints about a district official.

Superintendent Eric Ely, who is one of the four top picks for the SD2 position, downplayed the claims.

“I immediately addressed” the complaint, Ely said by phone Thursday.

Ely, who is also a candidate for superintendent in Erie, Pa., and Arlington, Mass., has worked to distance himself from Steven Raucci, the former Schenectady Schools facilities manager on trial for suspicion of arson, vandalism and weapons possession. Raucci is charged with leaving pipe bombs at the home of coworkers in an effort to intimidate them.

Testifying at Raucci’s trial earlier this week, the retired principal, Alan Zemser, said he had copied Ely and other district staffers on e-mails he had written to Raucci, the Albany Times Union reported.

The e-mails complained that a custodian from Zemser’s school had been ordered by Raucci to pass out campaign fliers the day before school board elections in 2006. Raucci reportedly blew off the complaints, saying they didn’t matter, and that district administrators, including Ely, were on his side.

Ely said he had gotten the e-mail and immediately talked to Raucci about the complaints. According to district records, the custodian wasn’t on the clock the day before the school board elections, Ely said.

“He had taken personal leave that day,” Ely said.

As far as being on Raucci’s side, Ely said he and the facilities manager had a fairly straightforward relationship.

“When I had an issue with Steve Raucci, I went straight to Steve Raucci,” Ely said. “When he had issue with me, he went straight to me.”

Ely said the two had disagreements from time to time.

“I basically told him a couple of times there was only one superintendent and that was me,” Ely said.

On Wednesday, Ely registered as a commenter on BillingsGazette.com and defended himself against comments made regarding his tenure in Schenectady.

“I’ve never blogged before,” he said of his online comments. “I just felt like I needed to respond. I would like a fair shot.”

Peter Gesuale, one of the SD2 trustees who listed Ely as a first pick, said he was a little conflicted that Ely had chosen to go online to confront his detractors.

However, Gesuale said, “He has every right to do it.”

Trustee Mary Jo Fox agreed.

“It certainly (is) in his legal right,” she said.

But, she added, “I don’t know that it bodes well for his rapport with this community.”

Gesuale still believes Ely has the skills Billings needs in a superintendent. “That doesn’t mean I’m not free of any questions about him,” he said.

Fox said Ely should be cut loose as a candidate for the job.

“We could shorten this process if he were eliminated,” she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

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