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Published: 5/19/2010

3 TPS finalists found to have previous issues

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three of the eight semifinalists for Toledo Public Schools superintendent are in the midst of career controversies - including one under scrutiny for his relationship with an administrator convicted last month of setting off pipe bombs at the homes of perceived political and union foes.

A second resigned as superintendent of his Wheaton, Ill., district on March 9, but said an agreement with his former school board prevents him from giving the details to The Blade.

The third sued her school board near Flint, Mich., last fall. She claimed the board wrongfully placed her on administrative leave for disobeying directives. She settled the suit this spring and resigned, according to that district's central office.

The Toledo Board of Education is searching for a new superintendent after John Foley, hired three years ago, declined a one-year extension to his three-year contract. He leaves at the end of July, and the school board is hoping to have a replacement by next month.

The board has scheduled interviews with the eight semifinalists starting Saturday.

The last search for a TPS superintendent was bumpy as negotiations with the district's first choice, William Harner, an administrator from Philadelphia, broke down. The school board said Mr. Harner's requirement that he live outside the district was unacceptable. The yearlong search ended with the board offering the job to Mr. Foley, the interim leader who had served as former superintendent Eugene Sanders' chief of staff.

Yesterday, board President Bob Vasquez said that he and the rest of the board plan to go deeper into the background of the candidates. He said the search firm working for the district was charged with reviewing only resumes and cover letters to identify candidates with suitable qualifications.

He said qualified candidates should always be allowed to explain their backgrounds.

"If I'm out looking for a job, I would want someone to look at me for the things I can control," he said. "We are aware that we have to get into their backgrounds much, much more."

Eric Ely, superintendent of Schenectady City Schools in New York, is one of the semifinalists revealed Monday night after a special board meeting. He was part of a criminal trial in March involving the district's head of facilities, Steven Raucci, who was convicted in early April and not yet sentenced. Mr. Ely did not return a call to The Blade that was left with his assistant at the school district's central office.

During the trial, prosecutors revealed several e-mails between Mr. Ely and Raucci, including one that tipped the now-convicted man off that he was under investigation. He was ultimately convicted for setting off pipe bombs outside homes and intimidating people he dubbed political or union foes. No one was injured.

Mr. Ely told the Albany Times Union newspaper that sending the e-mail was his way of confronting Raucci about the accusations.

In another e-mail between the two that was revealed at the trial, Mr. Ely ridiculed a former school board president and applauded Raucci: "I'm still stuck on the concept of him trying to 'liberalize' you. Can I watch? You stay just the way you are. Between you and me we can keep the bleeding heart liberals at bay for a while," according to an article published in the Times Union after the trial was over.

Mr. Ely told the newspaper after the trial that he and the district were unfairly dragged into the trial and that the few e-mails did not characterize their professional relationship.

Another candidate, Richard Drury, a former superintendent in the Wheaton, Ill.-area, resigned March 9 after nearly three years on the job. He returned a call to The Blade, saying that an agreement with his former school board prevented him from revealing details of his resignation. He said it did relate to a $13 million budget deficit and how he planned to close it.

He said he was a fiscal conservative and would be well-suited for the Toledo job, which will involve stretching the district's education dollars.

He said he grew up in the Detroit area and that his mother was from Sylvania. He said he has multiple uncles and cousins in the Toledo area.

Another candidate, Deborah Hunter-Harvill, sued the Westwood Heights Board of Education near Flint, Mich., last fall. The parties settled this month.

As part of the settlement, she resigned, according to the district's central office, contacted by The Blade yesterday.

She and a school board member butted heads over her disciplining a principal for having a poker night fund-raiser at his school, according to published reports. She could not be reached yesterday.

TPS chose eight semifinalists Monday night to interview for the top job. But in its news release late Monday, TPS misstated several of the candidates' home districts and their job titles. Here is the updated list of the other five semifinalists with corrected information:

•Keith Bell, the brother of Mayor Mike Bell. Mr. Bell was promoted two years ago to director of secondary academic affairs for Westerville City Schools, near Columbus. In his job, he manages the system's middle and high school principals and oversees the development of curriculum and testing for the 14,600-student district, which is the 12th largest in the state.

•Yvonne Bullock, superintendent of the Meridian Community Unified School District, Mounds, Ill.

•Jerome Pecko, former superintendent with Springfield Local Schools in the Akron area.

•Walter Calinger, superintendent of the Woodland Hills School District in Pittsburgh.

•Deborah Piotrowski, superintendent at Millcreek-West Unity Local School District in Williams County.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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