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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 9, 2005
Should library’s books be labeled"
Nicole Fay Barr
GUILDERLAND John Daly says its his obligation, as an elected trustee of the Guilderland Public Library, to warn parents about the books their teenagers are reading.
At a library board meeting tonight, Daly will propose labeling young-adult books which he feels have sexually-explicit content with orange, "PG Rec" (Parental Guidance Recommended) stickers. Books determined to be free of sexually-explicit material would be marked with green stickers.
Taxpaying residents are counting on him to alert them to racy books their teenage children may be reading, he said.
"We’re responsible for the quality and character of the books on the shelves," Daly said. "My proposed amendment is timely because our trustees are reviewing the policies."
The librarys director, Barbara Nichols Randall, however, is opposed to labeling books. She told The Enterprise it is the librarys duty, personal opinions aside, to make all kinds of material available to the public. A labeling system, she also said, may turn teenagers away from the library.
Matthew Goland-Van Ryn, a high school student who is a non-voting member of the library board, said parents should be accountable for what their children are doing. If the parents dont agree with these kinds of books, they should stop their children from reading them.
"It’s not the librarian’s responsibility to police what children read," he said. He plans on speaking at tonight’s meeting against the policy.
Daly got the idea for the labeling policy in February, after he read an article on young-adult literature in The New York Times by Dinitia Smith.
The article, a feature on award-winning writer Francesca Lia Block, describes the edgy material in her books.
"She took up subjects like homosexuality and out-of-wedlock sex and presented them in a non-judgmental way," Smith quotes a public-school librarian.
What Daly got from the Times article is that authors who write for the young-adult genre, ages 12 to 16, are writing material more sexually-advanced than the people reading it, he said.
"The article said this isn’t the type of material you’d expect on the shelves of the library," Daly said.
He then decided to see what kinds of books the Guilderland library has on its shelves. He read eight or nine young-adult books and found two "with sexually-explicit material," he said.
Daly gave The Enterprise photocopies of a few pages of the books Forever by Judy Blume and The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block that he felt were sexually explicit.
In the first excerpt, Page 74 of Forever, the author describes a teenage couple having sex for the first time, followed by the pair promising they will love each other forever.
In another scene, on Page 97, it says, "We both left on our underpants but after a minute Michael was easing mine down and then his fingers began exploring me. I let my hands wander across his stomach and down his legs and finally I began to stroke Ralph....
"We covered up with the patchwork quilt and rested. Michael fell asleep for a while and I watched him, thinking the better you know a person the more you can love him...."
The excerpts Daly selected from The Hanged Man, many which include drug use, are of random sexual encounters the main character has several times with men and once with a woman.
On Page 116, it says, "Jack is standing above us and he pulls on Claudia’s curls so her head falls back. I see his legs straining and his erection. He leans down and kisses Claudia’s lipsticky mouth. She seems to soften under him, to kind of wilt like roses in the heat. I stand, thinking about each breath; I want the night outside the window, far away in the hills, I want to live in the leaves."
It shocked Daly that these passages were available to teenagers, he said.
"There’s descriptions of sexual intercourse, oral sex...masturbation, and other contact with genitalia," Daly said of the two books. He is now proposing that this type of content be labeled.
"....I say the library has an obligation to help parents be aware of books that have sexually-explicit material and decide for themselves," if they want their teenagers to read the books, he said.
"We fund the purchase of the books with taxpayers’ money," Daly said. "We set the policies; the trustees are elected by the people. We’re entrusted and we have an obligation to alert parents."
"We’ve used the same material-selection policy since 1988," Nichols Randall told The Enterprise. "I believe it’s worked."
Parents have never complained about the librarys young-adult collection, she said.
"As librarians, it’s part of our ethical code or professional code of conduct to provide materials of all kinds for the community," Nichols Randall said. "We try to purchase things that are on all sides of an issue."
She declined to comment on specific books or answer questions about how appropriate it is for teenagers to read them.
"My personal opinion has nothing to do with my job as a librarian," she said. "Under the code of ethics, personal opinions are not to be brought into the workplace....
"I think we have the best library in the Capital District and we strive to provide materials for all of the community," Nichols Randall said. "We have tried to increase participation in the library with teenage patrons and we have been successful in doing so. I’d hate to see use go backwards."
Goland-Van Ryn, a 17-year-old who petitioned to run for the library board last year but wasnt old enough, was made a non-voting member of the board; he disagrees with Dalys proposal.
"I understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t agree with it," said Goland-Van Ryn.
The labeling system will draw more attention to books with sexual content, he said, making them easy to find for teenagers seeking these kinds of books.
"That’s against what he’s trying to accomplish," Goland-Van Ryn said of Daly.
He went on that its up to the parents to monitor what their teenager is reading. He said his parents ask him what he is reading and, at times, review the books themselves.
"That’s not the librarian’s responsibility," he said.
Most teenagers know about sex, Goland-Van Ryn said. Those who dont, he said, arent going to the library to find out about it.
Teenagers who dont want to read books with labels, he said, will drive 15 minutes to the Bethlehem library and take out the same books.
"So, the policy will be very ineffective," he said.
The library has policies for the type of books it selects and staff members then decide which books to purchase.
Books are chosen based on the librarys guidelines. For example, they must appear in the catalogue of the Upper Hudson Library Association, a not-for-profit organization that works with libraries in Albany and Rensselaer counties.
Employees of the Guilderland library read at least four reviews of books they are considering, Daly said. But, he said, the reviews do not usually indicate sexually-explicit material.
At first, his proposal suggested that employees of the library label each young-adult book, either with a green or orange sticker. On Monday, Daly came to the Enterprise office with a revision to his proposal. Now it says that each library employee shall evaluate only five percent of the newly-acquired young-adult books.
"This is to minimize the workload we’re putting on the staff and to make the proposal more acceptable to board members," Daly said. Each year, he said, the library gets about 1,500 new young-adult books.
In a letter dated May 2, Daly wrote of his original proposal to library trustees and to a committee that is reviewing the librarys policies. A special meeting was held by this committee and Daly had hoped it would adopt his changes.
But, the committee unanimously decided that it would not recommend Dalys proposal to the librarys board of trustees, said board president Robert Ganz.
Daly is now independently bringing the proposal to the board of trustees. At the committees meeting, however, seven trustees of the 11-member board were present, Daly said. (The board currently has 10 members, but six are still needed for a majority vote.)
Of the group, five spoke of their concern about these two books, he said, and the other two remained silent.
"One said, ‘I wouldn’t buy this for my kid,’" Daly reported. "Another said, ‘How did this book get on the shelf"’ And, another said, ‘This stuff is filthy.’"
Asked about this, Ganz said that he recalled some trustees commenting that they wouldnt choose to read these books or they werent aware that young-adult books contained this much sexual material.
But, Ganz said, the trustees agreed that their personal opinions about certain books has nothing to do with a labeling system.
"There were trustees there that expressed, although they would not choose to read the books, they wouldn’t put value judgments on pieces of literature," Ganz said.
Daly is upset, he said, that the committee members didn’t take action against the books. "The proposal I’m offering is gentle," Daly said. "I’m only rocking the boat a little bit....There’s no banning of books, no censorship."
At the library boards meeting tonight (Thursday), at 7:30, the board of trustees will vote on Dalys proposal. In a letter to the trustees, Ganz outlined special rules for the meeting.
Ganz wrote that, because of press coverage, he expects 100 people to attend the meeting.
"In order to make our debate an experience that we can all be proud of, reflect the best values of citizen government (and to conclude at a reasonable hour)," he wrote, trustees will have less time to have discussions and present reports.
The first 30 people at the meeting can sign a sheet indicating they want to speak, Ganz wrote. They will be allowed three minutes each.
Daly said this week that he feared those opposing his policy are "mobilizing the community" and they will take up most of the meeting speaking against it.
"I don’t see anything in the proposed rules or special procedures that are in any way favoring one side of the issue or another," Ganz told The Enterprise in response. The rules wouldnt be in place, he said, unless the majority of trustees agreed with them.
Ganz also said that trustees have had the opportunity to discuss the proposal at length at the committee meetings. If tonights meeting were not structured, he said, arguments would go back and forth all night.
Guilderlands curling secret is
Nicole Fay Barr
GUILDERLAND Melvin Abelseths favorite time of year is winter. Its then that he feels a camaraderie with friends who share his passion curling.
"It’s a very gentlemanly sport," said Abelseth of the Scottish game in which two teams of four slide heavy stones over an ice sheet towards the center of a circle. "It’s one of the only games where people shake hands before they get on the ice and, in most cases, when they’re done."
Hes been a member of the Albany Curling Club for 35 years; the club, on McKown Road, is one of the best-kept secrets in Guilderland, he said.
Last Wednesday, the curling club asked the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance to build an addition to its clubhouse, for storage and viewing. The club, which now has two sheets of ice for play, is also asking for a variance for two more sheets of ice.
"We’re bursting at the seams," Abelseth said. This is because, with curling’s increasing popularity it’s now an Olympic sport more and more locals are joining the club.
"It’s a major world sport," he said.
The Albany Curling Club, about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, started in 1955 with 16 members.
Abelseth, who grew up in Saskatchewan, began curling over 60 years ago, when he was in high school. Curling is a popular sport in Canada, he said.
"Every little town there has a curling rink," he said.
In 1970, Abelseth moved from Toronto to Voorheesville, to take a job with the Department of Health.
As soon as he moved here, he said, he and his wife made friends with residents who were in the Albany Curling Club. "That’s how most people join the club," he said.
"We have considerable membership and, with the Olympics, there’s a growing interest in curling," Abelseth said. The club now has 150 members.
Curling clubs are more popular in mid-western states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, Abelseth said. In the Northeast, there are only 35 clubs.
Albany Curling Club members play from the beginning of October until the end of March. The rest of the year, Abelseth said, its too expensive to maintain the ice. The ice is put in the rinks by a sprinkler system, he said.
A curling rink has rings, resembling a bulls eye, on each end. Four players are on a team and they stand on alternating sides of the rink.
Curlers do not wear skates; that would ruin the ice, Abelseth said. Wearing special shoes "one has a gripper and the other has a Teflon sole" a curler places one foot in a hole in the ice, he said.
The players then shove "rocks" flat, oblate stones with handles 140 feet across the ice, toward the rings. Those who come closest to the center ring, score. Opponents can knock others’ rocks out of the ring, however.
The rocks weigh 43 pounds and are made of solid granite. They are manufactured only in Scotland and are ground in a special way for sliding on the ice.
The rocks are slid by hand. But, Abelseth said, "now we’re getting into stick curlers, for people who have knee problems or arthritis."
Games usually last two hours, he said. Outside the rink, in what’s called the "warm room," curlers watch others play or "shoot the breeze," he said.
"It’s a technical sport," Abelseth said. "The better you are, the more chances you have at beating your opponent."
Need to expand
"We started out with two sheets of ice and that’s what we still have," Abelseth said.
It is the only club of its kind in Albany County. Another club in Schenectady has four sheets, he said. Most curling clubs have more than two sheets of ice, he said.
With eight players per game, members of the club sometimes have to wait long periods of time before getting on the ice, he said. Leagues that start at 6 p.m. often go until after midnight, Abelseth said.
"That’s not good," he said. "People have to work."
Monday and Wednesday nights, the clubs mens league curls from 6 p.m. to midnight, he said. Tuesdays, the womens league curls and Thursdays, members of both genders compete.
Other days, the club’s junior members and children from schools and Scout troops play. The club also has "Little Rockers," a program where children as young as five are taught to curl. They use a lightweight, plastic rock.
The club has limited its membership, Abelseth said, although many want to join.
The Albany Curling Club also has tournaments, called bonspiels. Teams from other towns, as far away as Canada, come to Guilderland to compete for trophies.
When the club applied for its zoning variance, members left phamplets about the club at the homes of neighboring residents. The club owns four-and-a-half acres on McKown Road, near Schoolhouse Road.
"Six or eight people came to see what we do," Abelseth said. "They had no idea what goes on in that gray building."
The addition would be 5,100 square feet and would match the existing building, with a pitched roof. Last Wednesday, the zoning board decided to table the discussion.
"We really hope to get the variance," Abelseth told The Enterprise this week. "We feel we’re good neighbors. We try not to harass anybody."
If the club gets the okay to expand, it first must find a contractor and get cost estimates, he said. Abelseth hopes construction will begin in a year or two.
Waiting for state funds
Park, pool, and battlefield site
Nicole Fay Barr
GUILDERLAND Its springtime, and the town boards fancy has turned to parks.
Tuesday, the board decided to apply for grants to build a small park in McKownville, to improve the pool area at Tawasentha Park, and to preserve the site of the Battle of the Normanskill.
The grants would come from the states Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
The site of the proposed "McKownville Reservoir Park" is near T.G.I. Friday’s at Stuyvesant Plaza. Owned by the town, the land for the park will surround a body of water that, 40 years ago, was a reservoir.
If the town is awarded the $97,450 grant, it will add fountains, a foot trail, a gazebo, picnic tables, and a foot bridge over the Krumkill River, said Donald Csaposs, the towns grant writer and development director.
"It’s a potentially nice resting area for the residents and the people who work at Stuyvesant Plaza," he said.
But, Csaposs told The Enterprise, the town isnt doing this for the plaza. The McKownville Improvement Association has been requesting the town build a park here for a while, he said.
At the end of Tuesdays town board meeting, association President Don Reeb thanked the town for applying for the grant.
If the town is awarded a grant for its pool at Tawasentha Park, almost everything above water will be improved, Csaposs said. The pools changing and rest-room facilities and the pool apron need to be reconstructed, he said.
The pool house was built cheaply 40 years ago, he said.
"The floor is settling to one side and cracking," Csaposs said. "....It’s not a good situation in terms of functional use of space."
The pool grant is for $293,000, which the town would have to match, he said.
The Battle of the Normanskill site, on Route 146, is privately owned. The town has been interested in it for 15 years, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said.
"It is a piece that would be added to the Tawasentha Park land," he said.
The $105,500 grant, which the town would also match, will be used to pay for the land, Csaposs said.
"The town will add it to its park system," he said. "It won’t be used for anything active."
People can use the land in the winter for sledding or in the summer for running, but there will be nothing built on the land, Csaposs said.
"A long lost battle of the Revolution," occurred on the site, former town historian, the late Arthur B. Gregg, wrote in his book, Old Hellebergh, Scenes from Early Guilderland.
Schenectady militia and 40 Rhode Island troops, on their way to Schoharie, had an unsuccessful battle against the British there, Gregg wrote.
"There is an interesting tradition that those Tories who were captured in the barn where hidden under the hay, but that several forceful bayonet jabs in the mow brought forth bitter howls of pain and a quick surrender," Gregg wrote.
The town wont be notified that it has been awarded the grants until late in the fiscal year, probably next February or March, Csaposs said.
"We believe all of these projects are worthy of consideration by the state or we wouldn’t bother to file the grant applications," he said.
In other business, the board:
Heard from Jim Donovan, of Wilbur Smith Associates, about a study the Guilderland Pathways Committee did on the need for sidewalks and bike paths in Guilderland. Through a grant, Donovan was hired by the town to analyze the volunteer groups study.
He told the board he supported the study and made minor suggestions on how to improve it;
Accepted a dedication from Abode Blue Chip, LLC of over an acre of land, at Mill Hill, that includes the Guilderland Ballet barn.
The non-profit dance school has been at Mill Hill off Route 155 for over a decade. For years, the school paid developer and former landowner Armand Quadrini $1 per year to lease the land and the town paid its heating bills. In 2003, Mill Hill was foreclosed and auctioned off due to what Quadrini called "unforeseen conditions."
Jane DeRook, director of the ballet, worried about its future and asked the town to bid for the land, but it did not. Abode Blue Chip LLC bought the land at the auction and the new owner told DeRook he was willing to negotiate, letting the ballet stay on the land. Tuesday, it was announced that the company is donating the land to the town.
"We’ve all realized what a significant part of the community the ballet is," said Will Powers, of Abode Blue Chip;
Authorized the retention of CBIZ Valuation Group and the purchase of software for the town to comply to the state comptrollers requirements based on Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) recommendations;
Authorized allowing Delaware Engineering to review projects to loop dead-end water lines in western Guilderland and Guilderland Center.
Looping these water lines will improve water quality for the whole system and save money, Runion said, because the water will be less polluted and not need as much chemical treatment;
Changed its bid for a ton of chlorine gas from Slack Chemical to JCI Jones. The original low bidder, Slack Chemical, was not able to deliver the gas in a safe manner, Runion said. JCI Jones, the next lowest bidder, will be paid only 10 cents more, he said;
Waived a building-permit fee for a pavilion at St. Madeleine Sophie church;
Accepted sewer and water infrastructure for the Aliberti subdivision;
Approved a water warrant adjustment for 6412 Zorn Road because the house there was converted from a two-family home to a one-family home;
Authorized the supervisor to sign a collectors warrant for the Guilderland Water District, for May 1 to Oct. 31; and
Announced that the Elks Flag Day parade is this Saturday, at noon, starting at Lynnwood Elementary School.
Dems name slate
Nicole Fay Barr
GUILDERLAND Monday night, the towns Democratic committee unanimously nominated candidates for this years town election. Four incumbents and two newcomers got the partys nod.
Incumbent Supervisor Kenneth Runion, Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, Receiver of Taxes Jean Cataldo, and Town Clerk Rosemary Centi will all run for re-election on the Democratic ticket.
Paul Pastore, the towns planning board attorney, was nominated to run for the other town board seat. Incumbent Bruce Sherwin told The Enterprise last month that he wanted to run again, but he felt he wouldnt get the partys nomination because of his independent thinking.
The Democrats also nominated Denise Randall, assistant town attorney, to challenge the incumbent Republican judge, Steven J. Simon.
The Republican committee announced in May that Simon would run, along with town board candidates Mike Donegan and Ed Glenning.
The GOP has yet to name candidates for supervisor, town clerk, or receiver of taxes. The partys chairman said earlier that a supervisor candidate will be named by June 11.
Board digs deeper into gravel mine proposal
Nicole Fay Barr
GUILDERLAND Plans for a gravel mine on Becker Road are progressing. The towns zoning board last Wednesday heard a town-designated engineers analysis of the proposal and continued the discussion for more questions to be answered.
The 10-acre property, on Becker Road near Route 158, is owned by Charles Desch. He first appeared before the zoning board in April of 2003, asking for a special-use permit to mine gravel on a 4.8-acre area of the property located on a plateau above Becker Road.
Desch plans to mine gravel for at least three years, his project manager, John DeMis, said earlier, and the gravel would be sold for construction projects along routes 146 and 155.
DeMis told the zoning board last Wednesday that he addressed all of the town-designated engineers concerns. He created a profile of the proposed mine and did a traffic analysis, he said.
R. Mark Dempf, the town-designated engineer from Vollmer Associates, told the board that the main traffic problem with the plan is sight distance. Drivers usually go faster than the speed limit on Becker Road and Route 158, Dempf said, and it would be difficult for the drivers of trucks leaving the mine from the proposed exit to be seen by oncoming cars.
DeMis said the mine will usually have five trucks entering and leaving per hour and, at maximum, will have 20 trucks per hour. Dempf pointed out that this is 20 trucks leaving and entering, so its really 40 trips in and out of the site per hour.
More questions were also raised about noise, dust and pollution from the mine, and the towns weight limit on Becker Road.
At a public hearing in December, Susan Green, of Route 158, said she worried about the amount of traffic that a gravel mine would generate. Green said she sat near the intersection of Becker Road and Route 158 from 7:15 to 8:20 a.m. and counted cars. Almost 300 cars drove by in that amount of time, she said, not including eight school buses.
Green had concerns about added gravel trucks and the increased likelihood of accidents, she said.
Last Wednesday, Green said she counted 147 cars in the parking lot of nearby Orchard Creek Golf Course.
"This used to be a country road, but now it’s a minor thoroughfare," she said.
The board tabled the discussion so that more engineering questions could be answered.
In other business, the board:
Continued Sunburst Associations request for a special-use permit to add two tanning beds in the basement of the business and for a parking variance, to excuse the business from having four additional spaces that are needed with the two beds.
Owners of neighboring stores, near the tanning salon at 1726 Western Ave., raised concerns about parking. They said tanning customers already use their parking spaces. Michael Vilardi, who owns the business, repeatedly said that he cant control where people park; most people are lazy, he said.
The zoning board also had questions about safety; customers who use the two tanning beds in the basement may have trouble getting out of the building in case of a fire.
The board then tabled the application so Vilardi can talk to neighbors about parking and to address the buildings exit plans;
Granted a special-use permit to Verizon Wireless, for "the collocation of telecommunications antennas and their supporting accessory equipment" on the roof of a 10-story office building, at Stuyvesant Plaza.
Barton and Loguidice, the town-designated engineer, approved the proposal. Verizon will now be the fifth company to have an antenna on the building; there is a five-antenna limit;
Granted a variance to Edward Goosmann, of 1 Tower St., to have four pet dogs. The zoning code does not allow Guilderland residents to have more than three dogs, in order to keep kennels out of residential neighbors.
Three neighbors of Goosmann wrote letters in favor of his request, saying his dogs are the quietest in the neighborhood. Chairman Bryan Clenahan pointed out that Goosmanns newborn baby, who laid quietly in a cradle for almost two hours at the meeting, was equally as well behaved.
The board also allowed Goosmanns variance because, members said, he rescued the dogs from abusive homes;
Granted a variance to Jeffrey Quinn, of 3240 Lydius St., for the construction of a two-car garage in a front yard on a corner lot. Quinns garage will face Lone Pine Road;
Continued an application of Renaissance Floral, of 1561 Western Ave., to amend its special-use permit to display garden statues and products outside.
As did the planning board, the zoning board discussed emergency-vehicle safety, with many of the products near the entrance to the business and in its parking lot. Board members also said that the business looks cluttered and, when owner David Schmidt obtained his special-use permit, he did not specify this type of use.
Schmidt admitted the property looked cluttered and said he was working on it. The board continued his proposal, saying that more than an amendment to the special-use permit may be required; and
Granted a special-use permit to Besco Metals, of Depot Road, to use a portion of its rear yard for storing equipment and materials. A representative of the company said that the items would be shielded from neighbors views with a fence.
Teachers pensions pondered
GUILDERLAND Should the state change the rules for teachers’ pensions"
Guilderland School Board member Richard Weisz thinks it should. Hed like the board to push for a change in state legislation that would authorize school districts to offer 401(k) plans or to come up with a new set of rules for the Teachers Retirement System.
Weisz told the other school board members at their meeting Tuesday night that, since Guilderland’s salaries for teachers are average for the state, "In a way, we’re subsidizing districts that pay more."
Secondly, Weisz said, as costs increase for things like energy and health insurance, "We’re being forced into a corner where the only way we can cut money is to cut staff."
The less the state mandates, said Weisz, the more flexibility districts have.
"All of the major industries with dedicated benefit plans are crashing," he said. "Sooner or later, it will come to us."
Weisz also said, "I think we can do as well if not better for our teachers...as well as save money for our taxpayers."
Chris Claus, president of the teachers union at Guilderland, told The Enterprise after Tuesdays meeting that he is not yet well versed enough on the 401(k) plan to offer a knowledgeable comparison with the current Teachers Retirement System.
He is, however, very knowledgeable about the current pension system and explained it in detail, and then went on to raise some concerns about switching.
The Teachers Retirement System has gone through four phases, called tiers. One part of Weiszs two-pronged proposal is to consider a fifth tier, which would require state legislation and would usher in a new era.
The first tier, Claus said, existed until 1973. The teachers themselves made no contribution and they were permitted a full pension after 20 years of teaching.
In the second tier, there were still no teacher contributions but 30 years of teaching were required for a full pension.
Claus used himself as an example. He began teaching in 1974, earning $10,000 a year.
"Let’s say the amount school districts were assessed was 5 percent. The school would then pay $500 to the Teachers’ Retirement system," for his pension, Claus said. "I contributed nothing."
In the third tier, teachers were required to contribute to the retirement system and 30 years remained the minimum service for full pension; a Social Security reduction of pension was also involved.
In the fourth tier, currently in use, teachers contribute as they did in the third tier, and 30 years remains the minimum for full pension but the Social Security reduction has been eliminated.
In general, Claus said, a teacher can collect a pension at the age of 55, and the pension continues until death.
Asked what the pension pays, Claus gave this equation: "Roughly speaking, a teacher’s pension equals the number of years in teaching, times 2 percent of the average of your highest three years of salaries. So, if you have 30 years of teaching, times 2 percent, that equals 60 percent. You take 60 percent of your highest three-year average."
Asked what he thought of Weisz’s assertion that, eventually, school districts will be faced with the same dilemma private industry is now facing, not making good on promised pensions, Claus said, "It’s hard to ignore the news. Dedicated pension funds are crashing."
But he drew an important distinction between private companies and the Teachers Retirement System.
"Private companies can borrow against their pension funds and that weakens them," said Claus. "The Teachers’ Retirement System is completely protected from any kind of raiding or liens. It’s more secure."
He went on, "The 401(k) plan is an investment account and it can make a lot of money or it may not make as much...With the 401(k), employees and employers may both contribute. If there were a 401(k) for school districts, we’d want the school district to contribute.
"The only way I think a scheme like this would save a school district money is if contributed less than now."
Currently, Claus said, teachers contribute 3 percent of their salary but for less than 10 years while school districts contribute for the duration of a teachers career.
Over the years, the required donations from school districts, Claus said, have ranged from over 20 percent to as low as three-tenths of a percent. "It has everything to do with the stock market," he said. "The problem is, school districts can’t decide, ‘We’ll always contribute 3 percent.’"
Claus said changing legislation to allow school districts to bank the money, so they could better plan their annual budgets, shielded from fluctuation, would make sense.
Referring to Weisz’s proposal, Claus said, "I appreciate Dick is looking out for the school district. I don’t know if this is the way to do it; maybe it is."
He also said, "Teachers are teachers; we’re not investors." He indicated that the system in place now ensures teachers will have a reliable income until death; while a 401(k) plan allows a person to "accumulate large sums of money without tax liability," Claus said, "there’s no guarantee at the end."
Claus said this is not an issue where his union will be able to move quickly. He said he himself would be speaking the next day to an investment banker and would also consult with experts at the State Retirement System and the New York State United Teachers, of which the GTA is an affiliate.
NYSUT, Claus said, has taken "a definite position on the privatization of Social Security: They are opposing it."
He concluded, "I would infer from that any similar idea that acts like privatization of the Teachers’ Retirement System would probably not get a very favorable response from NYSUT."
Weisz told the other board members on Tuesday night that he had spoken to the New York State School Boards Association which, in an annual fall conference, decides on resolutions it will lobby for.
Board President William Brinkman said that the association has a June 15 deadline for submitting resolution proposals.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for June 21. Board member David Picker said the boards procedure is not to vote on an item at the same meeting in which it is proposed. He recommended either proposing a resolution from the floor at the associations fall convention or waiting until next year.
"Everything we do in this district is done in a collaborative way," said Picker, indicating the teachers’ union should be consulted and the board should not proceed without the "support and equal enthusiasm of the teachers."
In a straw vote, five of the nine school board members Gene Danese, Barbara Fraterrigo, Thomas Nachod, Colleen OConnell, and Weisz indicated they would like to call a special meeting in order to meet the June 15 association deadline.
Fraterrigo said she liked Weiszs idea and it would benefit the teachers; she pointed out another time the board had acted on an issue at the same meeting in which it was proposed, calling that a precedent.
Superintendent Gregory Aidala said that, while it would be possible to send a proposal for a resolution to school board members over the weekend, with a meeting scheduled for Monday morning, "It’s a very rushed schedule."
President Brinkman said it would probably be without the Guilderland Teachers Association.
"It’s a bad idea to rush it," said board member John Dornbush. "I don’t think it’s fair to the GTA."
Danese said he, too, would like to use "the collaborative approach" and that a resolution could be developed before the association’s convention in October.
Board member Linda Bakst suggested the board vote at its next regularly-scheduled meeting, June 21, to form a committee to look at the issue.
Brinkman suggested that it will be a collaborative committee that will work with the teachers union.
"You don’t always get these brainstorms in a timely fashion," he said.
Weisz accepted the idea of a committee. "I just want to get the ball rolling," he said.
David Ernst, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, confirmed for The Enterprise yesterday that the June 15 deadline for resolutions is firm. Although a resolution can be proposed during the convention, from the floor, it is difficult procedurally, he said, requiring a two-thirds vote from the delegates.
Ernst said that currently the state legislature has no bills similar to Weiszs proposal so the association has taken no formal position.
Generally speaking, he said, the association would favor a plan that would save public employers pension benefits.
Since the stock market faltered after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ernst said, employer contributions to pension funds have gone up.
"Ever since the eighties," he said, "pension reform has all been in one direction and it ain’t downward."
On a dark night, two views of vandals crime
GUILDERLAND Four Guilderland High School students, three of them wielding baseball bats, were arrested Monday after police say they were trying to burglarize the new house at Farnsworth Middle School.
One of the teens, though, says he had no intention of burglarizing the school and he wishes the police officer who followed them Monday night had stopped them before they got to the school; each now faces a felony charge.
The four teens, all males, police say, damaged a scoreboard and a window screen in Seneca House, part of an ongoing $20 million expansion project at the school on Route 155.
Donald Maccallum, 16, of Wilson Court in Guilderland, and Michael Futia, 19, of Christopher Lane in Altamont, were arrested along with two 15-year-olds whose names are being withheld by police because of their ages.
All four were charged with third-degree attempted burglary, a felony, and with fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.
David Romano, an investigator with the Guilderland Police Department, described the way events unfolded Monday night.
At about 9 p.m., Romano was patrolling in a nearby area for criminal activity, he said. "They left where I was watching and walked towards the school," he said. "Three of the four were carrying baseball bats; they did damage as they walked to the school."
Why were they damaging property" "That’s a good question," said Romano. "I have no idea."
Asked what they were damaging, Romano replied, "It was dark; I couldn’t see but I could hear things being broken."
Romano had called for backup but was alone, following the four on foot, he said. "I was keeping my distance; I didn’t want to spook them," he said.
The foursome stayed away from the lit area of the building, where custodians were working in the school, Romano said.
"They went to a window and cut open a screen," he said. "They tried to get in the window, but it was locked."
Then, Romano said, the four boys began stacking things, like garbage cans, in order to climb onto the roof.
"That could have been a disaster," he said, indicating that one of them could have fallen off the roof in the dark. He also said the teens would have been hard to confront or contain on the roof.
So, even though the backup police Romano had called had not yet arrived, he decided to make his move and confront the boys.
"I made a judgment call...At first it looked like they might have wanted to test me," said Romano. "We had a conversation, the five of us...They decided to comply and went to the ground."
Asked about the motive for the attempted break-in, Romano said, "We can’t discuss too much since the case is pending in court."
Maccallum and Futia are scheduled to appear in Guilderland Town Court on June 23, Romano said, and the two 15-year-olds will appear in Juvenile Court at about the same time.
Michael Futia spoke to The Enterprise yesterday; Maccallum did not return a call requesting comment.
Futia, a Guilderland High School senior, hopes to go to Hudson Valley Community College next year "to explore more" with an eye on studying criminal justice, he said.
"Growing up, I always watched cops on TV," he said. "I kind of want to be a cop. I’d like to be a State Trooper."
Futia said he had been arrested once before, for shoplifting at the mall, but hasnt been in trouble since then.
Asked if the three others who were arrested with him Monday were his friends, Futia replied, "Yeah, they’re friends, but not anymore, really."
He described Monday nights events this way.
"We were just hanging around my friend’s house in Presidential Estates....," he said. "We went out for a walk."
Futia said he and the others did not target the school; they just happened to head in that direction. As they walked, they happened to come across three baseball bats lying on the football field, he said.
"The other kids picked them up," Futia said. "They started hitting one of those little scoreboards. They each took a swing at the scoreboard....We just kept walking towards the middle school."
He went on, "It wasn’t a plan. We weren’t going to go burglarize the middle school...One of the kids cut the screen with a rock and tore it open...I really don’t know why he did that....We weren’t trying to get in...We had no intention of doing anything to the school...
"What we did was stupid but we weren’t trying to get in or steal anything...One kid took a garbage can and tried getting on top of the roof...I don’t know why."
He concluded, "I was there. But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything....I should have left. I didn’t touch the school at all. It was stupid of me to be there."
Futia also asked, "If Officer Romano was following us the whole time, why didn’t he stop us at the scoreboard" Why did he follow us to the school""
Tamara Futia said of her son, "He did a stupid thing. We’re just concentrating on getting through school and graduation. Basically, he’s a good kid. We want him to get on with his life."
Exploring Antarctica through the eyes of Jennifer Armstrong, Westmere kids travel far
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND A feathery photograph of white on white intrigued the children at Westmere Elementary School on Friday morning.
What could it be"
Jennifer Armstrong, a writer who had traveled to Antarctica had their attention. A sea of upturned faces, belonging to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, puzzled over the picture.
"They are penguin flippers," Armstrong told them. "Antarctica is very dry, very arid, essentially a desert. When an animal dies, it doesn’t decay, it just becomes freeze-dried, mummified. There’s nothing microbial to decompose it."
Soft sounds of "ohhh" skittered across the room as Armstrong revealed the truth behind the mysterious photograph.
Armstrong had begun her talk by telling of a voyage made nearly a hundred years ago to Antarctica. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton had led an expedition to Antarctica that was famous in its day his ship, the Endurance, was sent off by the queen of England and its odyssey made headlines around the world.
Today, mention of Shackleton draws as many blank stares as the picture of the penguin flippers. But a book about the voyage, which Armstrong wrote for children, brings the same sort of enlightened "ohhh"s.
Her 134-page book, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, was published by Crown Publishers in 1998.
Armstrong’s talk was part of a week-long, school-wide project, "Into the Arctic," organized by enrichment teacher Robert Whiteman.
Two visitors talked about the Arctic, the region between the North Pole and the northern timberlines of North America and Eurasia. And the third, Armstrong, talked about Antarctica, the continent where the South Pole is located.
Mark OLena, a member of the Air National Guard who has routinely flown missions to the Arctic, shared photos and stories of his travels and let the kids try on some of his cold-weather gear. OLena has a child who attends Lynnwood Elementary School.
Jean Quattrocchi, a Farnsworth Middle School teacher, went to the North Pole to observe polar bears. She shared pictures of her trip and samples of vegetation with the Westmere students.
"The purpose of the funds," Whiteman said, which are allocated by the school board for enrichment, "is to involve as many students as possible in something different."
The Arctic theme is being incorporated into lessons at the school, ranging from geography and science to reading and writing, Whiteman said.
The project, he said, had created a buzz in the school. "People are stopping me in the hall to tell me about it," he said.
to keep going"
Armstrongs book tells the story of Shackleton and the 27 men who sailed from England in 1914 to try to be the first team of explorers to cross Antarctica. Their ship became trapped in ice and ultimately was crushed. They were stranded in the worlds most hostile place with no way to contact the outside world.
Her book draws on first-hand accounts that capture the painful daily struggle of surviving in the Antarctic as well as illustrating the heroism of loyalty.
Shackleton, Armstrong writes, was the first explorer to come within 100 miles of the South Pole and was rewarded with a knighthood. He wanted to try for the conquest of the pole but two other explorers got there ahead of him: In 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole; five weeks later, Englishman Robert Scott reached the pole, then died on the way back to his base.
Armstrong begins her book with a 1922 quotation by polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard: "For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
The book is illustrated with stunning photographs taken by one of the expeditions members Frank Hurley.
Armstrong showed some of the pictures to the Westmere students as she told them Shackletons story.
When the ice first closed in on the Endurance in the winter of 1914, the crew was not alarmed. They waited for spring to free her, and amused themselves with such pastimes as building igloos, which they called dogloos, for their sled dogs.
But, in the spring, the ice crushed the ship, "like a nut in a nutcracker," said Armstrong. "The ship just fell to pieces."
Describing the urgency of the situation, she told the Westmere students, "This was 1914, before their were radios, satellites, or cell phones...There was no way to reach the outside world to let them know."
The crew eventually traveled to the nearest island they could find Elephant Island, named for the elephant seals. In an arduous journey, they dragged their lifeboats with them for hundreds of miles across the polar ice.
The men were given a two-pound limit on personal gear; they were to keep only the items essential for survival, although Shackleton allowed them to keep their tobacco and diaries, Armstrong writes.
"In a dramatic gesture, Shackleton took his gold cigarette case and a handful of gold coins from his pocket and dropped them on the snow," she writes. "Gold was useless for the task ahead."
Eventually, the sled dogs who had been named for British heroes and for the English schools that had raised funds to purchase them, like Harrow and Rugby had to be killed. One of the men wrote, "I said good-bye to my faithful old leader, Shakespeare, with an aching heart. It seemed like murdering in cold blood a trusty pal, but, alas, there was no alternative. Food was running short and the end was inevitable, for the dogs could not be taken in the boats."
The 27 explorers crossed safely to Elephant Island, but faced inevitable death themselves if no one knew to rescue them.
"Shackleton decided to take the best lifeboat and five of his best sailors to sail 800 miles on a dangerous voyage with icebergs and storms," Armstrong told the Westmere students.
The crew persevered, nearly capsizing several times in their small boat, eventually reaching South Georgia Island off the coast of South America.
"They landed on the wrong side and decided to walk across," said Armstrong. "Look at that mountain," she told the children as she showed them a picture of rugged snowcapped peaks, rising 4,000 feet above the sea.
"They had no mountaineering equipment," she said. "They had no choice."
Shackleton made it to a Norwegian whaling station and he was eventually able to get a ship to rescue the rest of the crew, stranded on Elephant Island.
"The men on the beach were laughing and hugging one another," writes Armstrong.
"We knew you’d come back," one of the men said to Shackleton; he said later that was the highest compliment he had ever been paid. All 27 men were brought safely home.
"It was like this," Armstrong reports Shackleton said much later. "The thought of those fellows on Elephant Island kept us going all the time. It might have been different if we’d had only ourselves to think about. You can get so tired in the snow, particularly if you’re hungry, that sleep seems just the best thing life has to give...
"But if you’re a leader, a fellow that other fellows look to, you’ve got to keep going. That was the thought which sailed us through the hurricane and tugged us up and down those mountains...and when we got to the whaling station, it was the thought of those comrades which made us so mad with joy that the reaction beats all effort to describe it. We didn’t so much feel that we were safe as that they were saved."
Writing about ice
Armstrong told the children that she had first become interested in Shackletons story when she read a book about his journey, written for adults.
"It was a great story," she said.
A couple of years later, someone on an Internet bulletin board posted a question: Does anyone know a good book for kids about Shackleton"
Armstrong, who lives in Saratoga Springs and has written many books for young readers, decided she would write one.
She described the writing process to the Westmere students, beginning with library research and proceeding through rough drafts or "sloppy copies," even showing them a page or two marked up by her editor.
"When it came out, everybody loved it; it won a lot of prizes," Armstrong said of her book "It was fun, but then a funny thing happened...People would say, ‘Did you go to Antarctica"’"
She hadnt; it was a frozen wasteland. But, said Armstrong, after enough people asked, she decided she should go.
"Antarctica doesn’t belong to anyone," she said. "No government controls it. People agree the whole continent should be set aside for science, for research."
The continent is controlled by international treaties, she said. "They encourage writers to go. I applied for a grant."
But what would she write about" "I like to write about history," said Armstrong. "There’s no history in Antarctica, no civilization...I decided Antarctica has ice; it’s been there a long time. So I decided to write about ice."
"Your hero shot"
Armstrong went to Antarctica during its summer, in December and January, when the sun is out all the time. She described required safety classes on survival and a sea-ice safety course she took in which she learned to test how deep the ice is.
She took a camping course, too, where Scott tents, like Shackleton had, were used.
"You have to know how to survive if you get caught," Armstrong said. "You learn to build igloos."
She showed pictures of penguins and explained they are allowed to come to people but rules forbid people approaching them.
"Penguins are very funny and fun to watch," said Armstrong. "They see you; they’re very curious and like to come towards you."
A picture she took of a roly-poly seal with speckled fur, lying on its side was greeted with cries of "awww" from the children.
They laughed as Armstrong told them how steam comes off the seals’ bodies when they lie on the ice in 35-degree weather. Their bodies, surrounded by blubber, are so hot, said Armstrong, "They melt the snow underneath them."
A picture of herself in survival gear was an imitation of what the seal had naturally. Armstrong wore snow overalls, a heavy jacket, and thick-soled white boots.
One photograph showed a well-bundled Armstrong posing next to a sign that said "South Pole."
"They call this your hero shot," she said.
She concluded her presentation with pictures, complete with sound, of her ride on an ice-breaker boat.
"An ice-breaker rides on top of the ice and presses...A crack will open up and the ship goes through the ice," said Armstrong. "It’s slow and very noisy. It’s like being in a car crash for 24 hours, lurching and rolling."
The ice chunks, she said, are the size of a garage.
When one of the kids asked Armstrong her favorite part, she said it was being on the ice-breaker.
Altamont approves $1.4 million bond for new drinking-water system
ALTAMONT The village moved one step closer Tuesday night to borrowing $1.4 million for its new drinking-water system as the board of trustees unanimously passed a bond resolution.
Village residents have 30 days to request a voter-approved referendum. The measure could be forced to a referendum if 20 percent of registered voters in the village sign a petition requesting the referendum.
Mayor James Gaughan acknowledged the current litigation surrounding the village water project, but said, "I recognize that there are some things that need to go on concurrently." Gaughan said he did not want to wait for months to move forward on the project financing while the lawsuits are decided.
The village signed a contract last year with Michael and Nancy Trumpler to buy about five acres from the Trumplers on Brandle Road, outside the village, where Altamont had drilled and found water.
The Trumplers were upset when they learned water they had thought would go to the village was to go to developer Jeff Thomas for a senior housing complex, also on Brandle Road, outside the village, on an agricultural parcel the town of Guilderland re-zoned so Thomas could build.
This March, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court to have a judge decide whether the villages contract for the five-acre site is binding; they sought no money from the village.
The village responded by filing counterclaims, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, against the Trumplers.
Last week, Paul Wein, Thomass lawyer, told The Enterprise that, since the Trumplers did not drop their lawsuit against the village by the June 1 deadline he had set, Thomas will likely file a multi-million dollar suit against the Trumplers as well.
The village board met in executive session late Tuesday night to receive an update on the status of the lawsuits from the village attorney, Guy Roemer. Gaughan said yesterday that no action was taken and he had no further details to provide until the matter was resolved.
Tuesday, the board also approved what Gaughan called a "recruitment notice" for the village’s commissioner of public safety. Gaughan said the main requirement for an interested applicant is that he or she currently be "law enforcement certified or continuing certified eligible."
Last year, the village board, after hearing complaints from residents about too many police officers, named a committee to study the police department. The committee was headed by Gaughan; two new trustees who, like Gaughan, were elected this spring served on the committee: Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen.
The committee surveyed Altamont residents and businesses and produced a report that recommended keeping the police department but was critical of a public safety commissioner who couldnt make arrests and of so many part-time officers.
Gaughan told The Enterprise this week that the village was advised by Albany County Civil Service officials that retired officers are often eligible to be certified as a police officer following their retirement. It is unknown if the former public safety commissioner, Robert Coleman, who is currently serving as an advisor to the village on public safety matters, is eligible to be certified.
Gaughan said, "Everyone is entitled to apply if they meet the criteria. Bob can apply if he wishes to." Each applicant will also receive a full copy of the police report as submitted by the village police review committee.
The annual salary range for the position was set at $40,000 to $45,000.
The board is expected to hire a new safety commissioner by the end of July. Gaughan said the recruitment notice should be distributed to local media outlets by the end of this week.
Interested residents who were unable to attend Tuesdays board meeting may view it on Guilderlands public-access television station on Thursday, June 9, at 11 a.m. or on Saturday, June 11, at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Gaughan said he is happy to fulfill one of his campaign promises to provide a more open government by having the village board meetings taped and played on local television.
Running - and winning - at their own pace
By Andrew Schotz
ALBANY Trackside at the University at Albany, Eleanor Alland waited and waited on Saturday, in wilting heat, for her son to compete.
Real time was well behind scheduled time at the Special Olympics Capital District Summer Games, but Mrs. Alland didnt move from her spot beside the fence.
Finally, it was Allands turn. He lined up on the track with three other men.
Alland, who will turn 54 on Saturday, had the outside lane.
The starters pistol sounded and the four men broke ahead, each at his own pace. The race was a 400-meter walk.
Within 20 seconds, Alland was a few lengths behind. "C’mon, Jim, get going," his mother called encouragingly. "Move faster. A little faster."
Mrs. Alland knew her sons chances were best if he could veer to the inside lane first which he did not do. But he finished ahead of two others, earning a second-place medal. Once around the track took the field around four minutes.
"I did very well," Alland said afterwards, noting that he walks for exercise every Thursday.
Now living at a Cohoes group home run by The Center for the Disabled, Alland shelves books full-time at the New York State Library in Albany. He has held his job for 28 years.
Mrs. Alland, a longtime Altamont resident who moved to the Avalon retirement community in August, said her son likes sports, but wasnt an athlete growing up.
It wasnt until his adult years that he took part in Special Olympics.
"I think he’s very proud to be in the events," she said. "He talks about it quite a while."
Alland’s interest, she said, lies more in the social fun. "He likes people and he likes to be doing things with people."
James Alland moved out of his parents home around 1985, one of the first people to try an apartment-living program for people with mental disabilities, his mother said.
With Saturdays schedule running behind, Alland had little time after his 400-meter walk to cool down.
Off he went to a patch of grass outside the track for the shot put competition.
Allands best toss among three tries was 4.0 meters. His only opponent managed 3.1 meters on his best throw. Alland had earned a second medal.
Not about defeat
In the meantime, Sari Virkler was whiling away the time between her events.
Virkler already had a gold medal for winning a 50-meter dash. She wore it around her neck and referred to it, and pointed to it, a few times during an interview. By the end of the day, she had three of them.
After the events ahead of hers were finally over, Virkler ran the 100-meter dash and finished first. Then, she was part of a 400-meter relay team that finished first, too.
It was about six years ago that her father, Ed Virkler, encouraged her to get moving.
"I was just trying to motivate her to get some serious exercise," he said.
It worked. Virkler, 27, has become a runner and a competitor.
Eric Wohlleber, the director of public affairs for Special Olympics New York, overheard Virkler say she has fewer than 100 medals, but possibly " hmm, maybe more than 50"
"Why don’t you count how many medals"" he suggested.
Virkler balked. "I don’t want homework," she said.
But she counted again in her head, then downgraded her medal estimate to about 20. She said she has hung up a bunch of them at The Center for the Disabled's group home in Altamont, which used to be known as Helderberg House. She has lived there for about two years.
Eleanor Alland knows the home well. She and her late husband, Peter, were among those who helped start the group home in 1974.
Ed Virkler said its been a better, more welcoming neighborhood for her than his daughters last group home. The Virklers live on Leesome Lane. It helps to be in your hometown, waving to friends and neighbors as you walk from place to place, he said.
Virkler works at Chuck E. Cheese in Latham twice a week, helping however she can. She said she pitches in for Meals on Wheels and at The Daughters of Sarah Senior Community, too.
She explained, in short bits, what she likes about Special Olympics: her coaches, meeting people, running.
Her father’s theory: "It’s the feeling of importance that I can do something everyone else can do."
Virklers mother, Sherrill, told a story that seems to tie together Special Olympics relaxed and competitive halves.
In the middle of a race, one of her daughters friends, who was running against her, fell to the track. Virkler stopped, saw that her friend was okay then kept going.
"They all try hard to win," Ed Virkler said, "but not to the extent that they try to defeat other kids."
"This is a real competition," John D’Alessandro of Halfmoon, the vice president of public affairs for Special Olympics New York, said Saturday. "A lot are there just to get better. But some are there to rise up and excel."
He mentioned a 140-pound athlete from the Syracuse area who once deadlifted about 500 pounds in a powerlifting competition.
About 700 athletes competed in the Capital District Summer Games at the University at Albany, coming from as far as Poughkeepsie, Plattsburgh and Rochester.
Many will move on to Special Olympics statewide games June 16 to 19 on Long Island.
Wohlleber said about 3,000 athletes are expected.
One of them will be Virkler, with her three gold medals.
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