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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 19, 2006

Coffey arraigned

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — Walking into an Albany County courtroom, with a wink and a nod to his lawyer, Robert J. Coffey was arraigned once again on rape charges yesterday. Coffey, who appeared very calm and comfortable in his orange prison jumpsuit, pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Last week Coffey, 28, was arraigned on charges of rape and imprisonment of a 14-year-old girl. This week, he was arraigned on similar charges against a 19-year-old woman.

The second alleged victim came forward after seeing Coffey’s face on a news broadcast, according to the office of Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

Coffey, who lived in a Guilderland trailer park at 333 Church Rd., was indicted last week and, on Wednesday, he was arraigned for first-degree rape, second-degree kidnapping, and second-degree unlawful imprisonment.

"Coffey grabbed his female victim, forced her into his truck, prevented her from leaving his truck and/or trailer, took her to an undisclosed place while she was unconscious and had sexual intercourse with her," Soares said in a statement.

During last week’s arraignment, Coffey pleaded not guilty to all charges as well. Both incidents are alleged to have happened at or around Coffey’s Guilderland trailer park home. Assistant Albany County District Attorney Rebecca Bauscher is prosecuting the case.

Last week, The Enterprise asked Soares’s spokesman, Richard Arthur, if the district attorney was open to a plea bargain in the case. He declined comment, saying only, "We expect this to equal a lot of jail time for [Coffey]."

"We’re not really worried about these [new] charges," said Kent Sprotbery, Coffey’s attorney, after the arraignment.

Sprotbery said his client is maintaining his innocence and is still looking forward to a jury hearing his case. Sprotbery called the timing of the new charges "interesting," and said he believes that his client is being used as a publicity pawn by Soares.

"The grand jury is being used to grandstand for the D.A.’s office," said Sprotbery. Coffey’s attorney reiterated that the timing of the new charges were suspicious, and his client will show his side of the story to a jury at trial.

"Coffey is a dangerous sexual predator and we will attempt to have him incarcerated for as long as possible," said Soares in a statement. His office did not return a call from The Enterprise Wednesday.

In the first case, based on an arrest by Guilderland Police in September, Coffey is accused of raping his 14-year-old neighbor and holding her against her will at his home in the Brockley Trailer Park.

The district attorney’s office says that Coffey told the 14-year-old he had a gun and would kill her if she tried to leave, then bound her wrists and raped her. She went home and her parent called the police after which she was taken to the hospital for treatment, Guilderland Police said in September.

Guilderland Police also found cocaine in Coffey’s possession when they took him into custody, according to his arrest report. Coffey had been arrested in another state, for conspiracy to distribute drugs, Guilderland Police said in September, and hadn’t been in town for long.

Coffey had been working at Jiffy Lube on Western Avenue for a few weeks during the summer, his boss there said in September.

If convicted on all charges, in both cases, Coffey could face up to 75 years in prison.

Coffey is scheduled to appear before Judge Stephen W. Herrick on Feb. 2 at the Albany County Court. Judge Thomas A. Breslin presided over Wednesday’s arraignment because Herrick is out of court for the week. Coffey’s original arraignment was before Herrick, and he will be appearing before him again in February.

"We are looking forward to trial," said Sprotbery.

Library Civil Service

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — As the Albany County Civil Service crackdown continues, with numerous exams currently being given throughout the county, town hall and municipal workers are not the only ones affected.

The county’s public libraries have also found themselves struggling with the county’s new stance on examination enforcement.
No study guides or practice exams are available for many library posts.

At least two employees at the Guilderland Public Library and one employee at the Voorheesville Public Library are losing their jobs, and more replacements may be on the way. (Free libraries, like the one in Altamont, that have no taxing powers, do not come under Civil Service jurisdiction)

Every school district library and public library in Albany County is now faced with having each of its employees take a Civil Service exam. This includes workers in entry-level positions, such as a clerk, and those in higher positions who have not taken the exam, like librarians and library directors.

"It started last January.... Before that, nothing had been done for a number of years in Albany County," said the director of the Guilderland Public Library, Barbara Nichols Randall, about the new strict regulations on Civil Service exams.

Randall said that, prior to the 2004 Albany County audit by New York State, no Civil Service exams were offered to her library workers by the county. Now all library employees are required to pass the exam, or they will be fired in accordance with the rules of Albany County’s Civil Service Department.

Two Guilderland library employees have failed exams and a few employees have refused to take the exam, which means replacements will have to be found, according to Nichols Randall. Out of 55 employees, two employees are being removed, an undisclosed number of employees refused the exam, and seven more workers still need to be tested, so the number of replacements needed in Guilderland is unknown at this time.

Civil unrest

Caitlin Frederick, director of the Albany County Civil Service Department for the past year-and-a-half, told The Enterprise, the exams must be passed by employees if they are to retain their positions as public servants.

"With other counties in the state, this is business as usual. Now Albany County has caught up," said Nichols Randall, who thinks that Albany County is behind the rest of the state in exam enforcement.

"Up until now, with the libraries, there hasn’t been any test or exam," said Gail Sacco, director of the Voorheesville Public Library. She also said that her library has, "fallen under the scrutiny of Albany County." That includes Sacco herself, who must take an upcoming Civil Service exam.

"We have had some test failure here," said Sacco, referring to an employee with over 15 years’ experience at the Voorheesville library, who must now be removed.

"I believe it’s a consequence of the audit," Sacco said. She said she believes the state audit is at the root of the new Civil Service enforcement throughout the county.

Frederick, however, said the new enforcement is the result of years of lax reporting on job descriptions and titles by local municipalities, administrative oversight by the county, and poor communication between both.


Many of the employees who are about to take a Civil Service exam, have no study guides or practice exams to prepare with, according to Sacco.

"We don’t have any solid study guides for the exams," she said. There are study guides and practice exams distributed by some state unions, but they do not always match up with what is on the actual exam, Sacco said.

About the possibility of attaining some kind of study guide, Frederick told The Enterprise this week, "We don’t have a lot of those."

Frederick went on to describe the limited types of study guides the county offers, which are mainly for entry-level positions. Furthermore, Albany County Civil Service does not endorse study guides put out by state unions like the Civil Service Employees Association, said Frederick.

She went on to say that union study guides are good, but they should not be completely relied on by applicants. Many employees can prepare for the exams from the experience they gain at their work, said Frederick.

Several civil servants in the town of Guilderland disagree with this sentiment, including water plant supervisor, Thadeus Ausfeld, and the water and wastewater management supervisor, William West, as well as others. They told The Enterprise last week that a Civil Service examination does not make a person more qualified for a job, and that the tests do not pertain to any particular job or skill necessary to performing the job in question.

"I can’t really recommend much, to be perfectly honest.... it’s up to them to find some resources to help themselves out," said Frederick this week, when asked what an employee should do about preparing for the exam.

When exams are announced, the test description will say whether there is a study guide or not. If there is no study guide, a general description of the exam is given so applicants will know what to expect, said Frederick.

The workers who replace those who failed exams will have to start from the beginning and be trained.

Sacco says, it takes at least three months to be trained for a job, and experience can only be gained over time.

"There is quite a bit of training always involved," said Nichols Randall. "It’s harder with our library clerks, who learn a lot and gain a lot of skill through their location," she said. All librarians, Nichols Randall noted, are required to have a master’s degree in library science.

Nichols Randall does believe that Frederick has tried her best to help the local towns learn the new regulations, and to make a smooth transition.

"Civil Service Law is Civil Service Law. You have to follow the laws," said Nichols Randall.

McKownville burglaries

By Jarrett Carroll

MCKOWNVILLE — A recent string of burglaries on Providence Street in McKownville has prompted residents of the suburban neighborhood to take action with the help of an improvement association, the Guilderland Police, town hall, and each other.

Tuesday, the town board agreed to having a new streetlight installed on the far end of Providence Street, as petitioners had requested.

Only a stone’s throw from the Northway, the otherwise quiet neighborhood, nestled next to the Albany city line, is a picturesque place to live, with friendly neighbors and little crime to speak of. Until recently that is.

A string of house break-ins last year ended with "the McKownville burglar," as David Hollenbeck was dubbed, being sentenced in September to 15 years in state prison.

Now, concerned neighbors want to catch whoever is responsible for the theft and vandalism that has been taking place on Providence Street since Christmas.

Investigator David Romano with the Guilderland Police said there have been "a lot of calls" from the neighborhood since late December and he encourages residents to keep calling if they witness or experience a crime.

"We don’t know if they don’t call and tell us," he said.

Only one non-related arrest — for a contractor stealing a generator — has been made, said Romano.

He credited Cindy Peaslee, a victim of the vandalism, for her vigilance.

"Cindy is helping us quite a bit in mobilizing the neighbors," said Romano.

"This little episode cost us close to $2,000," said Peaslee, of 44 Providence Street, about a burglary that took place right outside of the side entrance of her home.

Her long-time boyfriend, who works for Darrah Contracting, parked his truck under a carport next to the house. On Friday night, Jan. 6, between midnight and 4 a.m., a toolbox on the truck was broken into and power tools were stolen.

"It happened in my own driveway, right next to the door to my house," said Peaslee.

The burglary ended up costing more than power tools, because Peaslee went out and bought an array of security devices for her home. Among them were new locks for all the gates, a motion-detector spotlight, and a motion sensor on the driveway that alerts her inside if someone is outside.

"If you put a foot on my driveway, it will ring in my bedroom....It’s battery operated," said Peaslee. The detector will ring if there is motion in the driveway, just like a battery operated door bell.

Peaslee noticed other problems after the burglary, too. In her backyard, the gate was open and a wire fence was pushed down into the ground. She told The Enterprise she wasn’t sure which way the burglars came, from the street in the front or through the back yard.

Another truck was parked outside of a neighbor’s house; two tool boxes were broken into with crowbars and $1,000 worth of tools were stolen, said Peaslee. Also on the same street, a neighbor reported seeing footsteps in the snow leading up to and away from their truck.

A few doors down the street a home was also vandalized. The outside Christmas decorations were pulled out of the ground and all of the wires were cut, said Peaslee. Nothing appeared to be stolen besides decorations. Peaslee said the incidents started occurring right before Christmas.

The neighborhood may be susceptible to these types of robberies because of the amount of contractors currently in the area, according to Peaslee. There was a fire at one home, which is now under reconstruction, another home is getting remodeled, and new homes are being built.

Neighborhood watch

Don Reeb, who heads the McKownville Improvement Association, talked to some of the Providence Street area neighbors about burglary concerns. He has helped to organize a neighborhood watch, which he says has been very successful in the past.

"I think neighbors looking out for neighbors works very well, whether we’re talking about McKownville, or Guilderland Center, or anywhere," said Reeb.

Reeb referred to the burglaries that took place last year on McKown Road, where a very effective neighborhood watch helped Guilderland Police apprehend a burglar. A call from a neighbor who witnessed a break-in made it possible for police to take the burglar off the streets.

On April 15, as many police officers were in McKownville investigating an unrelated incident, a resident called to say that a man broke into his neighbor’s window, at 9 McKown Road, and went inside.

Guilderland Police found Hollenbeck crouched behind a bed in the house. He had jewelry and a piggy bank on him, police said, and he confessed to a series of other break-ins. In once case, police said, he stole over $1,000 worth of jewelry.

Reeb advises neighbors to report suspicious activities, and to call 911 to report a burglary taking place, rather than trying to stop or apprehend the burglar. If 911 is busy or taking too long, Reeb recommends calling the Guilderland emergency dispatch directly at 356-1501 or the Guilderland Police dispatch directly at 482-7554.

The residents of Providence Street are hoping more light will help end the current crime spree.

Peaslee started a petition to put in a streetlight at the far end of Providence Street, which currently is very dark at night. She went to her neighbors for support and got 12 signatures, then presented the petition to the Guilderland Supervisor, Kenneth Runion, at an improvement association meeting.

"Everyone signed the petition, nobody said no to it, except for just one neighbor who didn’t want the light shining into her house," said Peaslee, who went door to door for signatures.

The Guilderland Town Board met on Tuesday night and unanimously accepted the petition asking for another light to be installed on the street. Board members agreed it was a reasonable request that would help make the neighborhood safer.

Reeb said he thought it was the fastest government action he had ever seen. From the first signature on the petition to the town board’s passage of it, took a mere 48 hours.

The petition was granted, but Peaslee expressed concern for how long it would take to install. She cited another neighborhood that was granted extra lighting and said it took National Grid (formerly called Niagara Mohawk) eight months to install the light.

Investigator Romano told The Enterprise the new streetlight will "definitely help."

He concluded of burglars, "They don’t like light."

Bus study raises concerns

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Officers of the local union that includes bus drivers and mechanics ex-pressed concerns to the school board last week about a $10,000 efficiency study on busing students.

The board had approved a $9,850 contract with Transport a-ti on Advisory Services in November after comments were made during budget discussions that the district should look at privatization.

Bruce Shank, president of the Guilderland School District National Education Association of New York, stood at the micro-phone with Vice President Jeff Haines, Treasurer Mike Liegot, and Secretary Sharon Osterhout at the start of last Tuesday’s meeting.

The local NEA represents a total of 200 employees, Shank said; 66 have been with the district more than 10 years and 110 are Guilderland residents.

Shank said the NEA was hurt by discussions of privatization. Workers give their "heart and soul" to their jobs, he said.

Since learning about the study, Shank said, some of the employees have started seeking other jobs, which could result in a loss of drivers.

He asked why the district would have built a new bus facility two years ago if it planned to move to private contractors.

Shank also pointed to the district's record of 90 percent or more buses passing the required inspection by the state’s Department of Transportation.

He asked how the safety of buses would be affected with others doing the repairs.

"Our current staff is deeply committed to doing the best job possible every day," said Shank.

He told the board members that he and the other NEA officers were available to meet and talk at any time. Then packets were distributed to the board members and the district’s administrative staff. Shank said the packets had two items to ponder — a news article on the nation-wide shortage of school-bus drivers, and an invitation to shadow the bus drivers as they work.

"We recognize the difficult jobs bus drivers, mechanics, custodians, cafeteria workers have," responded Superintendent Gregory Eidola. The study will consider "all aspects," Aidala said.

Study’s scope

The study, which is to take 90 days, is to be completed by March, before the proposal for next year’s district budget is re-viewed, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board before it approved the contract in November.

"You’re bringing in people who...can bring an objective eye," said Aidala at the time. Self-analysis can become self-fulfilling, he said, explaining why the study couldn’t be done in-house.

A memorandum from Sanders to the board members said the company was formed in 1987; its main office is in western New York and it has a secondary office in Florida. TAS has provided a wide range of transportation studies for over 400 school districts and agencies in 16 states, said Sanders, who recommended the contract.

Sanders outlined 10 areas on which TAS will focus. It will conduct an in-depth analysis of Guilderland’s current trans-port at ion operation and compare it to similar local operations, both contracted and district-operated.

TAS will also conduct a financial analysis, including the cost of changes, comparing current costs to industry norms, and recommending ways to be more efficient.

TAS will explore privatization, including the impact of selling Guilderland’s bus fleet and the potential to lease the district’s new transportation facility.

Also, TAS will review the current routing process to insure compliance with district policies and to check for efficiency.

TAS will review policy with an emphasis on improving the program’s effectiveness. Labor agreements and the labor structure will be analyzed along with a comparative review of benefit and wage data.

TAS will review fleet replacement and the spare-bus ratio in conjunction with bus maintenance.

Management options will be examined, including contracting some or all of the transportation operations.

And, finally, TAS will create a report card for the transportation program with recommendations for improvement where needed.

Health-insurance quandary
School board debates consultant’s role in RFP

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board here was sharply divided last week after one member raised concerns about a consultant’s role with the district’s health-insurance committee.

The Enterprise received several letters to the editor on the issue this week.

Health-care benefits for district employees cost $8.2 million this year, or 10.8 percent of the district’s $76 million budget.

The cost has about doubled from the $4.1 million the district paid five years ago; in 2000-01, health insurance accounted for 7 percent of a $59 million budget.

Board member Peter Golden, who has since September pushed the district to examine health-insurance costs, created what he called a metaphor last Tuesday to discuss health-care for district employees.

He likened the process to buying a car. The board is not looking to cut benefits for its employees, he said, but rather is looking to get the best deal, much in the way a car-buyer searches for a dealership that will offer the best price.

In November, the school board heard a presentation on the district’s health-care benefits and raised the issue of whether a single insurer might save the district money. A consultant for the district’s health-insurance committee from Rose and Kiernan, Joseph Rogerson, has now prepared a request for proposals for a single insurer.

The RFP went out on Jan. 15, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise this week.

Golden said at last week’s meeting that he was concerned the Rose and Kiernan consultant was preparing the RFP because he had said a single insurer was not the best option for the district and also because it appears to be a conflict of interest.

An independent person should draft the RFP, said Golden.

"I’d like to make a motion," he said.

Board President Gene Danese informed Golden that he couldn’t; board policy is to wait to make motions, listed as "action items" on the agenda, at a meeting subsequent to their introduction.

Sanders, who serves on the district’s health-insurance committee, told The Enterprise this week that, when the district, at the committee’s suggestion, moved to a single insurer for its prescription drug plan, the district already captured the bulk of the savings to be had from moving to a single insurer.

Rogerson "didn’t see the same level of savings from moving the medical portion" to a single insurer, Sanders said.

At last week’s board meeting, Golden asked if commissions had doubled as health-care costs for the district had doubled.

Asked this week how Rogerson was paid, Sanders told The Enterprise this week, "Two ways."

The district offers four plans — two are health-maintenance organizations and two are experience rated.

For the two health- maintenance organizations, Sanders said, commissions are part of the rate, which is set by the state’s Department of Health.

"Whether we have a broker or not, we pay the same premiums," said Sanders.

For the two experience-rated plans, he said, negotiations occur and are "imbedded in the consortium."

In 1996, Guilderland joined the Capital Area Schools Health Consortium, which currently has 15 members.

Also, Sanders said, for the two experience-rated plans, the fee for the consultant is based on enrollment so it doesn’t increase in the same proportions as the premiums.

Asked about the timetable and process for decision-making, Sanders said, "The RFP’s are coming back February 3. The consultant will provide an analysis of the results that the committee will review."

In February, Sanders said, the committee will look at the analysis and then can make a recommendation to the board.

Asked if the board then approves or rejects the committee’s recommendation, Sanders researched what had happened in the past.

Although several board members last Tuesday asserted that the board would approve or disapprove the health-insurance committee’s recommendation, Sanders told The Enterprise this week, "Board approval has not transpired in the past."

He said of the committee, "We have not asked the board to formally approve it."

Sanders went on to say, "The formal action is in budget adoption."

The school board does vote to adopt a district budget, which includes health insurance costs, before the budget goes to public vote.

Asked if the matter would be decided before the district begins its televised budget review, on March 2, with the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, Sanders said, "I don’t know if it will be possible to have it settled by then. One night, we’re scheduled to talk about benefits. Certainly, we can work on it simultaneously with the [citizen review] meetings."

An overview

This fall, Superintendent Gregory Aidala produced a 20-page report, providing an overview of employees’ health-care plans at Guilderland, with comparisons to other local districts.

Guilderland’s benefits are comparable, it said, and are used to "attract and maintain employees of the highest caliber in a very competitive marketplace within Albany County."

Percentage contributions at area school districts range from 67 percent, for new employees only, to 100 percent, with most districts contributing 100 percent, the report said. Guilderland, since the early 1980’s, has paid just 80 percent of health coverage; its employees make up the other 20 percent.

A chart of 12 local school districts shows Guilderland below the middle in terms of percentage of its school budget devoted to health insurance. Seven schools are higher and four are lower.

Unlike most districts, Guilderland does not negotiate health benefits during the collective-bargaining process with labor unions.

"Often, health insurance is a contentious issue and prevents many contracts from settling without protracted and difficult negotiations," the report says. "Also, there can be a disparity in benefits among employees if benefits changes are agreed to with only one bargaining unit at a time."

Instead, Guilderland, for more than 35 years, has had a District Health Insurance Committee, which includes representatives from each of its 12 bargaining units.

Over the past two years, changes made by the committee — for example, increasing co-pays from $10 to $20 — have saved the district about $800,000 annually, the report says.

Guilderland offers health insurance — covering medical, dental, and prescription drug costs — to hourly employees who work at least 20 hours a week and to salaried employees who work half-time or more.

Retirees can continue the district’s group health insurance plan if they have worked for the district for at least 10 years. Most of the bargaining units offer benefits for surviving spouses.

Although workers are eligible for coverage, participation is optional and the district does not offer buy-outs for workers who choose not to use the benefit.

The district currently offers four plans:

— Capital District Physicians Health Plan, a health-maintenance organization, which files for rate increases with the state, is used by 59 percent of Guilderland employees;

— Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization, an experience-rated plan, meaning that premium rate increases are influenced by the cost of claims incurred, is used by 22 percent;

— Blue Shield Health Plus, another experience-rated plan, is used by 12 percent; and

— MVP (Mohawk Valley Physicians), a health-maintenance organization plan, is used by 7 percent.

Seventy-eight percent of retirees use Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization; it is the only plan offered with nation-wide coverage.

Board divided

During last Tuesday’s board discussion, Richard Weisz, a lawyer, said that the experience of "most of us in the private sector" says a single vendor can maintain benefits and cost less.

He said, though, he was prepared to defer to the health-insurance committee and was "reluctant to micro-manage."

"To me, how they do it is less important than they’re doing it," said Weisz.

Board member Thomas Nachod, a banker, agreed with Golden, saying he was right on target.

Giving an example from his banking experience, Nachod said that requests for proposals can be written to exclude certain bidders or favor others.

"The concern is any good RFP can be bid by many people," said Nachod. "I don’t see any harm in trying to be certain we’re independent...What have we got to lose" It’s a big chunk of money as Peter said."

"In the end," said Danese, "the board can accept or reject, but I think we ought to stay with the established process."

Board member John Dornbush asked who else besides the Rose and Kiernan consultant working with the committee would know enough to write the RFP.

"You could contract with a consultant," said Aidala. "Timing being the issue, we went with our present consultant...This was not an additional fee for the district. Let’s not preclude what the answer will be."

Board member Catherine Barber echoed Weisz’s thoughts about "not micro-managing" because ultimately the board can approve or disapprove, she said.

Board member Colleen O’Connell mentioned local law firms that have moved to a single insurer to save money.

"If the RFP comes back and does not make sense," she said, "I would have to question the validity of it."

"Let’s see what happens," said Aidala, "then we’ll continue that dialogue."

"You keep saying, ‘Let’s wait and see,’" interjected Golden. He went on to refer to a Rose and Kiernan report that a single health-insurer wouldn’t work for the district.

The board responded by asking, "How do you know for sure"" said Aidala. "The only way to know for sure is to go out for an RFP...to get very specific numbers as opposed to estimates."

"The RFP would be looked at by you guys"" asked Vice President Linda Bakst of the district administrators.

Sanders shook his head, no.

"That’s the point," said Nachod.

"Then the consultant will analyze the bids and report to the health-insurance committee"" asked Bakst.

"Yes," said Sanders.

Leaders say
Teachers grow through evaluation

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Guilderland teachers are being evaluated in ways that help them grow professionally, say leaders of a committee that developed the new system.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress and Chris Claus, a reading teacher who is president of the teachers’ union, updated the school board last Tuesday on the new evaluation system.

A committee, which convened in 2001, has been guided by James Stronge of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

"We looked to an expert in the field," said Claus, quoting Stronge: "Evaluation begins with professional growth and ends with professional growth."

By contract, Claus said, the evaluation system, in a pilot phase since September of 2004, needs to be approved by the Guilderland Teachers’ Association. The union is scheduled to vote on the matter in March, he said.

Under the old system, supervisors would write a narrative of what they had observed in a classroom.

The pilot project involves a three-tiered system for performance responsibilities:

— Domains, broad categories or placeholders for classifying teacher standards;

— Performance standards, basic duties the teacher performs to meet job expectations successfully; and

— Performance indicators, examples of observable behaviors characteristic of the successful performance of job standards.

"Evaluation for us is a process, not an event," said Andress. "It is an activity which is conducted with teachers and is based with hope on trust and communication."

Administrators think the new system promotes professional growth and reflection, Andress reported. More conversation is generated and teachers are developing better goals and better time management.

Administrators report they now have a systematic way of looking at teaching. Supervisors see their role now as being "gatekeepers of excellence," she said.

Teachers stress the importance of trust in their relationship with administrators, Claus said, and say the new system has helped their professional growth.

"It has contributed a common vocabulary," he said.

He also said the format allows teachers to reflect on their own teaching and it gives them clear expectations, repeating the language of the rubrics.

"This chance for professional conversation is something people seem very happy with by and large," said Claus.

Claus and Andress described the project as a work in progress and went over several concerns.

The system was originally just for classroom teachers. Rubrics are now being developed for nurses, librarians, guidance counselors, and special-education teachers. New teachers have to be trained to understand the evaluation system and some categories cause stress, feedback from teachers said.

Consistency across administrators and departments is a concern as is time spent on observations.

"Supervisors and principals are doing a better job with that," said Andress.

Building reports

By votes of 8 to 0, the board accepted three state-required reports on the district’s buildings.

The first was a survey on building condition, which has to be done in depth every five years.

The report consists of 38 pages each on nine different district buildings — six schools, two maintenance facilities, and the district office.

Farnsworth Middle School, which was just updated and expanded, was exempt as were the transportation building, the concession building, and the press box, because they are relatively new buildings.

Board member Colleen O’Connell said that it didn’t make sense that a 50-year-old school like Westmere Elementary would get the same satisfactory rating as an 11-year-old school like Pine Bush Elementary.

"The architect is charged with coming up with that determination," said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

As other board members raised similar concerns, Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, "We’ve had this conversation every time we have these reports...You’ve highlighted some of the things that don’t fall in place."

He said that, 15 years ago, a wall collapsed in a school building and the legislative response was to tighten control.

The good news, Aidala said, is the survey shows the district is meeting requirements.

The second report was a five-year capital facilities plan.

The $12.5 million price tag, Sanders told the board is "to give you perspective." The priorities, he said, are based on health and safety. He called it "an evolving plan," and said, "Things may change."

O’Connell said she was surprised that refinishing the gym floor at Farnsworth Middle School wasn’t listed.

"I’m not an inspector; I’m a mother. But I know a warped floor when I see one," she said.

"It’s something we have our eye on," said Sanders. He said a lot of work had just been done at Farnsworth and refinishing the floor was a relatively low-cost job that could be done in-house.

Board member Thomas Nachod said of the facilities plan, "It sounds like a Catch-22...If something happens, we do know about it."

"It’s a planning tool," responded Sanders.

Board Vice President Linda Bakst asked if the items in the plan should be part of the budget process. Sanders said that "routine maintenance and repair" are part of the budget.

He said Bakst’s assessment was correct that the schools had no code violations and the plan was for future upgrades.

Finally, the School Facility Report Card, Sanders said, "puts key data in consistent format."

"Do we have to approve or can we just accept"" board member Richard Weisz asked.

"I would say, let the record reflect the board is accepting the reports," said Aidala.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard glowing reports from several foreign exchange students attending Guilderland High School;

— Adopted policies on Internet and computer use and on alcohol and drug testing of bus drivers;

— Established a citizens’ budget advisory committee, which will meet six times in March. Volunteers can sign up on-line or by writing or calling the superintendent;

— Heard from Aidala that registration of new students in the district, from first grade on, will now be standardized and take place in the district office, beginning Feb. 1.

"This will be a much more consistent effort," he said.

Kindergarten registration, which occurs each spring, will continue to take place at each of the district’s five elementary schools;

— Reviewed a policy on notification of releases of Level 3 sex offenders. Level 3 offenders are considered the most dangerous in the state’s three-tiered system.

Bakst said she didn’t think the district should include a picture of the offender as part of the notification. She said that could be accessed on-line and it was "unnecessarily scary."

O’Connell, who serves on the policy committee, said the committee felt strongly in favor of the procedure it had developed, where the information for elementary students will be sent home in a sealed envelope and, for secondary students, a sealed envelope will not be used.

"Not everyone has a computer," she said. "We wanted to give as much information as possible";

— Heard from Weisz that volunteers are being sought for a new committee on alternative revenue sources for the district. Aidala said that 26 people had expressed interest so far; and

— Met in executive session to discuss four matters — a teacher performance review, administrator performance reviews, an audit committee membership, and an update on negotiations with the Guilderland Teacher Aides and Monitors Unit.

Neighbors have concerns over Grant Hill Road plan

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The planning board here last Wednesday heard a proposal for a 19-lot subdivision on Grant Hill Road, but the proposal met with disapproval from worried neighbors.

Town Planner Jan Weston told the board that the 41-acre property lies in a floodway, that it is generally flat, and that it is partially wooded. The property is near a wastewater treatment plant and a farm, she said. Weston questioned the effect the subdivision would have on drainage in the neighboring area.

Mark Jacobson, an engineer with Charles H. Sells, Inc., presented a standard subdivision plan, and a clustered home plan. He represents local applicants Pat and Frank Marotta. Jacobson said that an upgrade on the treatment plant and natural contours of the land help reduce odors from the plant.

Chairman Stephen Feeney said that the project cannot move forward until the wetlands are properly determined.

"Are wetlands more extensive than what is shown"" he asked. "It seems a little bit ‘not in keeping with the neighborhood’"a real suburban style. You’re a long way from determining the number of lots."

Feeney suggested that Jacobson keep floodplains in a clustered plan, in common ownership for future homeowners to limit encroachment from neighbors and homes.

Jacobson estimated that the water table would be seven to eight feet from the surface. Neighbors in the small crowd said that their nearby water table is about four feet down.

"The wetlands here, obviously, are the driving force," Jacobson said.

Newly-appointed planning board member Lindsay Childs, who is a member of the Guilderland Pathway Committee, detoured the discussion briefly.

"I’ve added, in pencil, a little piece of path," he said. "Put the path in before you put the houses, so it is established." Board members told Childs that the path he sketched bordered wetlands.

Board member Thomas Robert said that he spent time at the park near the plant during the summer. "There were a lot of days it wasn’t bad, and a lot of days it was really bad," he said about the odor. "It scares me to develop that area like that."

When informed that a 1,000-unit apartment complex is also nearby, Feeney said, "Fair enough. Buyer beware. You have to make sure people are aware."

One neighbor received mild applause when he said that he favors a plan similar to the ones proposed by Jacobson, but that he wants open space in the project to be preserved forever.

Scott Frush, of Nott Road, said that a lot of people occupy the area now.

"Is my neighborhood still going to be desirable if this subdivision goes through" I want to trust my government" and that the planning board will represent him, he said. Frush was applauded when he concluded, saying that he does not support a subdivision on Grant Hill Road.

The planning board continued the concept presentation.

"We operate under the laws of the town. We do our best to be sure that developments that come in" match the neighborhood, Feeney said.

"We can’t just say, ‘We don’t like this subdivision. We want it to go away.’ We try to make it as sensitive to the neighborhood as we can," Feeney said.

Just Cats

The board approved veterinarian Susan Sikule’s request to expand her practice Just Cats at 2073 Western Ave. into the next-door building she owns at 2075 Western Ave. According to her deed, she must share a driveway with a neighbor. She and the neighbor share a garage, she said.

Sikule said the expansion will help with traffic flow. Currently, tractor trailers making deliveries must back into the driveway, stopping and cutting across the heavily-trafficked road near its intersection with Route 155. She hopes to use the first floor of the second building for products to sell, and the second floor for offices.

The board agreed that a new traffic plan would resolve the problems of Sikule’s clients parking on the neighbor’s property, and the large trucks turning on the neighbor’s property.

David Reid, of the Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Association, said that the group supports small independently-owned businesses. He suggested that she install period lighting and a sidewalk.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Approved a plan by Rose Levy to convert a former framing store to a women’s clothing store. The approval was conditional on the addition of a sidewalk across the front to join to the businesses on either side.

The board suggested that Levy remove a couple of parking spaces, which are in the front of the building, to allow the sidewalk. The board suggested that her landlord accompany her to the zoning board meeting for final approval;

— Approved a request for a special-use permit for Wayne Goodnow to operate a driving school from his home on Ableman Avenue. All work is done off-site, Weston said; and

— Approved a site plan to permit an in-law apartment on Frenchs Hollow Road. Owner Leslie Coughtry said that the septic system has always been adequate.

TV writer learns about ‘hyenas, ticks, Leonardo’

By Matt Cook

GUILDERLAND — Steven Zorn is learning about the Spanish-American War and he’s learning fast, because he’s going to have to teach the war to millions of TV viewers.

Zorn is a writer for non-fiction TV shows. He’s done work for The History Channel, TLC, and Discovery Channel.

"You learn a lot," Zorn said of his writing. "The challenge is to learn it and teach it at the same time. It’s almost like having perpetual finals."

Zorn, of Virginia Beach, Va., grew up in Guilderland and graduated from Guilderland High in 1980. He earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Buffalo.

Zorn worked in Philadelphia, editing children’s books for seven years and was looking for a change when a friend recommended he take a job as a research assistant with a Virginia Beach production company that was creating a show on archeology for TLC. The job was supposed to last six months.

"A six-month job as a researcher sort of morphed into associate producer, producer, and then writer," Zorn said. "So, it just kind of happened, I guess."

Since landing his first job, Zorn has written for several TV shows. Most recently, he wrote Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By which premiered in December on the History Channel, and The Plague, on the same channel in November.

Writing non-fiction TV isn’t that different from writing children’s books, Zorn said.

"It’s all storytelling," he said.

Pen for hire

Zorn works freelance. Usually, he gets an assignment from a production company or cable channel and then hits the library and the Internet, learning as much as he can about a topic.

Sometimes, he uses a research assistant, but, Zorn said, "To know these topics, you really have to research them yourself."

Zorn has found that experts are eager to share their knowledge.

"People are always willing to talk," Zorn said.

When he’s finished with his research, Zorn writes a script.

"With these reenactment-heavy shows, you write what the scenes are," Zorn said, "...and then the producer takes that and we discuss it."

Unlike Zorn, who is the writer, the producer has a budget to worry about and has to fit the show into a certain amount of time. Some of his more ambitious reenactment scenes don’t always make it to TV, Zorn said.

"A lot of it boils down to money," he said. "The producer goes out and cuts the corners back. It’s sort of a tug of war."

For this reason, Zorn doesn’t always watch the shows he writes when they’re broadcast.

"It’s uncomfortable for me watching it, because I know what it was, what it could’ve been," Zorn said.

Eventually, Zorn said, he gets around to watching a recording.

Zorn’s script for Da Vinci and the Code He Live By, about the prototypical Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci, was an hour longer than the version that reached broadcast.

"It was really in-depth," Zorn said. "I had to learn basically everything about Leonardo...That was one of the hardest, but also the most gratifying."

Zorn joked that he doesn’t remember anything from his Guilderland High history classes.

The Leonardo show was one of Zorn’s most successful. Drawing on the popularity of the best selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, the show brought in good ratings for The History Channel.

Currently, Zorn is writing a series about barbarians. It’s a follow-up to a popular series he did a few years ago for The History Channel. Zorn is heading up the writing team and writing two segments himself: on the Franks and the Vandals.

Zorn is also working on the Spanish-American War show. When he took on the project, he thought it was going to be a boring assignment. But, he said, as he learns more about the war, he’s becoming more interested.

"It really parallels our current political and war situation," Zorn said. "So, it’s really timely."

Non-fiction television has survived the wave of reality TV and continues to be a popular niche in the cable market, Zorn said.

"People like factual TV that isn’t reality-based," he said. "I think they want to feel smart. I think people are curious."

This is good for Zorn because he has no plans to change careers.

"It’s been a good ride," he said. "It’s fun to get a phone call and suddenly be learning about hyenas, or ticks, or Leonardo."

Commish drafts mission for APD

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Anthony Salerno, hired in August as the village’s new public safety commissioner, has drafted a mission statement for the police department. In February, at the village trustees monthly meeting, he plans to unveil his restructuring of the department.

"I feel it’s important we set a guidance of what our accomplishments are to the public," Salerno told The Enterprise this week.

The page-long mission statement says that Altamont Police will "provide professional, high-quality, and effective police service in partnership with the community."

It also says the department values "an ethical, caring, and diverse community, which is characterized by honesty, integrity, respect, fairness, empathy, equal opportunity, trust, and civility."

Salerno, who has worked for 19 years as an investigator with the Albany Police and continues to work for that department, said he developed the mission statement himself and it’s new to the village police.

Formerly, he said, Altamont Police were largely known for their traffic patrols and he is focusing on other areas as well.

The statement lists five "values," the first being: "We act to meet the emergency and daily needs of the community to preserve peace and order, to reduce crime and its effect, and to aid traffic safety."

Other values stress "a professional and well-trained staff," enhancing the "quality of life" through an "active partnership with the citizens and business community of Altamont," recognizing diversity in the community, and respecting individual rights.

"Most professional agencies have a mission statement," said Salerno. "We needed one."

Hearing complaints

Salerno is also producing a set of standard operating procedures, now in draft form, which are about as thick as a metropolitan telephone directory.

As part of this, about two weeks ago, he said, he printed the department’s first personnel complaint form. Starting this week, Salerno said, the forms will be available at the clerk’s office in Village Hall. They can also be requested through the mail or from a police officer.

Salerno will get back to the person lodging the complaint, he said.

Colin Abele, of Berne, a clerk at Ketchum’s Service Store, made a complaint two weeks ago, accusing Officer Joshua Davenport of intimidation and harassment. Abele wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, and also spoke to Salerno about his allegations.

Last week, Salerno announced, in a release, that he had completed an investigation of the complaint, and the officer had been suspended without pay and would be required to attend human-relations training.

This week, Salerno said that Davenport had been suspended for one work week, which, because he works part-time, amounted to two days. He is now back at work.

Asked what the investigation had shown, Salerno said, "Some things have been substantiated...They have been addressed." He declined to comment further on what was substantiated or how they were addressed.

Asked what the suspension had accomplished, Salerno said, "We addressed the issue accurately and quickly...We all make mistakes...We don’t want personality to get involved."

He went on to say, "We treat everyone the same, whether it’s someone in the court system that we arrested or one of our officers...I hold our officers to a higher standard. I want people to work to their full potential. They’re holding a position where their ethics and morals matter."

Abele told The Enterprise last week, after he received a letter from Salerno saying his complaints were substantiated, "I don’t think I want him removed from the force." He said he just wanted Davenport to change his conduct.

Abele concluded, "I’m perfectly willing to put this behind me. I hope that he learned some lessons, and I learned some lessons myself."

Otterness odyssey a shear delight

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Donald Otterness was a middle-aged man when he saw a slide show of New Zealand and promised himself that, one day, he would go there.

That was 20 years ago.

He is now 74 and just returned from a month-and-a-half of sheep- shearing in New Zealand.

Otterness grew up on a farm in Minnesota and has a farm of his own in Altamont, where he is raising, among other things, about 55 sheep.

His New Zealand odyssey began with a letter from the head of a sheep-shearing company, Al Cummings. "He must have seen my name in a magazine," said Otterness of a trade journal. "They are short of shearers."

New Zealand has 40 million sheep, he said, which account for a quarter of its economy.

From the start, Otterness was struck by New Zealand’s beauty. His plane landed in Auckland, on the North Island. And on his first day there, he rode by bus across the entire island to the farm where he would stay.

He felt so filled up with beauty that first day, Otterness said to himself, "I can go home now."

He went on, "One tree was so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to look at it."

He described it as a pine tree in a perfect triangular shape with all its needles pointing up.

"A pleasure to shear"

Otterness paid for his flight over, and then earned a dollar for each sheep he sheared. The oldest in his crew, he sheared about 80 a day, while others sheared 200 or 250 sheep each day.

He lived in a farmhouse on Cummings’s land with shearers from Norway, England, South America, and different parts of the United States.

The man from England was a professional shearer and travels all over the world, practicing his craft.

"They all spoke English," Otterness said of his housemates, so communication was no problem.

Each day, work started early, at 7 a.m. and — with an hour break for lunch and two half-hour breaks besides — lasted until 5 p.m.

"I got better at shearing," said Otterness.

The operation was a model of efficiency, he said. All of the sheep were of one kind — crossbred.

"The wool was so uniform, it was a pleasure to shear it," said Otterness.

The sheep were shorn at stations, and a "rouser," using a long tool, would circulate, taking each layer of cut wool to be baled.

A Maori Christmas

Otterness had arrived in New Zealand on Dec. 1 and was worried he might be alone for Christmas. He had laughed with others, listening to songs about a white Christmas in the midst of New Zealand’s summer season.

He had called his wife, at home in Altamont, on Christmas Eve, and slept in late, till eight, on Christmas morning.

"A rouser called and said, ‘You’re coming over to my place; I’ll pick you up.’"

And so Otterness spent Christmas with a family of Maori, native New Zealand people of Polynesian descent.

"I felt right at home with them," he said, describing their modest home. "They cooked all their meat over stone — there was lamb, beef, chicken, fish...It was wonderful. And the salads. They kept bringing out the salads; they filled a table, a two-decker table. There were fruits and seafood and crab meat...We ate for two hours."

Although there was no Christmas tree and no gifts, Otterness had come prepared.

"I figured there might be kids," he said. "I made up felt balls of wool. I gave a felt ball to each kid there. They played with those balls all day. The dog and the puppies, too, they all played with them."

The people he met in New Zealand weren’t familiar with felt, said Otterness. "‘Felt — what’s that"’ they’d say," he reported. The shearing of wool is divorced from the spinning and weaving of wool or the making of wool products, he said. "They haven’t seen a crafter make one thing," he said.

Otterness concluded of his Maori Christmas, "There were no other gifts. It’s not commercial like here...The oldest person gave a prayer."

No place like home

Otterness has returned home imbued with a sense of wonder and efficiency.

"I will not forget this time in my life or the people I met," he said.

He went on, "I’m a better shearer now and can do a quicker job. I can do it easier because I learned how to balance my sheep...

"The sheep people in the U.S. look up to New Zealand even though they’re far away...They get more for their wool. It’s cleaner, it’s uniform. Their sheep are never in buildings. They’re always out on the hill; nothing’s mixed in," he said of their fleeces.

He described shearing the all-white wool, and finding a single black spot only once; that spot was discarded.

One thing, though, didn’t measure up to home — the dogs. Otterness is very proud of his trained border collies.

"They have so many sheep, their dogs run over the backs of the sheep to move them," said Otterness, concluding, "They do the herding all right, but they’re not as good as the border collies."

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