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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 4, 2006

In split vote
R’ville board adopts moratorium

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — The town board last week narrowly passed a one-year moratorium on new major subdivisions in the town.

At a special meeting last Thursday, the Rensselaerville Town Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of the moratorium. Split along party lines, Republican Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg and Republican board members Myra Dorman and Robert Lansing voted for the moratorium, while Democrats Sherri Pine and Gary Chase voted against it.

For one year, the moratorium will halt subdivisions of over three lots in Rensselaerville. A previous draft called for a stop to developments along ridge lines and non-residential developments over 2,000 square feet, but the town board changed those requirements after it met with harsh criticism from residents.

The intent of the moratorium is to give the planning board time to review the comprehensive plan and "look at what needs to be added and deleted," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise.

"We haven’t revisited the comprehensive plan since 1992, which is a long way ago," Nickelsberg said.

Though some residents, particularly large landowners, have vocally opposed the moratorium, Nickelsberg said he believes the majority is in favor of it.

"At the end of the day, the majority has to rule," he said.

Chase told The Enterprise he voted against moratorium because petitions and comments at meetings indicated to him that more people in the town were against the moratorium than for it.

Moratoriums, Chase said, are only for when there is intense pressure for development in a town, and he does not believe that exists in Rensselaerville.

To aid the planning board in its work, the town formed a comprehensive-plan committee of residents from each part of town, large and small landowners, and local business people. The committee is currently up to 11 people, but a few more will be added soon, Nickelsberg said.

"We want more people representing the business community," he said.

At Berne-Knox-Westerlo, four run for a single seat

By Matt Cook

BERNE — Four candidates are seeking one seat on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, a rarity for the district. Three of them have never held an elected public post.

While voters are at the polls on May 16, they will also be asked to decide on an $18.5 million budget. With a tax-levy increase of only 2.4 percent, thanks largely to an increase in state aid, district officials hope the budget will do better than it’s done in the past.

In the last two elections, the budget failed, passing later on a re-vote.

The issues

The candidates for school board are John Harlow, Judd Krasher, Robert Rue, and Leo Vane, the incumbent, Karen Storm, is not running. School board members serve three-year terms, though there is a ballot measure to increase the term to five years starting at the 2007 election.

The Enterprise asked each candidate the same four questions:

—The budget has passed in recent years, but barely. What would you do to help create a budget that’s acceptable to the students, staff, and taxpayers"

—A facilities committee is currently formulating a long-range plan for the use of school property. What are your thoughts on the subject, especially in light of declining enrollment"

—What classes or programs, if any, do you think the school should be offering but currently isn’t"

—Following the lead of several area districts, the school board recently voted to do away with the valedictorian and salutatorian honors by the time the Class of 2010 graduates. Do you think this was the right decision, and if so, how would you replace the honors"

John Harlow

John Harlow is running for his second term on the school board. His first ended in 2005, after which he decided not to seek re-election to allow a candidate from Westerlo on the board.

"The job for being on the school board is basically one of common sense," Harlow said. "I think that’s very, very important, and a good pragmatic common sense person is a person who will make a good school board member."

Harlow, 63, is a 32-year resident of Berne. He is retired from Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and now runs his own business, reselling technical equipment over the Internet.

On the budget, Harlow said that, although some costs are hard to control, the job of the board is "to assess those that can be controlled by the board" and make sure that they match the "community’s experience" of prices.

"Any change in substance that is not in line with that of the community, I would be very much against that," Harlow said.

On the facilities, Harlow said that any plan has to reflect what the district can afford, even if it means extreme measures.

"If it becomes necessary to consider joining into a consolidated district, then certainly that should be examined, because a consolidated district could result in some significant savings," he said.

On new classes, Harlow is a strong proponent of starting elementary students on Chinese in order for American students to stay competitive on the international stage.

He also encourages more rigorous math and science courses at younger ages. Americans are becoming increasingly ignorant of basic science concepts, he said, which is leading to poor decision-making. He noted, for example, the misguided choice of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

"That doesn’t mean I would sacrifice the more creative aspects of young lives, either," Harlow said, "but the decisions our children are going to make are bound to be based on math and science."

Instead of eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian honors, Harlow proposes an in-house weighting system to determine the two highest ranking students.

According to Harlow’s system, a panel would analyze the top students’ grades and rank them according to the difficulty of the classes the students took. The results, however, would only be used for determining the valedictorian and salutatorian and would not be sent to colleges.

"People run races and they come in first, second, and third," Harlow said. "Why not in respect to education""

Judd Krasher

After he graduates this June, Judd Krasher hopes to change his role in the BKW School District from student to school board member.

Krasher, 18, moved into the district from Burnt Hills seven years ago. He partially attributes his personal growth in those seven years to BKW; the teachers in the district are far better than those in his previous district, Krasher said.

Krasher has had internships with the attorney general and the state assembly. He is a student in the very selective New Visions Law and Government program and is planning on attending The College of Saint Rose in Albany in the fall.

On the budget, Krasher noted that the current board was able to create a budget with a low tax increase for next year because of a larger amount of state aid than usual.

"I think it’s important that the board gets out there and is more aggressive in the role of seeking this money," Krasher said. "....To me, I don’t think we should just be waiting to get the money."

Using his lobbying skills from his internships, Krasher said, he would be willing to spearhead an effort to meet with legislators at least once a year.

"Lobbying is incredibly effective, especially with the New York State Legislature," he said, "because they are very interested in what BKW has to say. It’s a huge voting block."

To save money on energy, the board should at least research alternative energy sources, much like a group is doing with wind power in Knox, Krasher said. In his preliminary research, Krasher said, he found an elementary school in California that is powered by solar energy with panels funded almost entirely by state and federal grants.

"Of course, we don’t have the sunshine they have out there, but they don’t have the wind we have here," he said.

On facilities, Krasher said, "I think we need to do what's in the best interest of the students while spending tax money wisely."

While he applauds recent efforts to expand the school library, Krasher said, the district does not have a rich enough tax base for all the projects it might want.

"We need to make sure we’re spending money properly," he said.

On new classes, Krasher said, "I think it’s an excellent idea to offer at least the option for elementary students to take a foreign language of their choice...I think psychology will tell you that children are better learning a language at an earlier age."

He also supports teaching the "absolute basics of civics lessons" in elementary school.

"We really don’t have a class on government until the 12th grade," Krasher said. If students learn about government when they are younger, he said, they will be more apt to participate in it when they are older.

Krasher commended the school for adding an advanced placement chemistry class for next year, and encouraged an even wider range of choices.

On the valedictorian and salutatorian, Krasher said, "The system that was in place was archaic and I am thrilled that we finally abolished it."

Krasher is confident that a school board-appointed committee, of which he is a member, will come up with a good alternative. He’s leaning towards recognizing all students with an average above 93 or the top 5 percent of the graduating class.

"A lot of good ideas are being passed around," Krasher said.

Robert Rue

Robert Rue said he will work to "keep the budget manageable" while providing a strong education to the district’s children without sacrificing teachers’ jobs or extracurricular activities.

He also wants to help "heal the wounds" of Westerlo residents who feel sidelined after the district closed down the Westerlo Elementary School last year due to declining enrollment district-wide.

"Let’s work closer together with everybody," Rue said.

Rue, 43, works for Guilderland’s Parks and Recreation Department and has a degree in business and finance from the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. He’s lived in the Hilltowns his whole life and been a member of the PTA and involved in soccer and Little League. Currently, he’s a member of the Elementary School Shared Decision-Making Committee.

On the budget, Rue said, "They did a good job this year because they did a lot of cost-effective management. I would probably be on the same line."

Rue said he would consider saving money on health insurance by moving to a system of self insurance or by using a preferred provider organization.

On facilities planning, Rue said, he needs to see more data on the Westerlo school building. Maybe, he said, it can be used for special-education classes.

Some of the facilities discussion has been about moving the sixth-grade class from the middle school to the elementary school.

"I was one of the pioneers on that," Rue said. "I was on the elementary decision making committee when that was brought up."

Even if there is no room in the elementary school for them, Rue said, "I think we can do a better job of getting the fifth-graders ready for sixth grade." According to the committee’s research, Rue said, many new sixth-graders aren’t prepared for changing classes with the bells. He proposed a shadow program partly through the fifth-grade school year.

On classes and programs, Rue said the district should examine enrollment in its programs and remove those programs that aren’t being used. He suggested an after-school program on problem solving.

"Let’s get away from teaching them from the books a little bit. Let’s broaden their horizons a little bit," Rue said.

Rue agrees with the board’s decision to eliminate honors for the valedictorian and salutatorian.

"I think it’s a good decision because there is a lot of competition in the world already," he said.

The scholarships many of the students receive during the graduation ceremony are good rewards, Rue said.

"Like in life, the harder you work, the bigger your reward," he said.

Leo Vane

Leo Vane’s main goal is to keep the tax increase in the budget at about the same level as the proposed budget for next year. He wants to make the district more efficient by eliminating wasteful duplication of services.

Vane reacted to a letter to the Enterprise editor last week that called his suggestion about combining bus stops unsafe.

"I’m an airline pilot for American Airlines," Vane said. "I live safety everyday."

Vane, 50, has lived in the district for 12 years. He is a former president of his pilots’ union. He also works as a substitute teacher at BKW and is a frequent guest speaker on aviation.

Vane has many thoughts on the budget. He criticized the district’s transportation policy for being wasteful. For example, he said, students who miss the bus can call the school to send another one.

"I almost fell off my chair when I heard that," he said. "If you missed the bus, then it just became your responsibility to get to school."

Educators need to be willing to make the same sacrifices in pay and benefits that employees in all sectors in America have been making, Vane said.

"As a pilot, since 9/11, I have given back all types of concessions to stay out of bankruptcy, yet we have school teachers that, if you were to extrapolate their salaries for working six to eight months a year, make more than I do as an airline pilot," Vane said. "I think the school needs to take a closer look at this and negotiate."

Vane also called for "price shopping" to combat the energy crisis.

On facilities’ planning, Vane said the district should sell the Westerlo school building. The former elementary school is currently rented to the Helderberg Christian School.

"I fully believe that’s a large tax burden and it should be sold." Vane said.

Vane suggested using prefabricated buildings for additions and reopening a discussion on consolidation with the Duanesburg School District.

On new classes, Vane said he thinks the district is currently doing an "exceptional job" academically. He questioned Harlow’s suggestion that students should learn Chinese.

"Traveling, as I do, all around the world as a pilot, I think he’s mistaken there, because, really, Spanish is the world’s second language," Vane said. He does agree that the district should consider starting language training earlier.

Vane wondered why BKW doesn’t have a football team. If it did, Vane said, it would be a good one.

When he was playing football for Shaker High School, Vane said, "Every time we had to go and play Shenendehowa, we pretty much knew we were going to get whipped because those were the farm boys."

On the valedictorian and salutatorian honors, Vane said, "Those top honors are time-honored. They are recognitions that probably go back to the early settlement of the United States. I’m a little bit disappointed to see those awards take a back burner."

If it’s a question of deciding between a couple of top students with equal grades, Vane said, the school could factor in community service or involvement in activities like athletics.

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