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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 18, 2006

At Voorheesville
Pofit ousted

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — The community sent a message with its vote on Tuesday night: they support its public-education program, but not the school board — well, at least not its president.

Incumbent board President Joseph Pofit lost his re-election bid to newcomer Gary Hubert in a whopping 383 to 604 vote; while the budget and the two propositions passed.

The $20 million budget passed easily with 641 yes votes and 518 no votes. It represented a 4 percent increase over this year’s budget; and a 3.29 percent increase in the tax levy. The $190,000 proposition to fix the leaking roof at the high school passed with 761 votes to 374. And the bus proposition passed 671 to 460.

A silence fell over the corridor Tuesday night as results of the school-board race were announced. The hallway was occupied primarily by school officials and poll workers. Board member Kevin Kroencke turned around and offered a handshake to Hubert, who stood a little removed in the back row, while most formed a semi-circle around the person reading the tallies.

Pofit had received widespread criticism for his reaction and the way the board handled the January announcement of the state comptroller’s findings of misappropriated funds. The Voorheesville school board members elect their president each July, and they agreed the president, Pofit, would speak for them in the wake of the comptroller’s accusations.

Hubert’s main campaign promise was to have more effective communication with the public.

Also, a sense of mistrust still lingers in the community. Pofit, who has been on the board for eight years, was a member when the board approved salary increases in former Superintendent Alan McCartney’s last three years to compensate for unused sick time; the district is now claiming in a lawsuit it was deceived by McCartney into granting the increase. McCartney, in a memo to the board, claimed that the school was liable because it owed him over $100,000 of unused sick time; this is something that does not appear to be guaranteed in his previous contracts.

Pofit was also on the board when it approved former Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano’s final memorandum of agreement, which paid him for unused sick days in the form of stipends, something the board is now trying to recoup, saying it was money that Marturano was not actually entitled.

Thomas McKenna is now the only remaining board member who was in office in December of 1999, when Marturano’s retirement date and final employment agreement was approved. Current board member James Coffin was on the board in February of 2002, when McCartney’s last contract was approved. All other current board members joined the board after. Richard Brackett was not elected until May of 2002.

"People don’t know how difficult the job of a board member is until they become one," Superintendent Linda Langevin said late Tuesday night. "Kevin [Kroencke] and Dave [Gibson] both said they learned a lot this year; it’s a real learning experience," she said. Kroencke and Gibson were elected last year.

"I’m still learning," Pofit said.

"I’m glad everything passed. I’m going to miss him," Langevin said as she looked Pofit in the eye. "He’s been a good leader this year."

When Hubert was asked why he thinks he won by such a large margin, he said, "I think it’s about what went on this spring really" It’s an indication to me that the public is not satisfied with the way things went and the way things still are."

"I’m going to try to communicate with the public more, there has to be a better avenue of communication," Hubert said . He said he’s ready to "start at the bottom and learn the way up."

Hubert, who works for a direct-marketing company printing high-speed digital images, has frequently attended board meetings. He said Tuesday, he’s eager to gain access to more information now that he’s a board member. He went on to say that he wants to look at finances. In 10 to 15 years, the way schools are financed and the way taxes are allocated is going to have to change, he said.

Hubert also looks forward to some of the new projects in the works, including improving the elementary school. (See related story.) He said he’s not going to make any promises except that he’ll give 100-percent effort.

Board response

After the corridor cleared out, all that remained was a literal supportive circle of board members with Pofit as one of the links: James Coffin, Richard Brackett, Kevin Kroencke, Thomas McKenna, and David Gibson. Board member Paige Pierce was not at the school on election night.

The Enterprise asked the board members why they thought Pofit lost.

"We don’t know," McKenna said. And others chimed in with, "We would need a crystal ball," or, "Without exit polls, we can’t know for sure," or, "There were two good candidates up for election."

They all agreed that the decisions and actions that were made this year were done collectively. Coffin said the board had core discussions and Kroencke said, "We’re a school board; everything we do together is done as a corps."

The Enterprise asked, if they would go back and change anything, now that they know this is the outcome.

Gibson responded by asking "How many decades can we go back""

"Now we’re moving forward, not backward," Coffin said.

Board members were also asked what message they were taking away from the vote.

"I think the public is pretty well informed," Coffin said. A large number of people came out to board meetings after the allegations were made, and all the board members have been available to the community whether it be by phone, e-mail, or at the meetings, he said.

"We think we took the correct course of action — everything we did we thought out very carefully," Coffin said, "I think Mr. Pofit did a tremendous job."

"He was the right person for the job at the right time," McKenna said.

The Enterprise also asked board members if they thought that Pofit was now unfairly bearing the brunt of voter ire because of the luck of the draw that it was his term that was up for re-election.

"As a board we really appreciate what Joe did this year"He did what we thought was best without regard to what will happen in the election," Gibson said. Pofit did what the board thought was the best for the school and "we appreciate that greatly," Gibson said.

"Eight years is long enough" good enough," Pofit told The Enterprise directly after the results were read. He’s ready to "pass it on to good hands," he said.

"I anticipated it was not going to go over easy"The board president is carrying the torch through the year," Pofit said a few minutes later when his colleagues had joined him. "The board president has a particularly tough role," he said.

"In the past, if things were handled a little more differently".I think the public is saying maybe it’s time for some new board members to come on," Pofit said.

When asked his concerns for the future, Pofit said he’d like to see the district focus on curriculum and instructional planning, something everyone has said is a high priority, and is an expertise that Langevin brings to the school. Also he hopes the district is successful in securing grant funding.

"We made a lot of changes this year," Gibson said, citing putting controls in the financial system, and now, he said, attention needs to be turned to the curriculum for the students. Everyone is "chomping at the bit" to get started on that task, he said.

"The budget vote shows the public supports the efforts of the school," Gibson said. The school is a conglomerate of many people: department chairs, students, principals, teachers, staff, he said. "The first line is really the teachers," Gibson said.

The budget passed easily despite New Scotland going through town-wide revaluation this year, which sometimes causes voter backlash. The average residential property value increase was 77 percent.

With the confusion of re-assessment this would have been an easy year for the budget not to pass, Gibson said. The vote on the roof was especially strong, which shows that people are listening, he said.

Pofit said he’s "very pleased" that the budget passed. The administration put together a very strong budget and the board tried to keep the budget increase low, he said.

Langevin said she is "very excited" about the budget and propositions passing. "Everyone worked very hard this year," she said as she went on to thank the voters.

The Enterprise asked the cluster of board members who they were going to elect as their new president, and if anybody was ready to step up to the plate. At first, nobody motioned or said anything.

"We’ll figure it out," Coffin said. He wishes he had until Christmas for the board to discuss it and decide. Elections take place in early July, when the new school board member, Hubert, will be sworn in.

The Enterprise asked Richard Brackett who is up for re-election next year if he was worried at all, he replied that a year is a long ways away and a lot can happen in that time.

This isn’t how we make a living and put food on the table, Gibson said.

But you love it, The Enterprise said.

"Ahhhhh," the board members retorted not particularly agreeing. Their scrunched faces indicated that it can be unpleasant or burdensome

"We serve," they said.

Library budget passes

VOORHEESVILLE — The $880,880 library budget, a 7-percent increase from this year, passed in Tuesday’s election with 663 yes votes and 473 no votes. The library has always received widespread support from the community. Incumbent library trustee Robert Kent, who ran unopposed, received 810 votes. There were no write-ins.

— Holly Grosch

New gym for elementary school "

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — Should a new $2 million gym be part of the elementary school reconstruction project"

The school board is now considering two separate upgrade projects for the district’s buildings — one for $5.9 million, and the other for $7.9 million.

The major difference, is that one repairs the existing lower gym at the elementary school and the other turns the lower gym into three classrooms and builds a new gym over the courtyard heading to the back recreation field. The new classrooms could be used to house a full-day kindergarten program, which may eventually be required by the state.

The district plans to have a capital project proposition out to the voters this fall, so construction can begin in the summer of 2007.

Michael Fanning, the district’s architect for this project from Dodge, Chamberlin, Luzine, and Weber Associates, has re-figured and adjusted estimated costs since his initial announcements last fall due to the increased cost of raw material expenses.

The total cost for refurbishing both the high school and elementary school is estimated to be $5,868,000 or $7,999,000, largely dependant on the gym option that is chosen.

Clayton A. Bouton projects

The scope of renovations at the building that serves both the high school and middle school, Clayton A. Bouton, has been scaled back since the fall by the district’s building committee and will now cost $491,000. The elementary school’s minimal projects will cost $5.4 million dollars. But Fanning is proposing a handful of alternative projects totaling an additional $2.1 million.

The additional alternative projects include the new gym and a few smaller items: more electrical panels at the elementary school, $95,000; and ceiling work at the middle school, $67,000.

Converting the lower gym into three class rooms and adding a brand new gymnasium would cost $1.9 million. The actual expense would be $2.5 million, but that price is offset by eliminating some of the repair costs to the lower gym represented in the $5.4 million estimate that would no longer need to be completed.

Repairing the high school roof was pulled out of the district-wide projects planned for 2007 and brought before voters in a $190,000 proposition on Tuesday, which taxpayers approved overwhelmingly. (See related story.) The roof repairs will now go out to bid, and construction will begin this summer.

Half of the expense at the high school is now for reconstructing the tennis courts. It will cost $264,000 to rip out the existing courts and repave, surface, and fence. The existing tennis court has been in place since 1958, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said.

Elementary school projects

The largest expense at the elementary school is replacing all the unit ventilators in each room, which circulates fresh air from outside into each classroom. Exhaust and ventilation upgrades are needed throughout the elementary school building not just in classrooms, but also in corridors, bathrooms, and the auditorium, for a total price of about $2.9 million to improve the quality of air flow.

Also in the minimal elementary school plan, is replacing ceiling tiles and asbestos classroom floor tiles. Strategies need to be implemented to prevent leaks and flooding. Besides reinforcing the school’s foundation and walls part of the scheme is to re-grade the lawn in a downward slope away from the building, to install subsurface drainage, and to reconstruct the cistern and storm drainage piping.

Replacing windows in the 1960’s wing of the elementary school will cost $213,000. And a new building-wide fire-alarm system will cost $254,000. "The current system is functioning but doesn’t have a lot of life left," Fanning said.

Fanning is also recommending adding water softeners to the heating systems and domestic hot-water systems in both buildings, but not to the cold drinking water since it affects the taste. This will reduce the water hardness, reducing the wear on the piping systems. This will cost $34,000 at the elementary school, and $48,000 at Clayton A. Bouton.

Board member James Coffin and Richard Brackett, who are on the building committee, questioned the need for a complete refurbishment of some of the bathrooms.

Coffin said spending half a million dollars on bathrooms makes him take a step back. He recently inspected a school bathroom, he said, where the tile on the walls and floors are in pretty good shape. Some fixtures do need replacing, he said, but he questioned the need to tear up all the walls and floors.

Fanning said that the district will be putting in fixtures that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Replacing fixtures often means replacing tiling completely, and removing the walls to get to the plumbing.

Fanning said he’d rather see the district re-do two bathrooms completely rather then half renovate four. "You can cut back the scope in that way," he said.

Gym pros and cons

Gaining three classrooms at the elementary school would support full-day kindergarten, if the state mandates it. Currently, Voorheesville offers a half-day Kindergarten program.

School board member David Gibson said that it seems, at this point, it’s not a matter of if full-day kindergarten will go in effect but rather when.

Elementary school Principal Kenneth Lien said that, currently, Voorheesville Elementary hosts one BOCES class for special education, which the building probably could not hold when full day kindergarten is adopted.

Gibson said the courtyard is most certainly a pleasant space, but he asked Lien how much it is actually used. Lien said that it’s barely used.

"Aesthetically, it’s very pleasing," elementary school teacher Kathy Fiero said. She’s concerned about the proposal for a modern gymnasium in the midst of a "beautiful Art Deco building," she said.

Usually the main concern for maintaining historic architecture in a growing building is maintaining the street-side view and front facade, Fanning said; the courtyard is in back of the school.

Another setback to the proposed two-story-high gymnasium is that it will be blocking off windows to six rooms, four of which will be left with no outdoor windows at all, requiring those rooms to be equipped with air-conditioning, Fanning said. He added that none of those spaces would be used as regular classrooms. One of the rooms is currently a teachers’ study.

Also, what is now the Kids Club office, for a after school program, would be reduced in size and be used as gym storage.

The existing locker rooms would be a good way down the hall from where the new gym would be located. Lien said he does not think that it would be a major problem to have kids walk unescorted down the hall to the gym, past classes in session.

Fiero said she recognizes that the district doesn’t have a large parcel of land to work with at the elementary-school site, with the road to one side and the creek to the other. She then pointed out that, if the new gym in the courtyard is the route the board chooses, then memorial trees would have to be relocated respectfully.

An audience member suggested considering relocating to a new building.

Coffin said that he doesn’t think residents would want to abandon this elementary school building, which has been a community center and historic place filled with collective memories. Additionally, constructing a whole new building is considerably more expensive.

Rather then build a new school building, when or if the district is ever strapped for space, classrooms could be built where the buses are located now, and the bus garage could be moved off site, Coffin said.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Accepted a donation from the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation, of $10,000 to start the funding of portable outdoor bleachers for the middle school, and accepted grant money secured through Assemblymen John McEneny for the same project. The foundation, the PTA and booster club will be donating the rest of the cost later on. The foundation’s annual gala dinner fund-raiser is this Saturday, May 20;

— Gave tenure to elementary-school teachers Michael Burns and Jennifer Scott; science teachers Jessica Bradshaw and Maria Karatzou; and business teacher Heather Garvey;

— Accepted the retirement of C.W. Clarke, a bus driver for 15-and-a-half years; Marie Fugitt, a bus driver for 14 years; Dennis M. Ulion, an elementary school-teacher for 29 years; and Susan J. Beemer an elementary teacher who has worked at Voorheesville for 30 years; and

— Appointed Dorfman-Robbie as the district’s new auditing firm, which will conduct the school’s independent audit at the end of this fiscal year — June, 30, 2006. The company will be paid $11,700.

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