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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 13, 2006


Town wants to cut speed on Route 85

By Michelle O’Riley

NEW SCOTLAND — The town has asked New York State to reduce the speed limit on a segment of Route 85, the main thoroughfare in New Scotland.

The part of Route 85 that stretches between Bullock Road and Heldervue Avenue currently has a speed limit of 45 miles per hour; the town wants to lower that to 35 miles per hour.

In a June letter to New Scotland Supervisor Ed Clark, Robert Stapf, chairman of the town’s planning board, stated that safety and traffic were reasons for the request to lower the speed limit.

Several of the existing curb alignments are hard to see at 45 mile per hour, explained Stapf.

Stapf also pointed out that this area gets a lot of traffic due to businesses in the area and that traffic will only increase with future commercial development.

There are currently 26 businesses and 30 residential properties and farmland that can be accessed from this part of Route 85, including Stewart’s, Stonewell Plaza, the New Salem Fire Department’s New Scotland Road firehouse, and the town hall.

On July 6, the town submitted an official request to the New York State Department of Transportation for approval of the speed reduction.

"It would be in the town’s best interest for both economic development and the safety of its citizens for the state to lower the speed limit," Stapf wrote.

Peter Van Keuren, a spokesman for the DOT, told The Enterprise Wednesday, "We’ll check our files to see if we’ve looked at that [stretch of road] recently. If it merits another study, we’ll do that."

Asked what the study would involve, Van Keuren said, "First, we’d look at the geometrics, the location of the road, the signage, the environment." This would include noting changes in the area, such as new development, he said.

"Then we’ll take speed measurements," he said. "We’ll base our decision on that."

Asked how long the process would take, Van Keuren said, "It depends on the workload; usually a couple of months."

He added, "We get a lot of speed-limit reduction requests. Sometimes people look at it as solving whatever problems are out there. That’s not always the case."

Van Keuren concluded, "There’s no engineering solution for motorists that don’t drive well. We can build safe highways and bridges but, if people don’t obey the signs, there’s nothing we can do."

Other business

In other business, at its July 11 meeting, the New Scotland Planning Board:

In other business the board:

— Approved two minor subdivisions on School Road and Youmans Road and also an application for a subdivision on Waldenmaier Road;

— Approved two special-use permits for the construction on a single-family dwelling on Youmans Road and for a one-year extension to build a dog kennel;

— Approved a temporary use permit application to allow an existing mobile home to remain on Wolf Hill Road; and

— Received a 27-page report from Dr. Gary Kleppel, a professor at the University a Albany interested in local planning issues, on his ideas on the future development of the town.


New year, new prez, new direction for Voorheesville School Board

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — The new president of the Voorheesville School Board, David Gibson, said, "The goal is: We want to be careful to put our time on things that matter"helping children learn."

He went on, near the close of Monday’s meeting, the first he presided over as president, telling his fellow board members, "We will make sure we take care of the resources with which taxpayers trust us"We want to make sure we pay attention to what’s important," Gibson said, again referring to children, "not just what’s urgent."

In January, the state’s comptroller, after his office had conducted an audit, announced that two now-retired Voorheesville school administrators had used school funds inappropriately. The school board members had agreed their president at the time, Joseph Pofit, would speak for them in the wake of the comptroller’s accusations.

Pofit, who received widespread criticism for the way the board handled the matter, was defeated soundly at the polls in his May re-election bid. His opponent, newcomer Gary Hubert, was sworn into office at the start of Monday’s reorganizational meeting.

Pofit opened Monday’s session, leaving right after the new president and vice president, C. James Coffin, were elected.

Superintendent Linda Langevin presented Pofit with a plaque and thanked him for his eight years of service on the board. Pofit left as the board applauded.

"Take care," were his last words.

Both Gibson and Coffin were elected to their leadership posts unanimously, without opposition. Gibson said later he had not sought the post and implied no one else would take it.

Coffin, a long-time school-board member, was last re-elected in 2004 for a five-year term. Coffin worked for the State Education Department in the Division of Educational Finance and Management Services for 32 years, retiring in 1999. Coffin was traveling and unable to attend Monday’s meeting, Gibson said.

Gibson made his first run for school board in 2004 and then was elected in his next run, in 2005. Gibson is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of X-Ray Optical Systems, Inc.

While Gibson appeared eager to make a fresh start, old questions remained. Resident Bob Denman asked from the gallery about the status of the comptroller’s investigation.

Superintendnet Langevin responded that staff from the comptroller’s office had been in as recently as last week to look at documents.

"We have not received a formal draft report," said Langevin. "It could happen either fairly soon or as late as October."

Asked if the Albany County District Attorney’s Office is going to pursue indictments, Gibson said, "They have made no indictments. This should be coming out soon."

Langevin told The Enterprise Wednesday that board members had not seen a letter from the district attorney’s office to the school’s lawyer, stating there would be no indictments, until after the public meeting, in executive session. (See related story.)

Denman then asked about the school district’s liability.

"People always have the option of suing," said Gibson, indicating that winning a suit was another matter.

He went on, "We’ve been trying to be careful to make sure we limit the liability of the school.

Gibson concluded, "We are obligated and will report to the community."

Concerns

As the board made its annual appointments in the reorganizational meeting, concerns raised after the comptroller’s audit surfaced.

For example, board member Richard Brackett, when it came to appointing a treasurer, asked about being "overstaffed."

Gibson said that law required a treasurer but the person in that post can take on other duties as well. Gibson said the board could look at streamlining but not "on the fly."

"As long as we re-address that office," said Brackett. "We paid a lot of people a lot of money," he said, referring to consultant’s advice that hasn’t been followed.

Brackett also questioned the bank designation. "We were supposed to look at banks and put it off because of everything else going on," he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said she has not yet put out requests for proposals.

"We pay no fees whatsoever to Key Bank," she said, adding that a nearby bank was needed for daily school-lunch deposits.

Gibson pointed out that two banks have branches in town.

Winchell said on investments, the district gets quotes and the rule she follows is, "Safety first, then liquidity, then yield."

Gibson told The Enterprise after the meeting he was "not here for a single issue."

He said he thinks discourse with the public is worthwhile. "We can disagree and that’s okay," he said. He also said disagreement among school board members is not unhealthy. "We don’t have to vote unanimously," said Gibson.

He said of himself and the other board members, "We’re not here for the pay or the glory. We’re here because we think we can help."

Appointments

At its July 10 reorganizational meeting, the board appointed:

— Dorothea Pfleiderer as clerk;

— Kathleen Parsons as treasurer, records officer, and privacy officer;

— Susan Arditi as deputy treasurer;

— James McAssey as claims auditor;

— Whiteman Osterman & Hanna; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP; Roz Robinson; and Ruberti, Girvin & Ferlazzo, PC as school attorneys;

— Michael Kieserman, First Stop Medical, and The Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center as medical inspectors;

— Anne Smolen as treasurer of extra-curricular funds;

— Mark Diefendorf as comptroller of extra-curricular funds;

— Dorfman-Robbie, CPA’s, PC as auditors;

— Sarita Winchell as purchasing agent;

— Deborah Baron as tax collector;

— Linda Langevin as Title IX officer;

— Joann Donohue as census enumerator;

— Sarita Winchell, Michael Goyer, Donald Provost, Mary Ann Jones, Colleen Brackett, William Kelly, Joseph Sapienza, Theresa Kennedy, Kenneth Lein, Michael Paolino, and Paige Pierce to the district safety committee;

— C. James Coffin and Richard Brackett to the building project and facilities committee;

— Kevin Kroencke, Paige Pierce, and David Gibson to the curriculum committee;

— David Gibson, C. James Coffin, and Thomas McKenna to the planning and governance committee;

— David Gibson, C. James Coffin, and Gary Hubert to the audit committee;

— Kevin Kroencke and C. James Coffin to the negotiations committee;

— Key Bank for checking, money market or savings accounts; and

The Times Union, The Altamont Enterprise, and the Spotlight as official newspapers to carry school legal advertising.


No charges
Civil suits pending for McCartney, Marturano

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — The Albany County District Attorney has found no basis to prosecute two retired Voorheesville school administrators whom the state comptroller had accused of "inappropriately" paying themselves $216,000.

After months of investigation, District Attorney P. David Soares wrote in a June 22 letter to the school’s attorney that his office had concluded ""no theft of federal funds occurred and that criminal liability cannot be assessed against Drs. McCartney and Marturano."

At a press conference on Jan. 24, Comptroller Alan Hevesi had accused former Superintendent Alan McCartney and former Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano of authorizing payments to themselves without the school board’s knowledge or approval. Joseph Pofit, the school board president at the time who lost his reelection bid in May, said at the conference that the board was "outraged" the former officials would purposefully manipulate people and internal controls to enrich themselves.

Soares says that the school district’s "weak internal controls" are what likely led to the problems.

The Enterprise obtained a copy of the June 22 letter from the district attorney’s office on Wednesday. It is addressed to Norma Meacham of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, LLP, an Albany law firm.

Voorheesville Superintendent Linda Langevin told The Enterprise last night that the district is still pursuing its civil suits against McCartney and Marturano. She said the board spoke with Meacham in executive session Monday night and all of the board members agreed to continue with the suits.

Soares’s letter states, "We determined that the contracts between the Board of Education and Drs. McCartney and Marturano likely violated New York State contract and education law and contained impermissible provisions; however, they did not violate New York State penal law. The contracts were negotiated in good faith and we believe they properly reflect the intent of the parties."

Soares’s letter goes on to say, "Dr. McCartney submitted a large vacation buyback upon retirement. It appears Dr. McCartney believed he was entitled to payment for his full annual vacation allotment because he was employed on the first day of the fiscal year. The district and Dr. McCartney disagree as to whether he was entitled to the full year’s vacation despite his retirement in July. The contract is ambiguous. This is a contract dispute over which our civil courts have jurisdiction."

After repeated requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, The Enterprise earlier obtained copies of the contracts from the school district and found many ambiguities, including questions on which copies of contracts were valid.

"I didn’t know which was the correct contract," Langevin told The Enterprise last night. "Some of the language was ambiguous."

She declined to comment further on the contracts because of the pending litigation; the truth, she said, "will come out in that venue."

Asked if the board’s posture had changed, since its earlier stance of outrage, Langevin said, "They have seen the letter and are reflecting on it."

When The Enterprise, on Wednesday, called the new board president, David Gibson, elected Monday, for comment, he referred questions to Langevin.

Gibson did say in a prepared statement, transmitted to The Enterprise via e-mail by Langevin, "This has been a long and arduous process for the entire school, and particularly the district office. Although there were internal controls that were weak, actions have been implemented to correct those problems"."

Langevin described the overall feeling of the board and district as one of "relief."

"Voorheesville is an excellent school district with wonderful people," she said. "It is in everyone’s best interest to complete the task we need to complete and move forward. It is a relief to know there was no criminality involved."

Langevin said what worried her most, through the whole ordeal, was the effects on the children in the district.

"They have stood up under the pressure and done very well," she said. Referring to the announcement of no criminality, she said, "I was hoping this would come before the graduation" but at least now those graduated seniors will know.

Civil suits to proceed

The district filed the two suits, one against each retired administrator, in January, on the same day as the press conference, to try to recoup the funds. The court papers say that, by reason of the board’s "longstanding fiduciary relationship" with McCartney, it relied on him "for information and overall management of district personnel."

Board members took no responsibility for approving many of the payments. They claimed that McCartney and Marturano where purposely deceitful, and well aware what they were doing was not allowed.

When McCartney’s and Marturano’s contracts were up for renewal, the lawsuits allege, in 2002 and 1999 respectively, both men convinced the board that they were entitled to being reimbursed for unused sick time, so the board, through resolution, approved paying them extra money in their salaries over the course of three years before retiring. This also boosted their retirement packages, the school district claims in the suits it filed.

Hevesi said that McCartney, who retired in July of 2005, paid himself an extra $127,388 over the course of his 16-year tenure.

Marturano was accused, by Hevesi, of collecting $89,069 over the 11 years of his employment, until his retirement in 2002.

He steadfastly denied wrongdoing from the start. "I cannot say in strong enough terms, I did not do anything improper," Marturano told The Enterprise in January, the day after the press conference. "I’m shocked and surprised by the whole thing"My good name is now mud.

"Dr. McCartney and I were devoted to that school," Marturano said from Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he moved after retiring.

McCartney, who lives in Voorheesville declined throughout the ordeal to comment to the press on the advice of his lawyer, he said. Yesterday, he did not return a call from The Enterprise.

DA’s view

The three-page June 22 letter from Soares details the case’s background and the district attorney’s investigation. In response to multi-million-dollar fraud and embezzlement uncovered in the Roslyn School District on Long Island, the state legislature mandated the comptroller’s office to audit every school district in New York.

Voorheesville, with an annual budget of about $19 million, was selected as one of the first districts outside the downstate region to be audited.

"By late fall, the Comptroller uncovered weak internal controls and questionable expenditures amounting to more than $216,000 in its initial phase of the audit," the letter says. "The Comptroller also identified the former Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, Drs. Alan McCartney and Anthony Marturano, as the wrongful recipients of much of the funds."

During the early months of the audit, the Voorheesville School Board engaged attorney Dennis Curtin of Harris Beach PLLC "to pursue civil action against Drs. McCartney and Marturano," the letter states. "In December 2005, the District issued demand letters to each of the alleged wrongdoers. Drs. McCartney and Marturano engaged attorneys to defend themselves."

After the press conference on Jan. 24, Pofit and Curtin met with the district attorney’s office "and requested that our office investigate and prosecute Drs. McCartney and Marturano for larceny, fraud, and official misconduct," the letter says. "They claimed that the Board of Education had been defrauded by Drs. McCartney and Marturano through a conspiracy that included the former School Business Official and Current Assistant to the Superintendent for Business."

This last is a reference to Sarita Winchell who was earlier cleared of wrongdoing and, after a brief hiatus, returned to her job.

The district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit investigated the matter; spokesperson Rachel McEneny said the unit was created by Soares and this was one of its first investigations.

"In early February 2006," the letter continues, "the Albany County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at the home of Dr. McCartney and secured computers, financial records, legal papers, and calendars. The computer records were delivered to the New York State Police for forensic analysis"," the letter says. "Also in February 2006, the United States Department of Education Inspector General provided three Special Agents to assist in the investigation and analysis of the records obtained from the District."

The special agents and an assistant district attorney interviewed the past president and vice president of the school board and various school officials. The district’s $17 million capital project was also investigated and "no irregularities" were discovered, the letter says.

The letter goes on, "Along with the Voorheesville Central School District’s current superintendent, Ms. Linda Langevin, we discovered through interviews and analysis two distinct periods accounting for the majority of the questionable expenditures. Both of these periods had either a change in personnel responsible for tracking vacation days and payments or an absence of the person responsible for making the accounting entries at the end of the fiscal year."

The letter concludes, "The Office of the Albany County District Attorney agrees with the finding of the Office of the New York State Comptroller that weak internal controls at the Voorheesville Central School District likely led to the unjust enrichment of Drs. McCartney and Marturano."

New controls

Langevin went over some of the many controls the school district has implemented since the comptroller’s investigation began.

There are now a separation of duties, she said. "We no longer have one business office employee going through a procedure from beginning to end," Langevin said.

And, she went on, "Supervision is done now in a very directed way by the assistant superintendent for business."

Also, for vacation and sick time, each administrator now signs off.

"There’s a safety net, if errors are made in entering data, a supervisor oversees that," said Langevin. "I sign off on all payrolls."

Twice a year, every district employee has to show up in person and sign for a paycheck, said Langevin.

Additionally, recommendations outlined by Betty Cure of the New York State School Boards Association, covered by The Enterprise earlier, have been implemented, Langevin said.

Cure and an internal auditor will meet on July 24 as a follow-up and report to the board on their findings in August or September, she said.

Langevin, whose specialties had been in special education and curriculum development, has now taken accounting courses, she said.

"I need to have a thorough knowledge," she said. "There’s no sense in having another set of eyes look over things unless they’re an informed set of eyes."

She concluded, "We’re not going to be another Roslyn. We’re going to find closure and go on from here."


No ballcaps, no spikes: Stricter dress code drafted

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Dog collars and pajamas may soon be banished from the classrooms and corridors of Clayton A. Bouton, along with thigh-high skirts and too-tight pants.

Depending on the school board’s decision next Monday, high-school and middle-school students may have stricter guidelines on what they wear to school next year.

Board members this Monday had varied reactions to a list of 13 prohibitions for personal appearance, drafted by a committee of school staff, students, and parents.

"The site-based team worked on this most of last year," said high- school Principal Mark Diefendorf.

"Part of the complaints before were things were general and not clear," said board President David Gibson.

The draft, posted on the district’s website at the board’s request, prohibits the wearing of gloves; hats; sunglasses; slippers, roller sneakers, or heels higher than three inches; dresses, skirts, shorts, culottes, and skorts that are above mid-thigh.

It also prohibits clothes that would impair health and safety such as dog collars, chains, safety pins, spikes, spiked jewelry, accessories or unnecessary ornamentation; tight-fitting Spandex-type pants, pants with side slits or holes above the knees, see-through pants, tights or leotards worn as outer garments; and shirts that do not cover the top of shoulders or that expose the midriff or undergarments.

Further, it prohibits tank tops, tube tops, mesh tops, sheer tops, halters, or bare midriff tops and declares, "No student is to be bare backed."

It also prohibits clothing symbolic of gangs or disruptive groups associated with threatening behavior, harassment, or discrimination; clothing and accessories that contain vulgar, derogatory, or suggestive diagrams, pictures, slogans or words; and clothing and accessories that promote alcohol, tobacco, or drug use or which display weapons or violence and which cause or are likely to cause disruption.

Enforcement

Board member Richard Brackett asked if the new dress code would also apply to the faculty and staff.

"They can and they should," said Superintendent Linda Langevin, "but it can’t be enforced."

"Legally it would not hold up," agreed Kathleen Fiero, president of the teachers’ union, "but I hope professionally, they would abide by it."

"I’ve got problems with that," said board member Kevin Kroenke, painting a verbal picture of a teacher on a warm "springy" day, wearing a backless sundress. He said teachers should be role models in a classroom.

Brackett also asked who would determine if a student were wearing sweat pants or pajamas.

There are kids that sleep in their blue jeans, said Gibson.

Diefendorf responded that administrators would decide if the clothing were causing a disturbance in the educational process, language he said came from the state’s education commissioner.

In the high school, he said, administrators would enforce the policy.

"In the middle school," he said, "they deal with it very quickly and effectively." If a girl is showing too much cleavage, he said, she’ll be given a T-shirt to wear or, if a boy is wearing pants that are riding too low, he’ll be told to hike them up.

The draft of the policy states, "Students who violate the dress code shall be required to modify their appearance...Any student who refuses to do so shall be subject to discipline, up to and including in-school suspension...for the day. Any student who repeatedly fails to comply...shall be subject to further discipline, up to and including out-of-school suspension."

"The last thing in the world I want to become is part of the clothes police," said Diefendorf, adding, "If the board wants it, I’ll do it."

Mixed reaction

Gibson said the board will take up the matter again when it meets next Monday.

"I’m a little unclear what we’ll do next week," said board member Paige Pierce. "I don’t know how many students are aware this is being discussed and voted on."

Diefendorf said that, as he requested, all social studies classes for sixth through 12th grade discussed the dress-code draft. One class, he said, "had a demonstration of gang garb and non-gang garb."

Many students asked for copies of the draft, he said.

"How did the students react"" asked Brackett.

Diefendorf said the reaction was mixed. "Some don’t like it; they would like to maintain their individuality," he said. Others, he went on, "could care less."

One of the big things, Diefendorf said, is the prohibition on head coverings; a lot of kids wear baseball caps.

Brackett asked if parents had challenged the code, and Diefendorf said that parents have said, "You can’t tell me what I can dress my child in."

Langevin said that, according to state law passed in 2001, even if parents object, the school has jurisdiction over students’ dress.

Pierce again said she wanted to have community and student input and she questioned the prohibition on "accessories or unnecessary ornamentation."

Diefendorf responded that the site-based committee had representatives from those groups and said on the "unnecessary ornamentation": "We’ve had students who wear dog chains and put spikes on their shoulder."

Gibson concluded that unanimity of students isn’t needed to vote something in.


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