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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 3, 2006


School Buses in all the wrong places"

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Voorheesville school buses, and their drivers, have been under intense scrutiny throughout the past school year.

Questions arose about the use of school buses after Janet Argiris, of New Scotland, brought her concerns, and her photographs, to the school board in February. Argiris complained that school buses were not being properly used, alleging drivers used them for personal errands. She was concerned about insurance coverage and the cost of fuel.

Following the board meeting, the school district launched an investigation into the use of school buses. "I did a thorough investigation. Nothing was out of line whatsoever," Linda Langevin, superintendent of the Voorheesville schools, said this week.

Argiris does not agree. She feels that some drivers are overstepping their driving priveledges. She has seen school buses parked at the Voorheesville Diner, the post office, various Mobil stations, banks, Smith’s Pizza Tavern, and the Newcomer-Cannon Funeral Home.

School district officials assert that they are aware of the whereabouts of all the buses at all times. All of the buses are equipped with radio systems, and the drivers must radio in and get permission before deviating from their routes.

Argiris has seen that some bus drivers take their buses home during the day, or park their buses at their homes overnight. She is concerned that this is costing the district fuel. Both Langevin and Sarita Winchell, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, say that, in the case of the few drivers who take their buses home, it is more cost effective for the district for them to do so. In those instances, the drivers have multiple routes, and their homes are closer than the school to the route, officials say.

In response to allegations by Argiris, Michael Goyer, transportation supervisor for the district, addressed some situations concerning buses in a memorandum to Winchell dated March 24, 2006. "First, school buses are never consistently on the move. There is always dead time in between runs," Goyer wrote in the memo, obtained by The Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request. He goes on, "It is not uncommon for a driver to stop on the path of their runs to use the bathroom, or due to time constraints, pick up a drink at a convenience store."

Finally, he addresses the situation of drivers taking their buses home. "Due to parking and washing situations, drivers have been able to take buses to their homes," Goyer wrote. He then lists the specific drivers who take their buses home, and the time they leave their homes with their buses.

A call to Goyer from The Enterprise this week was answered by Winchell.

Winchell again addressed the issue in a memo to Langevin dated May 15, 2006. She explained to Langevin that, in an earlier memo to Goyer, she stated, "The defining condition here is that you (Goyer) know where the bus is located." She also said: "I do not want the drivers to feel that they cannot make stops for using facilities or getting food when it is appropriate."

Winchell this week likened the bus to an office. Just as office workers are allowed breaks and meals, so, too, are bus drivers, she said.

"There is no insurance issue here, no issue with the district not kowing where buses are; the district knows where the buses are," said Winchell.

Roger Cohn, an agent with the Kenneth Fake Agency, the brokerage firm that the school district gets its insurance through, was asked if a school bus driver were using his bus for a personal errand and were involved in an accident, would it be covered under the insurance policy. He responded that the school buses would be covered the same if they were involved in an accident exiting a Mobil gas station as they would exiting the school parking lot.

Watchdog

Argiris has made it her mission to put a stop to drivers using buses for their own personal use. "These bus drivers are wasting gas," she said.

Argiris worked for the school district as a bus driver decades ago. At 67, she has retired from a long career of driving buses for the University of Albany. She says she carries a camera in her car so that she can take photographs of school buses when she sees them in unusual places.

"I don’t go out of my way to find them," she said.

Argiris is also inflamed that Christine Allard, the president of the United Employees of Voorheesville, the union representing bus drivers, drives her bus to her home on Rock Hill Road. Argiris has seen her bus, #108, at the post office, Smith’s Pizza Tavern, and at the Newcomer-Cannon Funeral Home on Route 155, she said.

"She is the one who should be setting the example," said Argiris.

Multiple phone calls from The Enterprise to Allard this week were not returned.

The UEV contract that ran through June 30 is silent on personal use of buses; it specifies salaries for bus drivers ranging in 12 steps from $11.94 per hour to $14.88 per hour.

Nothing to hide

Robert Fuglein has driven school buses for 24 years and said he has never had problems before with people questioning his work.

"Sometimes people jump to conclusions," he said.

The reason his bus might be seen at the bank or the post office, or The Altamont Enterprise where the district gets printing done, Fuglein said, is because he’s on school business.

"I’m a carrier for the school," he said.

Argiris also pointed out that Fuglein drives his bus to his home on Fuglein Lane and she was concerned that he is trying to hide his bus either in his garage or his barn.

Fuglein responded through The Enterprise, "I park it alongside my garage at night, so I can use my driveway" for other vehicles.

"If I come home in between," he said, of layovers between bus runs during the school day, "it sets in the driveway. I’m not hiding anything. I wave to my neighbors"I had permission from the school. It’s not like I’m trying to hide a bus."

Winchell told The Enterprise this week that there is a problem with traffic congestion at the elementray school, where the bus garage is located. Therefore, as a safety precaution, bus drivers are encouraged to keep their buses off campus, she said. One driver parks her bus at Nichols’ Market, for example.

In her May memo to Langevin, Winchell wrote, "I would prefer that some buses be off campus between runs to minimize the congestion in the lots, particularly at the elementary school."


Rural and suburban views on personal use of school buses

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

When your job is to drive a big yellow school bus, people notice.

"The bus drivers are well aware of the appearance of having the bus at places that may not look like part of their job...It’s a big vehicle with the company name on the side and the phone number on the back," said Alan Zuk, director of transportation for Berne-Knox-Westerlo, a small rural district in the Helderbergs.

"Bus drivers have to eat," said Christine Sagendorf, transportation supervisor at the large suburban Guilderland School District. She occasionally fields complaints from people who have, for example, seen a Guilderland school bus parked at Dunkin’ Donuts and explains "When you work an eight-hour day, you’re entitled to a lunch break."

Guilderland has 88 permanent drivers. Many of them drive "three tiers," said Sagendorf, describing their eight-hour day that begins by transporting high-school students, then elementary-school students, then middle-school students to their respective schools — seven in all — before reversing the procedure, taking first the elementary, then the high-school, then the middle-school students home.

While drivers are not supposed to use their buses for personal errands, they are, in between runs, allowed to stop to eat or go to the bathroom, Sagendorf said.

Drivers are encouraged to bring their lunches with them and eat between runs in school parking lots or faculty rooms, said Sagendorf, but that is not always possible.

Asked if there are penalties for running personal errands in a school bus, Sagendorf said, "If we catch them doing that, we would follow our usual disciplinary procedure." This involves first a verbal reprimand, then a written one, and finally "other consequences" such as suspension, Sagendorf said.

Such violations, she said, don’t occur often.

She also said that Guilderland drivers can park their buses at home during the day if the location is appropriate. She gave an example of a driver who lived near the school and said it would actually save the district money for that driver to park at home between runs rather than driving all the way back to the bus garage in Guilderland Center. "To return and go back would not be cost efficient," said Sagendorf.

No buses are allowed home overnight, she said.

School-related errands are run by a courier hired for that purpose by the district, said Sagendorf. Very occasionally, however, when the courier is absent, a bus driver might be asked to run an errand, like delivering a packet to a school-board member, said Sagendorf. In that "rare" case, a blue mini-van that doesn’t look like a school bus is used, she said.

Asked if the district’s insurance covers all uses of school buses, Sagendorf said, "If the bus is doing actual route time, and that includes layover time — which can mean stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for lunch, they’re still on the clock, they’re still working for the school district, so insurance covers the bus."

Sagendorf concluded of concerns over buses’ whereabouts, "I know it’s controversial at this point with the expense of fuel and wear and tear on vehicles. We keep our drivers within their routes and within their tiers so there’s no added expense."

BKW

Zuk said, while Berne-Knox-Westerlo has no written policy forbidding personal use of buses, the directive is clear: "We simply try not to do it," he said.

"Occasionally, the drivers will ask if they can stop for a personal errand on the way back from a run," said Zuk. This is when the bus is empty, he said, and the drivers check with Zuk to get the okay before they stop.

He makes the decision on a case-by-case basis, he said. Stopping at a pharmacy may be permissible, said Zuk, but stopping at a liquor store never would be, he said.

Obviously, Zuk said, stops for food or bathroom use are allowed.

All the buses return to the bus garage every night, said Zuk.

The rural district covers 125 square miles and has 47 drivers.

"We have a single-tiered system," said Zuk. "Kindergartners through 12th-graders go to a single site at the same time." So drivers have one morning run and one afternoon run with their own time — many work other jobs, including farming — in between.

BKW buses also go to 30 different sites every school day as the district is required to transport students to vocational, parochial, and special-needs programs, said Zuk.

Some drivers are encouraged to spend time at a mall, for instance, because it saves the district miles. Zuk gave this example: On a daily basis, a bus travels to a technical institute in Albany, leaving at 10:50 a.m. and returning at 2:50 p.m. If the driver can spend time at a mall near the institute, rather than returning all the way back to Berne and then driving to Albany again, the district saves, said Zuk.

BKW bus drivers sometimes do school-related errands, said Zuk. He gave the example of a driver being asked to pick up a small replacement part because it is from a place along that driver’s route.

"It saves a trip," said Zuk, adding, "Many times, when a driver is on official business like that it looks like he’s doing personal business."

If the bus is being used with permission, it is covered by the district’s insurance, Zuk said.

The long-time transportation director said there haven’t been many problems with misuse of buses at BKW.

"We’ve had conversations as a group," said Zuk. "The bus drivers are well aware they need to use caution and discretion when they park their bus anyplace."


J.J. Maddens: A holy place for beer worshippers

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Bar business has been in John Jeffers’s family for over 30 years. He is the last of seven in his family to run a bar.

"It’s in my blood," he says.

Jeffers, along with his wife, Kim, and his brother Jim, recently opened J.J. Maddens on Route 85 in New Scotland. The J’s represent John and Jim and Madden was their mother’s maiden name.

The final phase of the bar and restaurant – a large deck off the back of the building – is now complete. J.J. Maddens will host a deck-opening party Friday night, Aug. 3. The party will be a Twisted Tea Party, with live music and the Twisted Tea girls offering samples of their malt liquor beverage.

The place is doing well after a few setbacks ; the Jeffers were forced to shut down for three weeks just after opening in February as a result of a septic-system failure, and then struggled to get air-conditioning installed, all while in the midst of building the deck.

The building has an interesting history. The back portion was built in the 1840’s as a farmhouse. The front portion was built in 1966, when the building was used as a convent. After the nuns left, the building served as the Heavenly Inn restaurant and later as Auberge Swisse. The Jeffers have put neon signs in the tops of the gothic stone arches that front the building.

The Jeffers came across many religious artifacts when cleaning the building in preparation for opening. Both John and Kim Jeffers spoke of finding a confessional in the area that is now the bar; the raised sitting area to the far left of the bar used to serve as the altar. They also found a crucifix hanging on the wall of the old altar, and Jeffers says he had his mother come over and bless it before he would touch it.

The restaurant offers three separate small dining areas in addition to the bar, which has tables as well as bar seating. The menu offers a variety of appetizers, salads, soup of the day, steak, burgers, and sandwiches, ranging in price from $6 -$13. It also offers daily dinner specials.

In addition to its menu, J.J. Maddens has an assortment of ice-cold draft beers, and a fully-stocked liquor and wine shelf. Servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff walk around with bright smiles and seem to enjoy their jobs. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.

Jeffers says that people in New Scotland have been "very, very receptive" to his new business, and he considers it to be a "unique bar." He will have live music on his back deck on weekends throughout the summer.

J.J. Maddens is open seven days a week. Monday through Thursday hours are11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from noon to midnight.


Proposal for 120 units previewed

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The latest proposal for the much-debated future of the town’s Northeast Quadrant is a 120-unit development of homes the developer calls "modest" – priced between $250,000 and $350,000.

Because the proposal is for a Planned Unit Development, the application must go before the town board but, on Tuesday, the planning board was given a preview.

Dean DeVito told the board that 20 buildings consisting of six units per building are planned for Krumkill Road, west of Schoolhouse Road. The area is in the town’s still rural Northeast Quadrant, along the Bethlehem and Guilderland town lines, and close to the city of Albany.

The proposed development is located in a section of town that does not have municipal water or sewer systems.

Each unit will have an attached two-car garage. Most of the units would be two-bedroom units with a den, but some three-bedroom units will be available as well, DeVito said.

The roads throughout the development would be maintained by the town, and the green space would be maintained by a homeowners’ association,he said.

DeVito talked of the unique nature of the site. It has three natural ponds, and the developer plans to build landscapes around the ponds. Regulations require that a development such as the one presented by DeVito maintain 10 percent of green space, and this proposal will have 60 percent, he said.

According to DeVito, the development would fall entirely within the Guilderland School District.

Originally, the developer proposed a plan to the Guilderland Planning Board for a 75-lot subdivision on 214 acres that would stretch across town lines to New Scotland.

Afterwards, the Guilderland Town Board re-zoned an area that increased the lot-size requirement from 40,000 square feet to three acres.

The developer is now concentrating on the 29 acres in New Scotland, DeVito said.

DeVito’s proposal will be heard by the Town Board next Wednesday, Aug. 9.

Other business

In other business at its August meeting, the board:

– Held a public hearing on an application submitted by Archibald Munro for a three-lot subdivision of land in the Industrial District on waldenmaier Road. Munro wants to subdivide his 12.053-acre property into three lots. His house is on one lot and he’d sell the other two. There were no public comments and no questions from the board;

– Reviewed a plan submitted by Stuart Morrison on behalf of William and Jeffrey Lawyer to use a building at 705 New Salem Rd., located in the Commercial Hamlet district, for an insurance investigation office. They plan to build a 42-by-78-foot storage building behind the existing one. The board had questions for the applicant involving location, height, and parking. The questions were answered satisfactorily. A public hearing has been scheduled for next month; and

– Approved an extension-of-time request from Matthew Fiske. He bought three lots from David Moreau with plans to build a home on each lot. He was granted an additional year from the original approval date in order to comply with the Albany County Health Department requirements, which are necessary before he can be granted a building permit.


At Voorheesville
New plans for health and technology

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Spurred by demands from the federal government, the Voorheesville School District has two new plans — one for health and another for technology.

The school board recently approved, by unanimous vote, a wellness policy on physical activity and nutrition that took effect on July 1.

"If children knew what junk food does to them, they would probably make better choices," said Superintendent Linda Langevin on the need to educate students about nutrition.

The preamble to the 12-page policy states that obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades, and physical inactivity and excessive calorie intake are the main causes of obesity.

It also states that 72 percent of high school students do not attend daily physical-education classes and only 2 percent of children, aged two to 19 years, eat a healthy diet.

Nationally, it says, "the items most commonly sold from school vending machines, school stores, and snack bars include low-nutrition foods and beverages...."

Goals

The policy outlines six tenets:

— The district is to engage students, parents, teachers, food-service workers, health-care workers, and others who are interested in developing, implementing, monitoring, and reviewing district-wide nutrition and physical-activity policies;

— All Voorheesville students are to have opportunities, support, and encouragement to be physically active on a regular basis;

— Foods and beverages sold or served by the school will endeavor to meet the nutrition recommendations of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans;

— Students will be provided with a variety of affordable, nutritious, and appealing foods that meet their health needs, and will accommodate religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity. And an attempt will be made to provide adequate time for students to eat in clean, safe, and appropriate settings;

— Schools will participate in available federal school meal programs; and

— Schools will provide physical and nutritional education to foster lifelong habits of healthy eating and physical activity, and will link health education and school meal programs with related community services.

Details

The plan is detail-oriented specifying, for example, that food items sold individually will have no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 35 percent of their weight from added sugars. Portion sizes are specified, too: for example, no more than three cookies, with a goal of one ounce per cookie.

Fund-raising activities "should endeavor to not involve food or to use only foods" that meet the guidelines, the policy states. Also, schools should not use food or drink as rewards.

School-based marketing is to "be consistent with nutrition education and health promotion," the policy says.

Students are to spend at least half of physical-education class time "participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity," the policy states. All elementary students will be offered at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors.

Staff members as well as students are affected by the policy. For example, food at staff meetings is to meet the outlined standards. And the district, the policy says, "will plan and implement activities and policies that support personal efforts by staff to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

Changing behavior

"There’s going to be some costs involved in this," said board member Kevin Kroenke. He said, for example, the rule on school-based marketing having to be consistent with health promotion "does away with any opportunity to avail ourselves of pouring rights."

Pouring rights are when beverage companies pay schools to sell and advertise their products exclusively.

Superintendent Linda Langevin said that both Pepsi and Coke had decided not to allow caffeine and sugar beverages in schools across the nation. She estimated that a small district, like Voorheesville, might get $10,000 in pouring rights wile a large district might get $50,000.

About costs in general, Langevin said, "When you increase to the mandate levels, you increase staff."

Kroenke also asked about the regulations on fund-raising activities, which encourage those that promote physical activity and discourage those that sell unhealthy foods or drinks.

"At some level," said board President David Gibson, "what’s the point, if you don’t change behavior."

Langevin said that the point was to change over time. She compared it to the evolution of non-smoking policies. At first, she said, smokers were limited to a certain room and now smoking is banned altogether.

Technology plan

The school board in July also unanimously approved a new technology plan for the district.

Federal No Child Left Behind legislation "has raised the bar," said Frank Faber, career and technical-education coordinator, in a report to the board.

The purpose of the plan, Faber said, is to "improve education," making learning more enjoyable and raising test scores.

A committee worked for a year on the plan, he said, and established eight goals and actions:

— To reinforce curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grade by integrating National Educational Technology Standards and information literacy skills;

— To extend leadership for integrating technology at the district and local school levels;

— To continue to provide teachers, administrators, support staff, and other members of the community with relevant training in technology to improve student achievement;

— To increase financial support for the technology program through various sources, including grants, gifts, donations, and local funding;

— To maintain the infrastructure and equipment needed to provide technology integration and service throughout the district;

— To implement a computer-use plan that replaces machines every seven years;

— To upgrade the district’s information system and expand data warehousing to provide appropriate information to the staff and community; and

— To enhance communication with the parents and school community through the use of technology.

Faber also outlined the technology budget for five years, which totaled $140,00 the first year, $155,000 the second year, $116,000 the third year; and $110,000 in the fourth and fifth year.

"Five years is a long time in terms of technology," said Langevin, asking how the plan would be assessed and updated.

"A technology plan is always in motion," said Faber, and the committee, with added community members, will continue to evaluate the plan.

"What do you need from the board"" asked Gibson.

"The budget," replied Faber.

"We would like all of this in one year, if we could get it," said Faber.

The plan, he said, will be filed with the State Education Department.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the school board:

— Agreed to have the Capital Region BOCES (Board Of Cooperative Educational Services) provide website services for the district, costing up to $20,000.

"We’ve had a website since 1999," said Faber, describing the first one as "pretty plain."

He went on, "People coming out of college now, this is how they communicate...Our school needs a class website."

In recommending the BOCES package, Faber said, "We want someone to come in-house, interview the people, write the story, get it up there in 24 hours";

— Approved adding an additional section for next year’s third grade.

Currently, there are 102 students in the class, Langevin said.

Elementary Principal Kenneth Lein said that, since the end of April, eight third-graders had moved into the district. All the other elementary classes have 90 students or fewer, he said.

Christine Wilcenski, who described herself as "the pesky mom" who asked for another section, told the board, "I’m so pleased you’re going to be so proactive." She had petitioned last year for the second-graders to have an extra teacher.

Lisa Myers, another parent sitting in the gallery, asked if the extra teacher would follow the bigger-than-average third-grade class as it moves on to fourth grade.

Langevin said the appointment is just for 2006-07.

Next year, it would have to be discussed as part of the budget-setting process, said Gibson;

— Heard a question from parent David Adkins if the budgeted reading teacher at the elementary school would still be hired.

"That hasn’t been brought to the table yet, Dave," responded Langevin;

— Responded to a question from resident Robert Denman about the status of Robert Crandall, a long-time coach and physical-education teacher at Voorheesville who has been on paid leave since the spring of 2004.

The administration has not disclosed the reason Crandall was relieved of his duties. Sarita Winchell, the assistant superintendent for business, told The Enterprise in 2004 that Crandall earned $73,150 a year; the district had hired a new teacher and two coaches to replace him while he was on leave.

"The hearing itself has concluded and it’s going into briefing," responded Langevin. She told Denman that she anticipated there would be a decision by October or November.

According to State Education Law, until an individual has been found guilty by a hearing officer or panel, all aspects of the proceeding are confidential;

— Approved sending Langevin, Lein, high-school Principal Mark Diefendorf, and middle-school Principal Theresa Kennedy to the School Reinvention Symposium, which will be held in Washington, D.C. from Oct. 27 to 29.

The conference costs $425 per person and lodging will be $189 per night per person.

"This is actually the next step in the international leadership conference I attended in June," said Langevin.

"This money is in the budget," said Gibson, and he asked that the administrators "find a way to minimize the cost" of traveling to Washington;

— In a split vote, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to offer a new community drama group, The Classic Theatre Guild, a reduced rate for renting the elementary-school stage for its August performance of The Brady Bunch. The agreed-upon fee would still more than cover the added custodial costs for the district.

"I think we open up a floodgate," said board member Thomas McKenna, who voted against the proposal.

Langevin, too, opposed setting a precedent.

"I would recommend they put more children in the show," said Lein. "That’s what brings in the money."

"This group is looking to put down roots," said board member Kevin Kroenke who backed the reduced rate, saying the group should be encouraged; and

— Recognized elementary teacher Patricia Burnham for her 32 years of teaching.

"Thirty-two years is like a calling," said Gibson. "Imagine the thousands of children that passed through."


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