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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 1, 2007


Ready to rescue
No need to evacuate Mercy Life Center

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Emergency workers from as far away as Catskill and Castleton responded to last Friday’s carbon-monoxide leak at Our Lady of Mercy Life Center.

They stood by until the furnace was fixed and residents, who never left the building, could safely return to their rooms.

Around 5:30 p.m. that evening, a boiler room mishap threatened the safety of 160 residents, many of them immobile, on one of the coldest nights of the year, according to Elmer Streeter, director of communications for St. Peter’s Hospital, which operates the center.

Emergency crews prepared for the worst — a mass evacuation — responding in full force, he said.

"Early on Friday evening, there was what we believe was a fan that operated with the boiler that malfunctioned," Streeter said. "The fire-alarm system was activated and, when the Guilderland Fire Department arrived, they determined there was a buildup of carbon monoxide in the boiler room."

Fortunately, Streeter said, a mass evacuation was avoided and residents were only moved to in-house locations as the building was ventilated to remove the carbon monoxide. Two of the building’s three boilers were fixed that evening and the third has since been repaired, he added.

"Seven people were taken to St. Peter’s and Albany Memorial hospitals," Streeter told The Enterprise. "None of them had elevated carbon monoxide levels."

Our Lady of Mercy Life Center is located at 2 Mercy Care Lane off of Western Avenue, and is a part of St. Peter’s Hospital.

Emergency workers from all over the area, and particularly those in Guilderland, are being credited for a well-orchestrated and effective response. Our Lady of Mercy has emergency plans in place for such incidents, and, area emergency workers say, things went according to plan.

"We had just under 50 ambulances and around 150 EMS personnel," said Howard Huth, chief of operations for the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad. "Our big concern was that it was about eight degrees that night."

One of the three boilers was kept online and was able to keep the building warm, said Streeter.

The responders included crews from the Altamont Rescue Squad; Western Turnpike Rescue Squad; Guilderland Emergency Medical Services; the Guilderland, Westmere, Fort Hunter, and Guilderland Center fire departments; the Guilderland Police, and various emergency workers from around the Capital Region and beyond.

There were a total of 48 mutual aid ambulances from 29 different agencies, according to Huth, along with buses from the Capital District Transportation Authority and Guilderland schools waiting for a possible evacuation.

Smooth operation

"The operation ran smooth and I would like to thank all of the area’s responders," said Chief Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Fire Department. "We are very appreciative of everyone’s efforts."

Continuing, Cox said of St. Peter’s emergency plans, "They do have a disaster plan, and, when things were put into action, it seemed to work well."

Nearby St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center, the public library, Guilderland High School, St. Peter’s Hospital and other area hospitals could all have been used as evacuation sites of Our Lady of Mercy’s mostly elderly residents, said Streeter.

"We established an emergency command center here at the hospital. We were prepared to take a number of people," Streeter said of St. Peter’s. "There was a lot of cooperation with other hospitals in Albany County."

Cox said ambulances would have been used to transport people along with buses for those with handicaps, which could be used to keep people warm on a frigid January night.

"That is the mode of transportation we would have used," Cox said, again thanking workers and dispatchers for what he described as a great responsive effort.

The fire department received a call from Guilderland Police, stating "heavy smoke conditions" were reported at Our Lady of Mercy, he said.

"Somebody must have pulled an alarm when they either saw or smelled what they considered heavy smoke conditions," said Cox. Firefighters determined that a carbon monoxide leak was in the building.

Cox confirmed that equipment failure in the boiler room caused the problem and the malfunction "allowed carbon monoxide to seep into the building instead of pumping it outside.

"Carbon monoxide rises, so it goes outside when we ventilate"But, it can form pockets in a building, like under a staircase," said Cox.

Our Lady of Mercy’s maintenance staff along with a heating contractor and National Grid helped repair the boilers and stop the leak, said Cox.

Residents were back in their rooms by 11 p.m., Cox said.

Planning

Those seven people were all returned to the living center shortly after 11 p.m., he added.

All involved agree that effective planning was key to a successful response, but, Streeter says, emergency plans have to continue to be improved upon.

"Over the next few weeks, we will try to reconstruct the event to prepare for the future," said Streeter. "There’s always something to learn from every experience"Even when you know things went really well, you have to go back and make it better.

"That’s how you ensure quality," he concluded.

Other responders agreed that planning makes the difference.

Two years ago, a water main broke at Our Lady of Mercy and a power outage ensued, resulting in a similar situation.

"Two years ago, almost to the day, Our Lady of Mercy Life Center had a water main break," Huth said. "Here we are today and its kind of like deja-vu."

Huth said the prior experience probably helped improve the collaborative efforts that took place Friday night.

"As it turns out, the EMS command, the triage officer, and the staging officer"are the same three people that are there today," Huth said about the people involved in putting out a call for "mutual aid" from other emergency crews.

"It brought Our Lady of Mercy more formally into our emergency preparations planning," Streeter said of the incident two years ago. "It ran very, very well."


E-raced: Discrimination suit thrown out

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district has defended its reputation, said the superintendent, since a federal judge dismissed a suit claiming racial discrimination.

The plaintiff’s mother, though, said she hopes the district will talk about what it will do to create a safer environment.

More than six months ago, a federal judge dismissed charges brought against the Guilderland School District by student Garrett Barmore. This Tuesday, the district announced its victory in a press release and stated the judge assessed $9,500 in court costs against Barmore, to be awarded to the district.

Peggy Barmore, told The Enterprise this week that the district offered to reduce that amount if her son signed an agreement, stating he would not talk to the press; he didn’t sign, she said.

The suit stemmed from a 2003 incident in which two African-American students got into a fight in the school cafeteria with a white student who called them "nigger."

The two African-American students — Barmore, who was 17 at the time, and his friend Andrew Dillon, who was 18 — were both charged with disorderly conduct, a violation, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. The white student, Jordan Peceri, was not charged in the incident.

The school resource officer, Brian Forte, recalled this week that it had been difficult for him to make the arrests. "They’re both nice kids," he said of Barmore and Dillon. They used to visit with him frequently at school but the relationship "diminished" after the arrests, Forte said.

Forte, a Guilderland police officer stationed at the high school full-time, works on cases with school administrators, he said, and they decide jointly about making arrests. "They take advice from me and I assist them on their wishes," he said.

"I’m pleased with the judge’s decision," said Forte. "We can’t control things we don’t know about. Kids need to come forward."

Case history

Barmore, represented by Paul Wein of the Guilderland firm Wein, Young, Fenton & Kelsey, claimed a race-based hostile educational environment, a hostile educational environment, disparate treatment, lack of due process, and negligence.

The school district, represented by Gregg T. Johnson, of the Albany law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo, moved for summary judgment, asserting the case had no genuine issue as to any material fact. As one legal treatise quoted by the judge in this case, Senior United States District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, succinctly states, summary judgment requires the parties to "put up or shut up."

McAvoy granted the district’s motion for summary judgment, meaning the case never went to trial, and was dismissed.

"We certainly are very pleased with the decision," Guilderland’s superintendent of schools, Gregory Aidala, said on Tuesday. "The judge felt this was a case that did not deserve to go to trial because the evidence did not support the charges...We felt from the beginning we did the best job possible in a difficult situation. We were fair and consistent in enforcing discipline, according to our policies."

Aidala had maintained a consistent position throughout; from the week of the 2003 fight, he said, "Fighting is not going to be condoned or tolerated."

Wein had stated all along that Barmore was the victim and that criminal charges were not right.

In mid-May of 2004, Dillon and Barmore appeared separately in Guilderland Town Court, represented by different lawyers, and each had his case adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Since they were not arrested again in six months, their cases were dismissed. Dillon did not sue the school district.

Wein asked for an apology from the district; when he didn’t get one, he proceeded with Barmore’s suit.

In mid-May of 2004, the NAACP held a press conference on the steps of the State Education Department building in Albany, charging Guilderland with racism.

"Does Guilderland have its own Jim Crow laws where their anti-bullying policy works for some and not for others"" asked Anne Pope, regional director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Pope blasted the predominantly white suburban school district, saying it had separate polices for the white, affluent, and privileged.

To the contrary, Aidala told The Enterprise at the time, describing the district as a model for teaching tolerance and respect for diversity.

Slurs commonplace

Wein told The Enterprise this week that Barmore and his mother, Peggy, chose not to appeal McAvoy’s decision. "I think they were just worn out," he said. "They couldn’t afford to go through with an appeal."

Wein went on, "We supplied a dozen affidavits from African-American students...Two said they left Guilderland because of the racially hostile atmosphere...The N word was bandied about."

Peggy Barmore said this week, "We were disappointed we couldn’t go to trial....It was clear to us something was going on in the schools that not even parents are aware of; kids deal with it on a day-to-day basis," she said of racist and religious slurs.

At the time of the 2003 cafeteria fight, The Enterprise wrote about groups at the school such as STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) and NCBI (National Coalition Building Institute) working to thwart prejudice.

Kids calling each other "slut" or "gay" or "bitch" is commonplace in school hallways, said members of NCBI.

"It’s just become commonplace to use ‘retarded’ or ‘gay’ as a substitute for ‘stupid,’" said René Sheehan, a high-school guidance counselor and advisor for the group. "Through NCBI, we’re teaching words hurt...A lot of kids say, ‘I didn’t know that was hurtful.’

Peggy Barmore said this week, "We wanted to hold Guilderland administrators accountable."

She went on, "It’s been a tough three years. It’s been painful. You don’t like to see someone hurt your child. I would do anything to save him from that."

Outrageous or fair"

Wein said he was "shocked" by the judge’s decision and pointed out what he saw as inconsistencies in McAvoy’s reasoning.

"He said, ‘Despite that racial and religious epithets were regularly uttered in the halls and on the buses of the school district, there is no evidence that they were heard by Plaintiff,’" Wein said, reading from the decision. "Does that make sense" How is that not a race-based hostile educational environment"...It’s just outrageous. I’ve never been more shocked by a decision in 33 years of practice."

Wein also said he was puzzled by the district’s announcement this week and by its insistence Barmore pay the $9,500.

"He’s a student; he doesn’t have that kind of money," said Wein. Wein said that, frequently, when he has won cases, he hasn’t pursued the court fees.

Wein also pointed out that, while the district’s press release said, "Barmore’s appeal of Judge McAvoy’s ruling was also dismissed," instead, the Barmores had "abandoned the appeal."

Peggy Barmore said that, just before Christmas, the district had asked her son to sign an agreement that he would not talk to the press about the case; in return, the district would not pursue $7,000 of the $9,500 payment, she said.

Aidala said the press release was issued because the school board "felt it was important to make an announcement."

He noted there was a lot of media attention when Barmore filed the suit and said, "We certainly defended ourselves vigorously. The outcome says to the public that the school district did what was expected under the circumstances...There are consequences for people’s actions."

Asked about the district’s collecting $9,500 from Barmore, Aidala said, "If the judge awards it, it’s part of the plaintiff’s responsibility."

Asked why the district would offer to reduce the amount by $7,000 if Barmore signed an agreement not to talk to the press, Aidala said, "It’s inappropriate for me to discuss." He said the matter was handled by the lawyers and declined further comment.

The district’s legal costs were covered by its insurance, Aidala said, but he could not estimate what the costs were.

Aidala went on about the meaning of the judge’s decision, "Our administrators at the high school do a good job to provide a safe and supportive environment...We try to be very fair...to investigate problems...The decision verifies that district administrators acted fairly."

Asked if he had concerns about racist comments being made at school, Aidala said, "This case was about a disciplinary consequence...The judge’s ruling confirmed the accusations were unfounded....We can’t control everyone’s behavior. But we can supply a safe and supportive environment...That’s what our bullying-prevention efforts do."

The superintendent concluded, "We felt strongly we needed to send a message that we will defend ourselves when the district’s reputation is put at risk."

A mother’s view

Peggy Barmore said, "I would hope now the district will talk about what they’ll do to have a safe environment. I hope they will think carefully about how they handle racial complaints."

Her son was born and raised in Guilderland, Peggy Barmore said, and was never considered a troublemaker. In fact, when the Class of 2004 voted for the "senior superlatives," they voted Garrett Barmore as the classmate with the "best laugh," she said.

Barmore called the legal proceedings "a very, very emotional battle." She said, "It’s never been about money. It’s been about accountability...We exposed what was going on in Guilderland. People should listen carefully to what their kids say."

She itemized some of the experiences her son had had at Guilderland High School, including being spit on and being called a "nigger" in his freshman year.

"Every minority person has been called a slur at some point and can remember the day and location," she said. Barmore said she was born in the era "of Brown," referring to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that outlawed racial segregation of public schools.

"I grew up in New York City and I can count on one hand," she said, of the times she had experienced such prejudice. "But," she went on about her son, "he had to deal with more in four years at Guilderland than I’ve had in 40-plus years of living."

She took exception to the school calling her son’s fighting "bullying." "It’s not bullying," said Peggy Barmore. "It’s racism. My son was not a bully. He was a target."

She said of the judge’s dismissal, "I’m disappointed we didn’t have the opportunity for a more vigorous debate on what happened in Guilderland. But at least now there is a paper trail...I welcome public discussion. I hope people look closely at the schools and ask questions."

She said she and her son were ready to "move on" and the reason she didn’t feel more bitterness is because of the way her son has "come through this."

At 20, he’s a junior and a dean’s list student, she said, at the University at Albany, majoring in criminal justice and thinking of pursuing a career in civil rights law.

"He got an education at Guilderland — not the kind I would have wanted — but it made him stronger," said Peggy Barmore.

The judge’s ruling

In his 28-page ruling, dated July 12, 2006, McAvoy outlines the situation leading up to the 2003 cafeteria fight.

He notes the district has had a Racial Harassment Policy since 1995 and an Anti-Bullying Policy since June of 2003, and that the policies are published annually in a student handbook. He says Barmore was aware of the policies and participated in NCBI and STAR.

McAvoy outlines "two racially derogatory incidents" Barmore suffered his freshman year from two teammates at football practice. Both players were suspended for a time and the behavior by these two "never occurred again," the judge wrote.

On Oct. 25, 2002, Dillon was involved "in a racially-charged incident" at the high school with Peceri, the student who Barmore later fought in the cafeteria; Peceri had a history of such incidents, resulting in disciplinary action.

Soon after, on Halloween night of that year, Barmore and Dillon were walking through a residential neighborhood when Peceri shouted a racial epithet from a car. Barmore and Dillon filled out a report at school; Peceri admitted shouting the epithet and was suspended from school for two months.

The next year, on Oct. 11, Barmore, Dillon, and two other students were on school property, walking to a homecoming dance, when a vehicle owned by Peceri drove past and an occupant shouted a racial epithet. Barmore assumed it was Peceri, but when school administrators and the school resource officer investigated, their findings were inconclusive.

Peceri contended he was being "set up." Barmore said an administrator talked to the three students and told all of them to "cut it out" before someone got hurt but Barmore was "confused" because he believed he had done nothing wrong and therefore had nothing to "cut out."

On Oct. 29, 2003, in the school cafeteria, Peceri uttered a racial epithet to Barmore and Barmore confronted him, asking "what was his deal." Barmore didn’t physically confront him, not wanting to jeopardize his chance to play in the last football game of the season.

On Oct. 31, 2003, a friend told Barmore that Peceri "threatened that he was going to run [Plaintiff] over with his car that night." Barmore became "enraged" but did not report the threat to anyone at school.

Instead, based on "the erroneous belief" that the school had done nothing to Peceri following the Halloween 2002 incident, and because Peceri was not disciplined for the Oct. 11, 2003 homecoming dance incident, Barmore "decided to handle the matter himself."

He went to the cafeteria, approached Peceri from behind, and "slapped him on the head....A fight ensued," during which Peceri shouted a racial epithet at Barmore, "and both students struck blows upon the other." Peceri suffered a broken nose and was knocked to the floor. Dillon put Peceri in a headlock and Barmore went to an administrator’s office.

The school’s principal issued Barmore the maximum five-day suspension and referred the matter to the superintendent, who issued an additional 11 school days of suspension.

Aidala said, according to McAvoy, that his decision was based on the circumstances of the assault, the evidence at his hearing, and the information he obtained from reading Stephen Wessler’s book, The Respectful School, as well as "input" he received from Wessler.

Wein successfully appealed the suspension so that Barmore’s student’s record shows a five-day suspension.

Peceri was suspended for the rest of the 2003-04 academic year and never attended classes or functions at the high school after that.

McAvoy notes that Barmore graduated with his class and attended his "preferred choice of post-secondary educational institutions."

Barmore’s suit contended that white students received lesser punishments for similar or even more egregious, behavior, and that the district "unlawfully" enforced its anti-bullying policy when Barmore, "a student of color," "justifiably assaulted" Peceri, but failed to enforce the policy when Peceri "illegally assaulted and threatened" Barmore.

Barmore said he was unaware of Peceri’s suspension.

McAvoy goes on to list four other white students who were suspended for longer periods than Barmore following superintendent hearings.

In dismissing Barmore’s claims, McAvoy writes that, to prove there is a race-based hostile educational environment, Barmore would have to show "the environment was permeated with racial hostility of such severity or pervasiveness so as to significantly alter the conditions of his educational environment and thereby deny him equal access to the school’s resources and opportunities."

In his decision, McAvoy devotes by far the most explanation to his dismissal of this claim.

The judge writes, "Despite evidence that racial and religious epithets were regularly uttered in the halls and on the buses of the school district, there is no evidence that they were heard by Plaintiff."

The judge reiterates the two freshmen football incidents, the junior-year incident, and the senior-year homecoming-dance incident and concludes, "While these events constitute offensive and unacceptable behavior by students, they hardly amount to an educational environment permeated by race-based harassment, or of such severity that it would have impeded a reasonable student in Plaintiff’s shoes from accessing the educational opportunities provided at GHS."

McAvoy also states that, although school officials "should have known" that Peceri had a history of racially offensive conduct and that some students used racial epithets in the school, "There are no facts from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude any of Defendants ‘did know’" that Barmore was being subjected to a racially hostile environment by Peceri or anyone else.

McAvoy goes on, "No reasonable fact finder could draw inference that simply because Defendants did not discipline [Peceri] for the 2003 Homecoming Dance incident they intended to allow the harassment to continue....To hold any of the individual defendants responsible for actions beyond September 29, 2003 under these circumstances would impose a standard requiring clairvoyance on the part of school officials...."

On the charge of disparate treatment, McAvoy ruled that Barmore had "failed to establish that he was treated differently than other similarly situated students outside of his protected class....The undisputed facts reveal that non-African American students at GHS have received lengthier suspensions for conduct that was far less egregious then planning and commencing a fight in which another student received a broken nose."

On the due process claims, the judge wrote that Barmore "failed to identify any process or liberty interest he was denied sufficient to establish an actionable due process claim."

On the negligence claims, McAvoy writes that the school district had no way of knowing that the dispute between Barmore and Peceri "had reached such a fever pitch" that Barmore would decide to "ambush" Peceri on school grounds.


Super says
GCSD prepares students for rapidly changing world

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As enrollment declines in this suburban district, the superintendent said in his annual address, "The state of the Guilderland Central School District is strong...We’re having a good year."

As he frequently does, Gregory Aidala opened his speech with a reference to the district’s mission — empowering all students to succeed in the 21st Century.

He then outlined "two fundamental concepts": better educating children by providing "the highest level of services" and responding to a rapidly changing world "to teach new skills for a global economy."

Making his final state-of-the district address, since he announced he will retire next fall, Aidala said that education "is the heart of the American dream."

The address was given later than usual, mid-way through the school year. And, Aidala gave his speech to the school board in abbreviated form last Tuesday, in keeping with the board’s new streamlined format; the full address is being broadcast on public-access Channel 16.

Guilderland enrollment declined this year slightly more than predicted, Aidala said. The district has 5,425 students, down 126 from last year. Over the next five years, enrollment will continue to drop — to 5,006 students in 2011-12, Aidala said.

This does not include projections for Glass Works Village, a New Urbanist development proposed for Guilderland, which projects it will add 116 public-school students in six years, Aidala told The Enterprise.

Highlighting this school year, Aidala said that the district continued with federally-required testing in third through eighth grades, supported new principals Mary Summermatter at the middle school and Michael Piccirillo at the high school, and enhanced the district website — www.guilderlandschools.org — which averages almost 12,500 unique visitors each month.

He also mentioned initiatives including centralized registration for new students, ensuring that they are district residents; introducing surveillance equipment along with part-time monitors at the elementary schools; the school board’s initiative in calling for a statewide task force to look at ways of addressing future employee retirement costs; completing the $20 million middle-school construction and expansion project; reviewing agreements for banking and legal services to save money; and introducing an energy management program that saved substantially.

Exit poll

In May, the $79 million budget passed by 56 percent with 1,898 yes votes. For the first time in recent years, the district conducted an exit poll, which 1,219 voters filled out.

Forty-three percent of those who responded had children attending Guilderland schools, according to results obtained by The Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request. Another 44 percent had children who had once attended the Guilderland schools.

Overall, 62 percent reported voting yes on the budget while 35 reported voting no.

Only 4 percent of the respondents were 30 or younger and 83 percent of them reported voting yes; 41 percent were between 31 and 50 and 71 percent voted yes; 33 percent were between 51 and 64 years old and 62 percent voted yes; 19 percent were 65 or older and 43 percent voted yes.

Seventy-seven percent of those with children in the Guilderland schools reported voting yes, 56 percent of those whose children once attended Guilderland schools voted yes, and 51 percent of those whose children never attended Guilderland schools voted yes.

Yes votes were highest from those with elementary children (80 percent) followed by middle-school children (77 percent), and then by high school-aged children (75 percent).

The biggest reason for voting yes (83 percent) was "I support education," followed by being pleased with the quality of education at Guilderland (67 percent), then the budget meeting the needs of students (60 percent), the tax increase being reasonable (47 percent), and feeling well-informed on the budget (34 percent).

The biggest reason for voting no (71 percent) was because the spending and tax increase was not reasonable, followed by not being able to afford the cost despite supporting education (52 percent), followed by not being pleased with the quality of Guilderland education (23 percent), the budget not meeting student needs (15 percent) and, finally, not feeling well-informed on the budget (15 percent).

Most learned about the budget through the printed word — 72 percent or 880 people through the district newsletter mailed to every home (of which 66 percent reported voting yes), 45 percent, or 548, through local newspapers (with 58 percent voting yes), and 28 percent or 338 through school newsletters (with 66 percent voting yes).

Additionally, 17 percent learned about the budget through friends or neighbors (with 66 percent voting yes), 14 percent through district staff members (with 90 percent voting yes), 13 percent through board of education meetings (with 77 percent voting yes), 9 percent through the district website (with 71 percent voting yes), and 8 percent through the PTA (with 88 percent voting yes).

Scores of additional comments were reported from the surveys as well. Reasons for voting yes ranged from "I work for the district" to "Greg Aidala is very charming."

Some exclaimed in capital-letter gratitude: "It’s the RIGHT thing to do! GREAT JOB! Thanks for all your HARD work! My kids have received the BEST education! Very cheaply, I might add!"

Reasons for no votes ranged from "They lie" to "Too much waste."

Some expressed frustration over "the arrogance of the school board and administrations" or in rising costs: "Wasn’t state aid increased" Enough already. I’d like a raise, too! I’m on a fixed income-Do you really give a ----!"

In his state-of-the district address, Aidala reported on comments stating, "I want my town to be strong and education is a factor," and "Budget increases are too much each year. School taxes are too high in the Guilderland district."

Progress update

Data analysis has been a high priority this school year, Aidala said. It is important for improving instruction, guiding curriculum, and focusing on student progress "so that no one falls through the cracks," said the superintendent.

Mary Helen Collen, newly hired as data coordinator, has compiled and shared data with staff to improve student performance, Aidala said.

Lisa Patierne, administrative dean, has worked on activities for incoming freshmen to smooth the transition to high school, said Aidala.

A task force on the school day is looking at how Guilderland can "maximize the use of instructional time for students and staff," he said. "There are no simple solutions."

An ad-hoc committee of English and social-studies faculty "has examined the balance of writing instruction" in search of a "more collaborative and equitable approach," he said. English teachers teach four courses, to allow more time for writing, while social studies teachers, like teachers in most other departments, teach five courses.

Aidala stressed the importance of professional development programs and he also said the school board has made efforts to have more dialogue with residents.

He outlined some issue for upcoming budget discussions, including starting the study of foreign language in elementary school, which the school board has set as a priority, and addressing rising health-insurance costs.

Aidala also noted a facilities committee will review elementary building needs, district-wide technology needs, and "building security enhancements," spurred by $1.72 million in state aid.

He concluded by talking about a visit administrators made to the University at Albany’s nano-technology center in the fall followed by a visit from the high-school newspaper’s staff, covering it for The Journal.

The school board this year set one of its two priorities as technology education.

The skills that nano-tech professors said students need are consistent with Guilderland’s objectives for its graduates, said Aidala. They must be critical thinkers and problem-solvers who can use technology as a tool and communicate effectively. They must also be proficient in core subject areas and able to interconnect many disciplines while being contributing team members.

"We know that the world is changing rapidly," said Aidala.

Guilderland will continue to set high expectations and help students who have difficulty, he said. The district will reinforce the link between classroom and home learning, promote respect and responsibility, encourage collaboration among faculty and staff, look for budget savings, maintain and build trust, and finally, "meet the inevitable daily challenges which face our district," said Aidala.


Apartments and garden store to fill abandoned sites

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Two abandoned town sites will be cleaned up soon if owners follow through on their applications to the planning board. One, an old garden shop on Carman Road, will become apartments. The other, a lot near the old Bumblebee Diner on Western Avenue, will become a lawn and garden store.

The planning board approved a request by Sable Terrace Development to build three duplex buildings and two single-family homes at 3711 Carman Road. Surveryor Lynn Sipperly of L. Sipperly and Associates, in Latham, said that the 3.6-acre lot will require a "detention area and recharge basin to detain water on this site."

Sipperly also said that the project will include a storm-water system to be installed on Rainbow Drive. The site is at the corner of Carman Road and Rainbow Drive. Town water and sewer are available there, but the project will add one manhole to service the duplex at the end of the site.

Sipperly said that if a "greater than a 100-year storm" occurred, the retention basin would overflow to the storm-water system on Rainbow Drive.

The town will own the retention basin. Town-designated engineer Don Fletcher, of Barton and Laguidice, told the board that the reason for the storm-water system is to give relief "as a safeguard to remove the water, if needed."

The basin is designed to recharge water into the soil, Sipperly said. The basin will have a grass bottom, and will be fenced according to town requirements.

The board questioned the height of the proposed six-foot chain-link fence, but Fletcher said that the town’s highway superintendent, Todd Gifford, suggested the fence abide by new laws that will go into effect next year. "You probably could get away with not having a fence," Fletcher said.

The board suggested that a four-foot fence would suffice, but board Chairman Stephen Feeney referred to Gifford and said, "He’s responsible for maintaining it, so whatever he wants. I will leave it up to Todd."

Sipperly said that the project will construct a tie-in sidewalk up along Carman Road to Rainbow Drive. Feeney suggested that he continue the sidewalk around the corner to the edge of the development "to the logical terminus."

"Big-boy toy store"

Timothy Alund, the owner of Farmer Feed and Tractor Supply in Schagticoke, received board approval to open a second store at 2339 Western Ave. Alund told the board that his Schagticoke store draws customers from Voorheesville and Guilderland, so he decided to open a store here.

He plans to run the store similarly to his first one, with equipment stored indoors with climate controls. A $60,000 tractor should not be outside, getting cruddy and dirty, Alund said. "It’s high-end stuff," he said. "We’re a high-end homeowner-landscape situation."

Alund said that the original store caters to northern farmers, selling cattle and horse feed, and includes a barn with miniature animals for families to see.

"This is like a store. The other one’s like a hang-out place," Alund said. "It’s a big-boy toy store, is what it is."

He said he would landscape the site and put in as much grass as possible.

Alund told the board that he wants to use a neighbor’s easement to consolidate the access point, to avoid a narrow entrance onto Western Avenue.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Gave final approval to Richard Capron for his proposal to subdivide 51 acres on Curry Road into three lots. One lot will be six acres, and another will be two acres. The remainder will have two points of frontage on Curry Road, Capron said. Capron said that two of the lots are under contract for sale, and that the Albany Pine Bush Commission is "one interested party" in the sale of the third;

— Approved James Ryer’s proposal to move Techniconsults, his computer consulting business, across the street from his Cosimo’s Plaza location to 1775 Western Ave. The new site was formerly a real estate office, Ryer said.

Board member Paul Caputo said that he wants Guilderland applicants to be "treated equitably."

"What’s the difference between this turnkey [special use permit] and the previous SUP for this site"" Caputo said.

Caputo has noted at previous meetings that some turnkey SUPs are granted without coming before the board, and that others are not.

Feeney said that, if the zoning officer makes the decision that the site does not need planning approval, then the SUP is granted. Donald Cropsey is the town’s zoning officer.

Ryer said that his business keeps little inventory onsite and that he is moving to a smaller space to reduce his overhead; and

— Heard a request from Brian Clark to open a martial-arts studio in the former Altamont Internal Medicine building at 2093 Western Ave. A day spa uses the upper floor, and the studio would be housed on the ground floor, Clark said.


Floesers take fryride to conservation

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Barbara Floeser is letting the sun shine in. After 15 years of driving a minivan, she’s got a sharp new Jetta with a sunroof. "Yeah, that’s where we stick the fries," she laughed.

The "Fryride," as the license plates read, is a diesel Volkswagon Jetta that Mrs. Floeser had converted to run on vegetable oil. It runs on used oil that her husband picks up from a restaurant every week and smells, just a little bit, like what was cooked in it.

"It’s kind of like at the fair when you walk by," she said of the exhaust from her car. "Not that strong though."

The couple converted their car about a year ago and they’ve tried using oil from several area restaurants but settled on a pizza-and-wings place on Madison Avenue because it produces the least oil each week. Since restaurants have to pay to have their waste oil removed, they’re always amenable to giving it away, Mrs. Floeser said. The problem is, some places want the Floesers to take it all away and she only needs eight gallons each week.

The Floesers were inspired to convert their car when their daughter raced a car for a school project at last year’s Tour De Sol alternative energy conference in Saratoga. The Floesers talked with someone at the Greasecar booth there, and "We left going, ‘we can do this,’" said Joseph Floeser.

"I can say, with pretty solid assurance, that we’re the biggest outfit in the country for this," said Josh Paul Levy, of Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems. About six years ago, Justin Carven, a Hampshire College graduate, founded the East Hampton Mass. company and it’s sold a few thousand kits to date, Levy said on Monday. The conversion kits sell for roughly $800 and can be installed by the car owner or someone on the company’s installer network.

The Floesers took their car to Mark Wienand in Ithaca N.Y., who’s had his Jetta running on vegetable oil since 2000. Since it’s got to be a diesel engine in order to run on vegetable oil, Wienand said, Jettas are pretty common because there aren’t many other diesel cars out there. The 34-year-old saxophone player has been installing the kits in people’s cars, who come from as far as four hours away, for about three years, he said. Most of them do it for environmental reasons, he said, but saving money is the other big reason.

"We have an awareness of the global-warming thing," said Mrs. Floeser, "but I wouldn’t say that we’re activists or anything." She had been paying as much as $70 a week to fill the tank of her minivan when gas prices were nearing $3 a gallon, she said.

Now that the Jetta runs primarily on vegetable oil, the couple spends less than $10 every three months on filtering supplies. After Mr. Floeser picks up the oil each week, he runs it through what looks like a coffee filter in the garage and then pours it into the 13-gallon tank that sits in the spare-tire well in the car’s trunk.

The original gas tank serves as a back-up fuel source as well as providing gasoline to start the car. Once the oil is warmed up, after a couple of minutes, Mrs. Floeser flips a switch above the car’s radio and, without a sound, the car is running on vegetable oil that flows through a heated system from the trunk of the car to the fuel injectors.

There’s no difference in the performance of the car, whether it’s running on diesel or vegetable oil, said Mr. Floeser. "The car doesn’t know the difference," added his wife.

It’s a pretty good set-up, they think, but it’s just a step in the direction of something better. Hydrogen cars will probably replace gas-powered cars as the standard in the future, said Mr. Floeser, like CDs have replaced records. "This would be like the eight-track thing," he said. "A good idea on the way to the cassette."


Co-chairs
Bosworth, Commisso to share county seat

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — After having their first-ever contested election, then their first litigated election, Albany County Democrats will soon have their first-ever co-chairmen.

On Tuesday, a decision was reached between backers of Frank Commisso and David Bosworth, who were both competing for county chair, to forgo another match-up and instead create a joint slate.

Commisso, Albany Democratic ward leader and port manager, and Bosworth, Guilderland councilman and Democratic chair, will now both manage the county’s party.

City and suburban constituents will both be served, say those who hammered out the plan.

"The goal was to have four suburban representatives and three city representatives. We tried to balance it," Bosworth said. "What we were looking for was a voice that would address the whole county.

Bosworth and Commisso both ran for the position in September — Bosworth lost, 253 to 216.

A weighted vote was not used; rather, committee members were counted as they stood in a crowded hall. Bosworth backers took the matter to state Supreme Court and won.

Acting Supreme Court Justice, Thomas J. McNamara invalidated the election of Commisso because a weighted vote was not used, but said he would not interfere with a re-election, citing court precedents of abstaining from party politics.

The official totals for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial vote were 29,673 from the cities of Albany County, and 50,537 from the towns of Albany County. Gubernatorial races are the numbers on which weighted votes are calculated.

Weighted votes are used because some districts have more constituents than others. The towns of Albany County have a clear dominance in the number of Democratic voters than the cities do, according to the 2006 official election results.

The decision was handed down on Dec. 21, but no date for a new election was set until Tuesday. Betty Barnette, the committee’s former chair who stepped down, had not called a new meeting because she said new rules should be set first.

McNamara, a Republican from Saratoga who was the third judge to see the case, has stepped in again and set a committee meeting to vote on the new slate and a bylaws change. The meeting is set for Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the Polish Community Center in Albany.

It is still unknown who will run the committee meeting since there is effectively no chairperson or slate of officers. Bosworth said that proxies are supposed to be allowed, however.

"It’s very awkward not to have a set of elected officers," he said.

The meeting begins at 8 p.m.

Both Bosworth and Commisso say they are ready to work together and move forward for the good of the party in preparation for next November’s elections in which many local seats will be contested.

"We’ll be tested this November with town and county elections. It would behoove us to get this resolved," Bosworth told The Enterprise this week. "We want to make sure to get our selected candidates into office. That’s our primary responsibility."

New slate

The newly formed slate will consist of Bosworth and Commisso as co-chairs and the following:

— Bruce Shultis (Albany), as first vice chair;

— Shirley Brown (Colonie), as co-second vice chair;

— Matthew J. Clyne, (Bethlehem), as co-second vice chair;

— Carolyn McLaughlin (Albany), as secretary; and

— Peter Gannon (Colonie), as treasurer.

Shultis and McLaughlin have retained their positions from the original Commisso slate and Gannon is also from the original Commisso slate but was moved from second vice chair to treasurer.

Clyne, Bethlehem’s Democratic chair, worked as counsel for Bosworth when his slate challenged Commisso’s election in court.

None of Bosworth’s original slate members, besides himself, were picked to run on the newly formed slate. Bosworth’s original slate included well-known Democrats such as Jack McNulty, Green Island mayor; Jack Cunningham, Bethlehem’s vice chair; Barbara Smith, on Albany’s common council; and Shawn Morris, Albany’s common council president.

Barnette, the former county chairwoman and current Albany city treasurer, doesn’t believe the county’s bylaws are being followed and said the process to pick the new slate was a "closed door" affair.

"I suggested that we get the rules committee together first," Barnette told The Enterprise about why she didn’t call for a committee meeting and why Judge McNamara set the meeting. Barnette said, according to the bylaws, a rules committee should first convene to change the rules for a co-chair before a slate is picked.

"This never should have happened in the privacy of someone’s office," Barnette said of choosing the new slate of officers. "What happened to Barbara Smith and Shawn Morris""What happened to [Watervliet] Mayor Robert Carlson""

Barnette said that neither Commisso nor Bosworth have contacted her about the matter.

Bosworth told The Enterprise earlier that the slate was designed to accommodate all of the committee members of Albany County, stating that "many, many different people were involved."

He added that the situation shouldn’t be "over-simplified," and that several election lawyers say the new slate is following the county bylaws in its procedures.

"I disagree with her summarization of the process," said Bosworth of Barnette’s views. "It’s not accurate.

Bosworth said that both he and Commisso had to pick people on the slate to satisfy committee voters from both groups. He said it was not an easy task given that both of their slates had "worked hard in earnest," and that there "were a number of feedback loops."

"We needed to make a decision," Bosworth said.

Barnette said the minorities of Albany County were not involved in what she described as a backroom deal.

"Everyone who was in that room only stood to gain for themselves"There were no women or people of color in that room," Barnette said. "When a process is done in a backroom, this is what happens."

Commisso did not return calls for this story.

Bosworth responded through The Enterprise by saying the new slate has representation for women and African Americans, but said he wants the focus to be on the task at hand.

"Basically, we felt this unified slate would be in the greater interest of the party," Bosworth continued. "By working together, we felt we would have a greater chance in the fall elections."

Barnette said that she did not see a rift between suburban and urban committee members, but said that the county as a whole is not being served by the newly proposed slate.

"This was about personal power, not about the party," Barnette said. "I don’t see this benefiting the organization as a whole"This has to be done in the light of day."

Continuing, she said, "It doesn’t seem to me that committee leaders are focusing on electing members as they are on private gain."

"At some point, we have to put our personal and philosophical differences aside," said Bosworth. "That’s the political process"even if it is an imperfect process."

Shared responsibility

When it comes to delegating responsibilities between co-chairs, Bosworth said that it will actually help run the party more efficiently.

Both co-chairs will attend to formal business, he said.

"I’m sure we’ll alternate when it comes to public events," Bosworth told The Enterprise. "This is not a paid position and, hopefully, this will help give us extra time to better manage the party."

Commisso originally said last September that, if he were elected as chair he would retire from his post at the Albany Port Authority to run the party "24/7." When the election was called into question, he continued to work at the port authority, saying he would wait until a decision was reached.

It is unknown at this time if Commisso plans on retiring or not.

"This was a very difficult negotiation," Bosworth said about the decision to create the new unified slate. "While this might not be acceptable to everybody, we feel it is acceptable to the majority of the committee."

Bosworth said one of the first things that needs to be done, once a new slate is elected, is to look at fund raising events for next November — including the annual Democratic picnic at the Altamont fairgrounds, which was canceled for the first time last year.

He said events like the Democratic picnic are essential to get candidates the money they need to get elected in the fall.

Barnette, who was recently elected to a state Democratic committee seat along with Assemblyman John McEneny, said the same "faction of people" ran against her in a race with Bethlehem’s Connie Burns, McEneny’s running mate.

"It’s not starting off the right way, let’s just say that," said Barnette.

Bosworth disagrees and said he believes its time for the party to move forward.

"We’ve got a good start and, hopefully, will move forward with more consensus rather than be divided," Bosworth said. "That was my goal, that’s my skill, to build consensus among people."


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