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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 8, 2007
Murley gets six months
Police chiefs time away adds up
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND As Police Chief James Murley remains on paid leave while the town continues its investigation, The Enterprise has learned that, according to his contract, Murley is allowed up to a maximum of six months of paid leave in a given year.
He earns $96,844 annually.
According to records obtained by The Altamont Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request, Murleys maximum vacation, sick leave, and personal leave hours could total up to half a year of paid leave annually.
The maximum amount of leave time Murley could accumulate, allotted by his contract, is a total of 180 days, or 1,440 hours. If factored into five-day work weeks, it would take nine months to use up the time.
In the last five years the amount of vacation time Murley took fluctuated, ranging from 17 days in 2004 to nearly 35 days in 2002, according to his time bank records.
Supervisor Kenneth Runion said no actual attendance records can be produced because the only records that exist for Murley are individual leave slips and his time bank.
Murley, who has worked for the police department for 35 years, was placed on leave Feb. 8 and is currently receiving his regular pay, but, according to Runion, he is not allowed to go to his office or have any contact with Town Hall or police employees while on leave.
Murleys contract with the town states he is allowed 25 days of vacation per year, a maximum of 1,200 hours or 150 days of accumulated sick leave, and five days of personal leave per year. Personal leave cannot be carried to the next year, Runion said, but if its not used it can be transferred to vacation or paid back to the employee.
Up to 40 hours of vacation time a year can also be bought back, the supervisor said, and both vacation and sick leave can be carried over to the next year with a cap of 40 days and 150 days respectively.
"Because Jim’s been with the department for so long, he’s pretty much at the maximum for all of the time allotments in his contract," Runion told The Enterprise.
Murley began working for the Guilderland Police department on Feb. 16, 1972, according to his personnel records. He was one of four or five officers to serve the department when it was formed.
The Guilderland Police contract allows an employee to start accumulating sick time after three months of continuous employment and workers are credited one day, or eight hours, of sick leave after each month of continuous work.
Murley had accumulated the maximum 150 days, or 1,200 hours, in 2003, but became sick with Lyme disease in 2004. He was out for seven weeks between July 19 and Sept. 12 of that year as a result.
Coming into 2007 this year, Chief Murley had 932 hours worth of sick leave accumulated, or 116-and-a-half days.
Runion said the police department is "making due" in Murley’s absence.
"Maybe some people won’t be able to just take vacation exactly when they want to, but we don’t have to work overtime to make up for it," he said.
According to the police contract, an employee has to get permission from the police chief 24 hours in advance for personal-time leave. The contract goes on to say that, if the appropriate notice is not given or there are "other exigent circumstances," the leave can still be granted by the chief, or his designee, at his discretion.
Personal leave cannot be denied by the police chief if the proper 24-hour notice is given, the contract says, except in cases of serious emergency or if it requires more than 50 percent of the shift coverage to be on overtime.
In Murleys case, being the chief of police, he can file for his own personal leaves.
"Requesting leave is not as critical when it comes to an administrative official as it is when an officer is requesting it," Runion said, indicating that the policy prevents possible gaps in police coverage and keeps overtime hours to a minimum.
Labor law states that police officers must be paid for overtime work and cannot simply accumulate hours for overtime work like other town employees can.
Runion told The Enterprise last week that the town is not incurring any exorbitant cost in relation to Murleys leave despite criticisms from town residents angry about taxpayer waste and non-disclosure by the town.
Admitting that the town is sustaining some "administrative fees" on a personnel investigation, Runion said he could not comment on whether or not there would be costs to the town in the future.
Runion called for an executive session at the end of Tuesday’s town board meeting to discuss a "personnel investigation," but continued to maintain he could not comment on the situation.
He described the meeting as an "informational meeting" to bring the board up to speed on the investigation.
Scouts learn how to save lives
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDELAND The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad is helping local Scouts to live up to their motto and "be prepared."
In February, Webelo Scouts from Pack 50, Den 4, at Saint Madeleine Sophie Church, visited the rescue squad as part of a requirement for their Readyman Activity badge. The Webelo pack went on a tour of the rescue squads facilities at the 200 Centre Drive location, which is next to the Westmere firehouse on Western Avenue.
The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad is a volunteer-based ambulance corps that serves the residents of Guilderland and North Bethlehem. It was founded in 1939 and bears the name of the road on which it was formed.
Howard Huth, the rescue squads chief of operations, said that, after the tour, the Scouts took part in a presentation on some basics of first-aid and handling emergencies.
Huth and the Western Turnpike emergency medical technician, Alex Downey who is an Eagle Scout gave a two-hour presentation dealing with many different types of emergency situations. The topics ranged from snake bites and frostbite to what to do after an accident and how to treat shock, according to Huth.
The presentation ended with a "hands-on demonstration" of a staged emergency, he said. The Scouts used their newly-taught skills to be the first responders to the created emergency scene, said Huth.
"Howard did a great job. They really loved it," said Peter Boeri, one of the Webelos’ father. "We learned about first aid and all kinds of emergency situations."
The Webelos who visited the rescue squad include: Peter Boeri; David Bone; Michael Decker; Curtis Ericson; Thomas Fortune; Ben Goes; Nicholus Miller; and Shane Walsh.
Two of the dens members, Ryan Adamzack and Erik Web, could not attend the presentation, according to Boeri.
"Western Turnpike is honored to be involved in educating the future emergency responders of our community," Huth said. "We congratulate them on setting an example for their community by becoming educated in dealing with emergencies, and hope to even welcome them into our family of EMTs a few years down the road."
Location, location, location for Pioneer Savings and Weichert Realty
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND As Pioneer Savings Bank establishes its first Guilderland location in the former Price Chopper Plaza, Weichert Realtors, which is leasing office space in the same plaza, say moving in means moving up.
Weichert Realtors is the newest tenant in the plaza, and managers there say the move into the sleek and modern office space is indicative of the companys success.
"The proof is in the pudding," said Peter Staniels, broker and owner at Weichert Realtors. "Now that we’re in this building and have this kind of space, it shows you how much we’ve really grown."
Weichert has moved up and down Western Avenue several times since its doors opened in 1990. Each move was prompted by the need for more space, Staniels said.
"Our mailman knows all about the moves because he has to keep track of us," he joked.
But the new location, he says, is the cream of the crop.
"It’s brand-new, state-of-the-art, and it just works nicely for us," Staniels said. "We love it"There’s plenty of parking, we have a bank next door, we have good sign visibility, and we even have a light onto Western Avenue."
You have to be "very patient" sometimes to turn onto Western Avenue without a stop light, he said.
Eileen Bagnoli, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Pioneer Savings, agrees with Staniels on the location and the light.
"It’s wonderful, it’s such an improvement. We’re extremely thrilled to be in Guilderland," Bagnoli said. "We get good visibility and the light really helps, because if you don’t have a light on Western Avenue, it’s going to be tough."
The plaza has seen major renovations during the last year, including the construction of Pioneer Savings in what was once an empty parking lot. Since the supermarket days, the plaza has gotten a facelift, a new exit, new lighting, and a complete landscaping overhaul. Parts of the central complex are still under construction as tenants, such as lawyers and now Weichert, move into a renovated section.
"It’s only been a bit over a month and people have really been taking notice," Bagnoli said of Pioneer Savings. "It’s probably the only branch we’ve had people stopping by just to look around before we are even opened."
Across the lot, Weichert Realtors held a grand opening last Thursday evening at the new 1881 Western Ave. location, and it was well-received, according to Staniels.
"We got a lot of wonderful feedback," he said. "Everyone had a good time."
The new office will be home to 22 employees, said Staniels, and will serve as the "flagship" location or the main administrative office. The company has 110 agents, he said.
"The rest of the branches feed into here at the Guilderland Weichert," Staniels said.
The Pioneer branch is the first one in town, and aside from the great visibility on Western Avenue, said Bagnoli, people like that the branch doesnt hold the usual bankers hours like some other banks in the area.
"We’ve got pretty good hours there and we have a whole litany of electronic services to offer," Bagnoli said. "We truly have everything from soup to nuts"and we really take pride in our employees in Guilderland."
The Guilderland Pioneer Savings Bank is open Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and it stays open until 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. The bank is also open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Bagnoli described the bank as one of the "few truly local banks in the area."
Staniels and Bagnoli both see a bright future at their new location.
"Last year was a record year for us"and we are up from last year." said Staniels noting decline in the real-estate market has been in new construction, not the resale business.
Weichert Realtors also opened a new branch in Clifton Park last week with seven new Realtors.
"We’re very optimistic about the future," Staniels said. "It’s all been very successful."
Student objects to school flag at half-staff
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND The American flag was flown at half-staff in front of Guilderland High School this week to honor a student who died on March 1.
The practice is being questioned by George Truscott, a freshman at the school. He writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, "I was greatly disturbed and angered by this violation of flag etiquette"."
"It’s part of our crisis response team protocol," said Principal Michael Piccirillo.
The flag was last flown at half-staff in May, he said, after another student died.
Piccirillo said it is a way to honor the memory of the deceased.
The death of a student has "a ripple effect," said Piccirillo. "Emotions run the gamut from sadness to confusion to why somebody so young passed away. It’s always very difficult for students and adults."
As part of the protocol, counselors were available, Piccirillo said, in the social workers and guidance office, starting Friday, and a conference room was opened so students could talk through their grief and feeling.
"Breach of etiquette"
The Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference in 1923 and was last updated by Congress in 1999.
The code has a section on "position and manner of display," which says, "By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law."
Michael Buss, assistant director of the American Legion National Headquarters, based in Indianapolis, said that a high school should not fly an American flag at half-staff to honor a student.
"There’s no civil penalty for a violation of the Flag Code," said Buss. "It’s just a breach of etiquette."
He went on, "There are other ways to commemorate a loss like that. They could fly the school flag at half-staff. Or they could purchase a black, triangular pennant and fly that beneath the United States flag."
Asked if the part of the code that says "or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with the law" might allow flying the American flag at half-staff for the death of a student.
"Some people try to make that a gray area, but it’s not," said Buss, reiterating it’s "not consistent with law."
Asked what prompted him to write a letter to the editor, Truscott said, "I like to think that I’m a very patriotic person. I stay within the rules. The school was breaking the rules."
He said of honoring someone with a flag at half-staff, "That is a very special privilege"You cannot just have that for any Tom, Dick, and Harry. If you don’t tell people the rules, the rules go away and that leads to chaos."
While Truscott was aware the half-staff honor was for a special few, he said, he wasn’t fully versed on the rule and so went on-line. "I Googled ‘flag’ and ‘etiquette,’" he said. He said he hadn’t talked to any teachers or administrators at school about his findings.
Truscott and his father have had a history of run-ins with the school district, beginning when Truscott was a new student, in the fourth grade, at Guilderland Elementary School.
It was after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks and he wanted a Halloween costume that was patriotic and original, he recalled. His father helped him make a Minuteman costume that included a cut-out of a wooden musket. The school had a policy that forbade weapons or weapon replicas.
Truscott stayed home from school the day of the costume parade rather than marching without his pretend musket. This week, he called the school’s stance back then "appalling and outrageous."
His father was proud to serve in the military and his brother, a senior at Guilderland High School, was nominated to go to the Naval Academy and the Virginia Military Institute, said Truscott, naming a long list of "best generals" who attended, from Stonewall Jackson to George Patton.
George Truscott, himself, may pursue a military career, he said. "It would be an honor and a privilege to serve my country," he said.
He concluded that the reason he objects to the half-staff flag at the high school is not just that it is "against the rules" but, he said, "It’s about respect for the flag".I have to deal with all these kids," he said, referring to students who mock the pledge to the flag at school.
"No one cares," said Truscott, stating on Monday he heard someone saying, "I pledge allegiance to the government of Indonesia."
"They say stupid things," said Truscott. "We need to respect the flag"obey and understand and learn the Pledge of Allegiance."
Asked if he thought the school had meant any disrespect to the flag by flying it at half-staff, Truscott replied, "I’m not the school. I don’t know."
Asked if the school would change its policy in light of the stipulation in the Flag Code, Piccirillo said, "We’ll certainly discuss it. I’m not sure we’ll change it. Maybe we’ll have to come up with an alternate way of recognizing the person and honoring their memory."
Piccirillo concluded, "Some people are apparently more interested in particular protocol than how that impacts people. That’s the world we live in."
Nachod retires from school board, Fraterrigo and OConnell press on
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND The school boards longest-serving member, Thomas Nachod, is not seeking re-election.
The two other board members whose three-year terms are up Barbara Fraterrigo and Colleen OConnell will run for re-election to the nine-member board.
Petitions began circulating last week for the May 15 election.
Nachod has served on the board for 12 years, three of them as president. He is proudest of the fact the high school was expanded and renovated under his leadership, he said.
"It was such a battle to get that approved," Nachod said, recalling the bond vote came not long after a budget defeat. "It was a rocky time...It passed by just four votes. We all campaigned hard to get it approved."
A banker, Nachod is leaving Guilderland to be president of a new bank on Long Island.
He has some worries about leaving the board now. He wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, referring to the divided citizenry a dozen years ago: "It was a challenging time, yet I cannot recall a time when the board behaved in a manner so disrespectful, of each other, the administration, and the spirit that guides our district forward, respect, as has been the case this academic year."
"There are some very good people on the board," Nachod told The Enterprise this week. "As a whole, the board tries to do a good job. They have to re-assess their mission. They should be overseers, not management."
During his tenure, Nachod has frequently cautioned the board against "micro-managing."
"My business philosophy," he said this week, "is you have good people and then you get out of their way."
In his letter, he alludes to three parents who told the board last month of the school’s failure in teaching their children to read. Nachod writes, "Three cases came before us; I’m confident that the staff working with these and many other students will continue to tirelessly strive to find the best way."
Nachod concluded that he has enjoyed his 12 years on the board and considers it a "privilege" to have served.
"We’re one of the top districts in the state," he said. "We sometimes forget that. We tend to find fault. But most of the time, things run well, students succeed."
Barbara Fraterrigo, who has served on the board for a decade, is most proud of the improvement in communication with the public during her tenure.
"We started televising the meetings and added an extra [public] comment period. We started having an early meeting on the budget," she said of a citizens session in the fall. "And now we have coffee klatches," she said of a recent initiative where pairs of board members talk to the public at a diner or a library.
Asked why she is running again, Fraterrigo said, "I enjoy trying to do everything we can to keep kids on the right track and be mindful of the taxpayers. I just love doing it."
Asked about her goals, Fraterrigo cited collective goals: The board this year set two priorities to start foreign-language instruction in the elementary schools and to enhance technology education.
"We proudly proclaim we’re preparing our children for the 21st Century," said Fraterrigo, referencing the district’s slogan. "We’re on the right track. We may be slow and plodding, but we have our eye on the prize."
Pressed for her own personal goals, Fraterrigo said she would like to see community involvement with curriculum, perhaps having citizens serve on cabinets. "My father always said two heads are better than one," said Fraterrigo. "I like to hear from people and gather ideas."
Asked if she shared Nachod’s concerns about a recent lack of respect on the board, Fraterrigo said, "I think some people misinterpret aggressive questioning as negativity."
Referring to a recent board discussion on reading, after the board had heard the three parents’ complaints, Fraterrigo said, "In one meeting, voices were raised over questions not answered over time." But, she went on, boards change over time and coalesce.
"It’s a growing process," Fraterrigo said of being a board member. "Debate, to me, is a fine thing. You have to be courteous and respectful...It’s a matter of learning the rules."
Referring to recent comments made by the president of the teachers’ union, Fraterrigo went on, "We were castigated by Chris Claus for being a raucous board...We are elected as a conduit for the people, to share their viewpoints their frustrations and happiness. We can research things and present data. Questions shouldn’t be seen as an attack."
Fraterrigo, who works as a manager of a doctor’s office and is both a mother and grandmother, said of her tenure on the board, "Lots of times, I had points of view not shared by anybody."
She was, for example, the only board member to initially vote against the continued employment of a teacher and coach whom some parents said had repeatedly called their daughters "sluts." Later, after considerable public outcry, the board reversed itself, offering the teacher a settlement to leave.
And, three years ago, Fraterrigo was the only board member who did not reject the idea of setting up an advisory board to study reading curriculum, as proposed by a group of parents whose children struggled to read.
"So many things that group researched and brought forward were then mandated by the state," Fraterrigo said this week. "They were slammed down because they came forward with the idea of making different modalities available for kids....I’ve learned so much in life by being a good listener."
She concluded, "I have great hope for the board. Whoever is elected I’m sure will work together in grand fashion."
Colleen O’Connell is running for a second term because, she said, "I think the learning curve on this job is steep. I feel I almost owe it to the community. I’ve learned a lot about what it is to be a school-board member."
Also, she said, she wants to be part of the search this summer for a new superintendent. The current superintendent, Gregory Aidala, has announced he will retire in the fall after seven years at the helm.
OConnell considers choosing Aidalas successor to be the boards most important task in the upcoming year.
"There’s no replacing Greg," she said. "But in choosing his successor, we need someone who has the curriculum and business sense he has brought to the job."
She went on, "We need someone who is not going to be a steward of this district but will lead us into the future."
In her three years on the board, O’Connell said, she is most proud of "advancing the discussion on nutrition, wellness, and good health practices."
Her first year on the board, when a routine vote on a snack food came up, OConnell raised objections, stating she wouldnt vote for it when the district, as part of its curriculum, taught that such foods werent healthy. The motion was tabled.
"We really started to have a dialogue," said O’Connell, a lawyer who decided to stay home to raise her three children. The district ultimately took the risk of losing profits on its self-financed lunch program by replacing some of the popular snack foods with healthier alternatives.
"Then the federal government required a wellness policy," said O’Connell, and she served on the committee that drafted Guilderland’s policy.
O’Connell also said she was pleased with the district’s recent change in bidding for services from professionals like lawyers and architects. "It’s important for residents to get the most bang for the buck," she said.
O’Connell named two goals for her second term. The first, she said, is "better communication amongst school-board members, the community, and parents."
Recent letters to the Enterprise editor from school-district residents, many of them critical of the reading program, show that "people don’t have all the information they need," she said.
The second goal, she said, is "a return to civility."
"In my opinion, it began with our re-organizational meeting in July, 2005," she said. At that meeting, a new school-board member who favored spending on increased security measures made a motion that board members who didn’t support the measures would, in the event a student died at the hands of an intruder, be required to tell the student’s family of his death.
"It continues to the present," O’Connell said of the lack of civility. "There have been lapses of courtesy, and rudeness to fellow school-board members and administrators.
"We have a code of conduct in our schools," she went on. "Our conduct needs to be above reproach."
3.8-perecent tax hike
GCSD super proposes $82M budget
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND As enrollment in Guilderland schools continues to gradually decline, the superintendent has proposed an $82.3 million district budget for next year, an increase of about $3.3 million, or 4 percent, over this year.
He estimates Guilderland residents would pay 3.81 percent more in taxes or $19.65 per $1,000 of assessed value.
"I firmly believe the children are our community’s future," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala in presenting his spending plan last Thursday to volunteers on a citizens’ committee.
The 21 volunteers will review the proposal in five televised sessions over the course of the month. The school board is slated to adopt the budget on April 11 and voters will have their say on May 15.
The budget reflects the two priorities the school board set this year to develop an enhanced technology program and to start teaching foreign language in the elementary schools.
Increased costs for math, science, and technology total $319,000. This includes a math-science enrichment teacher at the middle school and a 20-week technology course for sixth-graders. At the high school, it includes returning the Advanced Placement computer science course and the honors physiology course as well as introducing a digital photography course. It also includes sending a student to Tech Valley High School, upgrading fiber optics, and hiring a career and technology supervisor.
For the Foreign Language Early Start program, which the district has been considering for several years, the budget calls for hiring two Spanish teachers to teach kindergartners, and first- and second-graders at the districts five elementary schools.
One of the budgets more controversial moves may be combining the supervisors posts for English and social studies at the high school to save $72,000. The social-studies supervisor is retiring.
Last month, a committee made up of both social studies and English faculty adamantly opposed combining the posts. The committee proposed creating a writing center and phasing in a modified course load so that English and social-studies teachers would, after three years, each teach 4.5 courses, rather than carrying the five-course load most other high-school teachers carry; this would allow them to focus on improving student writing. The budget proposal does not accommodate this plan.
Referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, Aidala said the district needs both program support and community trust. "It’s very important for us to maintain the trust and support of the community," he said, recognizing any tax increase causes "difficulties" for the community.
The $82,305,000 budget proposal counts on about $21.7 million in state aid, about 26 percent of the total costs.
While the dollar amount of state aid to Guilderland has increased from six years ago, when it was $18.9 million, the percentage of the local budget it covers has declined steadily from about 31 percent.
The $21.7 million that Guilderland is planning for next year is based on the governors budget proposal, said Aidala.
"We hope that, if anything, it goes up by April 1," said Aidala, referring to the deadline for the state budget, which was met the last two years for the first time in decades. "Our worst fears are it would go down," said Aidala, adding this isn’t expected.
While Governor Eliot Spitzer has proposed increasing state aid to education by $1.4 billion, the "bad news," said Aidala, is that spending is targeted for New York City schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.
The Guilderland budget proposal also calls for $1.125 million to be used from the fund balance, which is $125,000 more than was used this year.
The bulk of the revenue, about $57 million, is to come from property taxes. The projected Guilderland tax increase of 3.8 percent is based on the assumption that property assessments in the town of Guilderland will increase by $20 million. Guilderland makes up about 93 percent of the school district.
Small parts of three other towns lie within the Guilderland School District Bethlehem makes up about 6 percent and Knox and New Scotland each make up less than 1 percent.
Bethlehem and New Scotland have both recently gone through townwide property revaluation; their state-set equalization rate this year was 100 percent. The estimated tax rate next year for Bethlehem residents in the Guilderland School District is $16.53 and for New Scotland is also $16.53.
Knox, which has not gone through townwide property revaluation recently, had an equalization rate of 65 percent this year. The estimated tax rate next year for Knox residents in the Guilderland School District is $25.43.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders went over a list of true value tax rate comparisons for local school districts this year. Ballston Spa topped the list at $20.97 per $1,000 of assessed value and Saratoga was at the bottom of the list at $10.93. Guilderland was in the lower half at $15.92, just below Voorheesville at $16.42 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Aidala went over three significant forces driving the $3.3 million budget increase. The largest was $1.97 million more, a 4.58-percent increase, for employees contractual salaries. Employee benefits are up 5.24 percent, or $841,041, and special-education programs and services are up 11.7 percent, or $438,265.
The district has 12 bargaining units, with an average contract length of three years, said Aidala.
During a question-and-answer period after the presentation, Mark Grimm, a member of the citizens’ budget committee who had introduced himself as Guilderland homeowner and business owner, said the district had to "get a handle" on raises for instructional staff.
Aidala responded that the contracts set the raises and said, "To reduce salary cost, you have to reduce staff."
Grimm disagreed, pointing out that the school board negotiates contracts and adding, "A lot of people are satisfied with two-and-a-half-percent raises."
Later in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Susan Tangorre went over a chart showing how teachers salaries increase on a step system. A brand-new teacher at Step 1 with a bachelors degree but no experience earns $40,000 and, with benefits, costs the district $52,025.
A teacher with five years of experience, on Step 5, earns $45,000 and, with benefits, costs the district $67,744. A teacher with 23 years of experience on Step 23, earns $71,300 and, with benefits, costs the district $101,668.
The average teachers salary, said Tangorre, is $58,935.
Aidala displayed for the committee a triangle-shaped chart that listed, at its base, state-requirements and, on top, non-required expenditures supported by the school board such as social workers, psychologists, art and music programs, advanced high-school courses, enrichment programs, and half-day kindergarten.
Aidala pointed out that the $79 million budget for 2006-07 was approved by 56 percent of the voters.
Enrollment had declined by 126 students or 2.3 percent from the year before, he said. Enrollment is expected to decline by another 72 students next year, he said.
The district currently employs 1,074 workers for 5,425 students. There are 488 teachers, 555 support staff, and 31 administrators and supervisors, Aidala said.
"Education...is labor intensive," said Aidala. "Just below 75 percent of the budget is targeted for salaries and fringe-benefit costs."
The budget-drafters assumed health-insurance savings of $300,000 will be identified based on a projected premium increase of 12 percent.
The spending plan also assumes the rates for the Teachers’ Retirement System will increase from 8.6 to 8.7 percent. "In previous years, the increase has been far more dramatic," said Aidala. When the stock market was doing well, school districts paid a smaller share, but, after it faltered, their share went up.
"It gets a little scary when you see the stock market drop 400 points," said Aidala, adding there is a two-year lag on the effect on rates.
The budget also has embedded within it costs for the federal No Child Left Behind requirements totaling between $90,000 and $100,000.
The budget allows for continued small class sizes at the elementary-school level 15 to 21 students for kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classes and 17 to 22 students for third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade classes.
The budget also calls for $16,250 for a summer early intervention program and $120,000 for two Spanish teachers to start teaching foreign language in the elementary schools.
At the middle school, where a decline of 76 students is anticipated, close to six teachers (One four-teacher team and teachers for special areas like art, music, and technology) will be cut, saving $348,000. An enrichment teacher for math and science is to be added at a cost of $60,000 and a full-time and a half-time teacher will be added for a 20-week technology course for sixth-graders, at a cost of $90,000.
At the high school, where enrollment is to increase by 25 students, teachers will be added in part-time posts for music, math, English, science, social studies, and physical education; a full-time foreign-language teacher and reading teacher will also be added. The total for 3.3 teachers will cost $258,000.
Also, a supervisor will be added for career and technology instruction, which amounts to six-tenths of a job for $45,000 since the other part of the job involves teaching and is already accounted for.
Aidala said these additions fill needs "separate from enrollment trends." Students have shown interest in those classes, he said, and the added reading teacher is to help struggling students before they "exit high school."
Vet, townhouses, mortgage biz, and subdivision get planning-board OK
By Jo E. Prout
GUILDERLAND Residents settled in for the long haul at a double planning-board meeting last week to express their displeasure with plans for a neighborhood vet practice, unrestricted town homes, and more development on a narrow, small street.
Veterinarian Laurie Coger, of 20 Shady Lane, submitted a site plan for a home occupation, which was approved conditionally. The planning board said that "no onsite visitation of clients is permitted."
Coger said that the majority of her practice is house calls, but that she occasionally treats her friends and acquaintances show dogs at her home. Coger said that animals would be seen at her home two or three times each week, and that none would be housed or hospitalized at her home. Coger gives the animals chiropractic treatments, she said. She said that she did not plan to put up a sign.
Because veterinary offices are not permitted in residential areas, Cogers request would have needed a variance. Board members said that her application would have been no problem if she were not seeing animals at the house.
Neighbor John McNeil said that Cogers website described a mail-order aspect of her business. The number of clients determines whether a business is small or large, McNeil said.
"This business falls in what I don’t think of as customary home use," he said.
Another neighbor said that Shady Lane and nearby Oak Drive merge into a cul-de-sac, which is not meant for business.
While another resident said that the board would send the wrong message to people who think they can simply get special-use permits, board Chairman Stephen Feeney said, "Home businesses/occupations are allowed" according to town standards.
Feeney said that animal use is only allowed in agricultural districts or areas with larger square-footage uses.
Donald Reeb, president of the McKownville Neighborhood Association, said, "There are better ways to handle this." Reeb suggested that Coger rent a room at a nearby veterinary hospital when she cannot see clients at their homes.
The planning board decision to deny animals on site caused audience members to heave audible sighs. Coger asked for a copy of the code and was told that copies are available at Town Hall or online.
The board gave final plat approval for John Ciancettas project in the heart of the Rosedale Meadows, a restrictive town-home community on Rosedale Way. Surveyor Mark Blackstone said that Ciancetta was prepared to maintain the same restrictive standards for the four townhouse lots.
Town Planner Jan Weston said that the lots were not part of the original Rosedale Meadows, and did not have density restrictions.
A Rosedale Meadows board member asked the planning board to impose the communitys restrictions on the new homes, but the planning board said that the restrictions were a private agreement outside the planning boards authority. The planning board said that, if Ciancetta will voluntarily comply with Rosedale Meadow restrictions, then it would ask Ciancetta to remove a non-compliant chain-link fence around the construction zone, and to require that purchasers of the four town homes comply with the neighborhoods restrictions.
With a split vote, the planning board approved Lisa Romanos request for a mortgage consulting business at 1847 Western Ave.
Conflict about the lack of parking on the parcel, an inaccessible back alley, and an unfinished plan that may include a rough sketch by Chairman Feeney kept the vote from being unanimous.
Weston said that the plan presented by attorney Tim Elliott had two invalid rear parking spaces, from which cars could not back out. The narrow strip of planned green space would not allow adequate snow storage, she said.
Following the boards earlier recommendations, Elliott said that the garage on the property would be razed to provide parking for the business and a tenant on the property. He said that the nearby alley, which could have allowed through access and alleviated parking concerns, is privately owned.
Feeney sketched a parking plan and gave it to Elliott.
"There can be some design back there that works," Feeney said. His plan allowed five spaces of the six required, and allowed green space for snow storage. He said that Romano could get a special-use permit.
Board member Lindsay Childs said that he would not approve the plan until Romano had contacted the alleys owner about using the access. Romano told the board that her surveyor told her sewer pipes are under the alley, which cannot handle much traffic.
Elliott said that he had researched a possible easement and found none, and had found the owner of the alleyway, but, to require Romano to approach the owner privately, was beyond the boards authority.
"I frankly don’t know that you have the power to require that of us," Elliott said.
Childs said that, with or without alleyway access, "I would like to see a site plan we’re happy with."
Feeney said that the boards recommendation to the zoning board is that Romano present a better layout, reasonable access to the alley, if possible, and snow storage. He said that the site plan should be modified to accommodate a minimum of five parking spaces with possible future access to the alley. He recommended that Romano contact the alleys owner to pursue the opportunity to gain access for her use.
Childs voted against the recommendation. Board members Terry Coburn, James Cohen, Paul Caputo, and Feeney voted for it. Board members Thomas Robert and Michael Cleary were absent.
A proposed four-lot subdivision of 1.13 acres brought out neighbors opposed to the development on McKown Road. Nearby residents voiced worries about limited parking and driving space and wetlands, and fears of contamination from a defunct gas station nearby.
The planning board continued Bill Strassburgs proposal for 1-3 McKown Road until a state Department of Environmental Conservation record of the tests on the gas station site is located. Feeney asked engineer Zareh Altounian to present ideas on how drainage on the site will be handled, and possible locations of catch basins.
"Don’t engineer it, but at least give us some idea of what your plans are," Feeney said.
Altounian was surprised to hear of the gas station nearby. He said, "That I didn‘t know about." His partner, Tony Trimarchi, told the board that he had seen a report about the gas station.
"It should be OK. It was cleared," Trimarchi said.
"That property is very wet," Coburn said.
Neighbors complained that, aside from drainage issues, McKown Road is narrow with two lanes, no shoulder, and dog-walkers. Noting three school-bus trips per day, trash collections on the road, and holiday visitors’ cars parked in the road, one resident said, "Access is already compromised on this street." Adding new lots would increase the daily traffic, she argued. "It’s just not acceptable, really," she said.
"The lots are larger than most of the lots in the neighborhood," Feeney told residents. "This clearly meets the standards. Drainage is clearly going to be an issue. Our standards are that they can’t make it worse for the neighbors."
Feeney said that the board could not deny this project because of the traffic impact. He said that the code calls for a minimum two-car driveway for each proposed lot, and that most of the project is on Westlyn, not McKown Road. To study the effect of increased traffic, the board must consider the number of trips made for each residence. "What are three houses going to do to the percentage of the trips"" Feeney said.
In other business, the planning board:
Approved Dominic Rigusos subdivision of 5.17 acres into three lots on Veeder Road;
Approved the concept presentation of a two-lot subdivision of .6 acres at 3039 Old State Road;
Approved the final site plan for the planned unit development Mill Hill at Route 155. The final plan must show a sidewalk plan for the proposed phase 4; a note must be made on the plans for a change of title; all roads and storm water facilities in phases 2, 3, and 4 should be maintained by the lot owners; an easement across Mill Hill Court for the ballet school on the site must be shown; and the roads are private and must be designated as private on the plan;
Approved an application to cut an existing single-family home from the Mohawk Village Apartments at 1-5 Okara Drive;
Approved Lisa Romanos initial proposal to subdivide 14.7 acres on Route 158 into four lots. Two of the lots will share access on Route 158, and one lot will access Route 20. Romano must provide a storm water prevention plan and show fire and emergency access on her plan, the board said;
Approved Vera Dordicks request to use office space in Park Place Plaza for her Queen of Tarts business. Dordick said that the space was formerly used as a gift shop.
"We outgrew our space," Dordick said. The company’s cakes are being served in area hotels, and its wedding cakes are becoming a large business, she said; and
Approved a site plan to allow an in-law apartment at 1 Ardsley Road. The board told owners Louis and Margaret Carciobolo that they must provide more details on their plan to the zoning board.
Lame duck muddies water
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALTAMONT A year after suits, countersuits, and controversy were settled in Altamonts quest for water, more facts are seeping to the surface.
Last month, Wayde Bush asked the village board if it had been offered $100,000 to settle with the Trumplers for water. Mayor James Gaughan answered that the village was not offered $100,000 by anybody.
This month, Trustee Harvey Vlahos, developer Jeff Thomas, and his attorney Paul Wein, said that, yes, Thomas had offered $100,000 to Michael and Nancy Trumpler to settle with the village and get the well water on Brandle Road connected to the villages system so that Thomass senior housing project could go forward.
In March of 2004, the village agreed to a purchase option with the Trumplers for about five acres of their land on Brandle Road where engineers had discovered water months before. A year later, in April of 2005, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court, seeking to get out of their contract with the village. The Trumplers meant for the water to serve the residents of the water-strapped village, they said, and they objected to Altamonts plans to give water to developer Jeff Thomas, who had plans to build a 72-unit senior housing complex just outside the village.
Although the Trumplers hadnt sued for any money, the village filed a counterclaim against them for tens of thousands of dollars. In June, Thomas sued the Trumplers for $17 million, claiming interference.
"Everything was bogged down in litigation," said Wein, this week, the village wasn’t getting its water and Thomas’s project wasn’t able to move forward. "Jeff said, ‘Look, if it takes money to just move this thing and put it to an end, I’ll put some money up" and that’ll be the end of it,’" said Wein. That’s when Thomas made his offer to give the Trumplers $100,000 to drop their suit and move forward with the village, he said.
That money came with strings attached, though, Gaughan told The Enterprise on Wednesday. Thomas requested that the village grant him immediate access to municipal water, rather than waiting until the new wells were on line, and he wanted a waiver of the benefit assessment fee, which would total roughly $62,000 to connect all 72 of his units to the water system, Gaughan said.
The village didn’t accept Thomas’s offer, Gaughan said Wednesday, because of the conditions. "We were the ones who started the settlement negotiations," said Wein of the offer to get the Trumplers and the village to settle. As it ended up, "They spent the $100,000," he said of the village.
According to the April 4, 2006 settlement agreement, the village agreed to pay the Trumplers $125,000 for the original 4.88 acres and then an additional $100,000, for which it got adjacent acreage.
Trustee Vlahos, who has decided not to seek re-election, raised the matter at his last village board meeting on Tuesday as he criticized the board, with which he has often been at odds.
The village bought the initial five acres, Vlahos told The Enterprise, "then settled the suit with the Trumplers by paying them another $100,000." How can the village just pay them additional money" Vlahos asked. One way of justifying that settlement was getting more land; the village got another 30 acres, he said, which is not to be used until after Michael Trumpler’s death.
"We could have had Jeff Thomas pay them $100,000, which, instead, we paid," Vlahos said.
At February’s village board meeting, Bush, a former village trustee, asked about the offer. "I was just curious," he said, "were you guys offered $100,000 to settle the Trumpler suit""
"We were not offered $100,000," answered Gaughan.
"I was just wondering why we didn’t accept that offer if it was on the table," Bush said.
"We were not offered $100,000 by anybody," said Gaughan. None of the trustees answered Bush, who said he had been hearing rumors.
"Did I lie" No," Gaughan said when asked about his answer to Bush. "Did I, in the context of that question, tell an untruth" No."
Gaughan maintains that his answer was truthful because, he said, the village wasnt offered $100,000; rather, Thomas proposed that he would pay the Trumplers to settle with the village.
In December of 2005, the village said that it was Thomas who was holding up the settlement process, Wein said on Wednesday. At the time, he and Thomas were involved in negotiations with the Trumplers and didn’t want to jeopardize the process by discussing the terms publicly, he said. Gaughan has been holding up the senior housing project, Wein said, adding, "It just seems that the mayor is hell bent on blocking the senior project from going forward."
In other business, the board:
Recently held an extra meeting to hire an employee for the public works department to replace Larry Adams while he recovers from an equipment injury;
Heard from Gaughan that there has been a hold up in getting the new wells on Brandle Road connected and ready for use; the electrical contractor has requested an extra 90 days. "We’re doing all we can to exert penalties on them," he said;
Heard from Gaughan that he hopes to expand the farmers market in the village this coming summer, with the help of Linda Cure;
Heard from Gaughan that the senior citizen luncheons have included more entertainment recently, thanks to help from Linda Cure;
Heard a reminder from Tim McIntyre, the villages superintendent of public works, that the sidewalks in front of residents houses are their responsibility to keep clear of snow;
Heard from resident Norman Bauman that he is still having problems with the post office. Last summer, the village invited postal staff to a board meeting to address concerns from residents who had been having problems with the Altamont post office. "Sometimes I get mail, sometimes I don’t," Bauman said;
Heard from Vlahos that $2,800 of village money was spent without board consent on banners to put on telephone posts around Altamont. The village board is supposed to vote on expenditures of village funds, Vlahos told The Enterprise later, and Gaughan and Trustee Kerry Dineen bought the banners without any vote;
Held a public hearing on the second local law of the year, extending the moratorium on subdivision for three months, until July 3, 2007. No residents spoke and the board passed the law unanimously;
Voted unanimously to adopt Phase 1 of a new village water policy. The policy was created by McIntyre, Dineen, and Richard Straut, an engineer from Barton and Loguidice, the villages engineering firm. Phase 1 of the policy states that single family houses adjacent to the current water infrastructure and all residents within the village will be allowed a connection to the municipal water system. Discussion of the second phase of the policy was tabled until the next meeting;
Voted unanimously to hold a budget workshop in the villages courtroom at 6 p.m. on March 20;
Voted unanimously to hold a budget public hearing at 8 p.m. on April 17; and
Heard a proposed campaign finance resolution from Vlahos, which he wanted to table until the next board meeting for the board to vote on. The resolution states that, historically, campaigns for political office in the village have been run on no more than $500 and that expensive campaigns have a negative effect on the villages character.
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