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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 29, 2007

Man on CSX tracks gone after train stops

By Jarrett Carroll

GUIILDERLAND — A massive search for a body following a CSX report of a man lying in the train tracks Tuesday evening, ended with the discovery that there was no body to be found.

Emergency medical technicians and firefighters stood by as State Police searched in a helicopter above Frenchs Hollow and CSX crews searched along the tracks below for any evidence of a body. Guilderland Police were contacted by a CSX engineer around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the acting chief of police, Carol Lawlor.

"A report came in about a man lying down on the tracks," Lawlor told The Enterprise. "The train made an emergency stop and a search began."

A search was conducted until nearly 9 o’clock that evening, Lawlor said, and police closed the investigation by concluding the man escaped the train’s path without serious injury and was in no way "struck or harmed by the train and did safely exit the tracks."

"We would like to talk to the person in question," she said.

The only charge that could result from the incident, Lawlor said, is trespassing, which is a violation.

"That’s why it is illegal, because it causes so many problems," Lawlor said. "We’ve had kids on the tracks before," she added, referring to when a young man jumped from the train track trestle over Route 20 to avoid a train and required hospitalization.

Local residents along Frenchs Mill Road and Frenchs Hollow gathered outside of their homes, many of whom were listening to hand-held scanners, to watch as police searched from the skies and along the railroad tracks for a body.

Dozens of responders arrived on the scene to help. The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad and Guilderland Emergency Medical Technicians were on hand as well as firefighters from the Guilderland, Guilderland Center, and Altamont fire departments. Guilderland Police and State Police teamed up with the Albany County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team to answer the call.

Although there is no concrete answer to how much the incident cost local responders, Lawlor said that overtime hours were used in the Guilderland Police Department.

Sergeant Kern Swoboda, a spokesman for the State Police’s specialized services, said an exact number couldn’t be given on the cost of the helicopter use that evening.

"It’s an incorporated part of our annual budget," Swoboda said. "That’s why we have the service available. We’re a support unit."

The unit aids in various missions for the State Police, local municipalities, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, hospitals, aerial fire suppression, and other functions, Swoboda said. The New York State Aviation unit consists of five stations with its headquarters located in Albany.

A spokesman from CSX, Bob Sullivan, said that the 84 cars in the train heading from Selkirk to Chicago made an emergency stop after the train crew spotted the man in the tracks.

"They stopped very quickly"The message here for people is the railroad tracks are not for recreation; they are a place of business," Sullivan said. "People put themselves at risk when they walk on the tracks."

Lawlor said the response to the call went very well and reiterated what Sullivan said by reminding people that railroad tracks are dangerous places.

Spinelli heads for jail

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — After several delays and postponements, jeweler Peter Spinelli, 50, was sentenced in Albany County Court yesterday for selling fake diamonds and for swiping his customers’ gems and replacing them with fakes.

As Spinelli is heading off to jail, calls complaining about more thefts are still coming in, said Heather Orth, spokeswoman for the county’s district attorney.

"I believe police are still getting calls about other possible fakes coming in," Orth told The Enterprise. "We’ll have to see when the complainants come in whether there will be more charges."

Spinelli pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree grand larceny earlier this year.

Judge Thomas Breslin sentenced Spinelli three to nine years in prison, the maximum, and ordered him to pay full restitution to his victims in the amount of $391,117.56. Spinelli will have to sell his New Scotland home, 2.7 acres on Krumkill Road, which is assessed by the town for $775,000, to help pay for the restitution, according to the district attorney’s office.

He was originally arrested in May of 2006 when a customer at Spinelli Jewelers, located at 1315 Central Ave. in Colonie, noticed that the stone in her ring looked different after dropping it off at his store for repair; another jeweler determined the stone was a high-quality fake, according to the office of District Attorney David Soares.

One of the defendants alleged that Spinelli replaced a 73-year-old family stone with moissanite when it was given to him for resetting, according to Orth.

Spinelli’s attorney, William Gray, did not return a call to The Enterprise.

Soares indicated in a release that he hopes the sentencing will help restore people’s faith in their jewelers and other jewelers get a clear message not to commit similar crimes.

"We’re very happy with the outcome," said Orth. "He’s going to pay full restitution and he’s going to serve jail time."

Chris Baynes, from Soares financial crimes unit, handled the prosecution of Spinelli yesterday.

Goutos launches protest of dissection in high-school labs

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Corrina Goutos decided to organize a protest, on her own, against the dissection and vivisection of animals in Guilderland classrooms.

She anticipates about 10 students will hold informative signs this Saturday, March 31, at the corner of Route 146 and School Road in Guilderland Center, just down the street from the high school.

A sophomore at Guilderland High School, Goutos serves as co-president of Last Chance for Animals at GHS and has worked with the club this year and last year on the issues of vivisection and dissection.

Members of the club have met with the high school principal, the supervisor for math and science, and the district superintendent.

"We made some headway; they took us seriously," said Goutos. "But I don’t feel it was totally successful."

Goutos traces her fondness for animals back to the pet hamster, Smitty, that she cared for as a child. She now has two cats, Godzilla and Patches.

About a year-and-a-half ago, she became a vegetarian, she said, because she "felt guilty" eating animals. Her parents were apprehensive about it at first but now, she said, "My Mom gets excited trying new recipes."

This fall, when Goutos was confronted with dissecting a frog in biology class, she objected.

"I was the only one in my class to opt out," she said.

Goutos was allowed to watch a video tape of the dissection instead. "I wasn’t comfortable with seeing those images," Goutos said, so she didn’t look at most of it. Instead, she consulted her textbook to complete her lab assignment.

"My grade wasn’t hurt," said Goutos, who said she has a 95 grade-point average.

Her favorite subject is art and she hopes to pursue a career in design. Based on a portfolio of her work, she was accepted into the New York State Summer School of the Arts.

School’s view

Michael Piscitelli, the supervisor for math and science at the high school, said this week that biology students, typically in 10th grade, dissect frogs and grasshoppers; they also vivisect worms, meaning the worms are cut while still alive.

Honors biology students and physiology students dissect cats and white rats, he said. "We also use fetal pigs and pieces of animals," he said, naming sheep brains and sheep eyes.

"When you’re doing dissection, you really understand the complexity of animal tissue," said Piscitelli.

Computer simulations, he said, do not capture the three dimensions or the texture "or all the properties you can’t see on the screen."

The members of Last Chance were well prepared when they met with him, Piscitelli said, although a lot of their statistics, like those from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), were slanted.

"You can find viewpoints on whatever side you want to argue," he said.

The Last Chance students showed a PETA video from 15 years ago that portrayed cats being killed on site for lab dissection, said Piscitelli.

He contacted each of the school’s vendors for lab animals and said nothing illegal was going on. The cats are euthanized at animal shelters and were slated to be killed, he said. Every pig litter, he said, results in a fetal pig being born that would have died anyway, he said; those fetal pigs are then purchased for dissection.

The frogs, he said, are purchased from frog farms and 95 percent of them are raised "for the food industry — frogs legs are a delicacy," he said; 5 percent are for dissection. The sheep parts come from a slaughterhouse, the remains of sheep that are already being killed, he said.

The school policy is to allow students to opt out of dissection labs, said Piscitelli. "If a student objects because they’re afraid they’ll get sick or because they’re philosophically against it, we’ll give them an alternate assignment," he said. Not many students chose to opt out, said Piscitelli.

After talking with members of Last Chance, it was agreed the opt-out policy will be better publicized in the future, Piscitelli said. Teachers will include a statement about it in their course outlines and inform students of their ability to opt out during the first week of school, he said. Parents will be informed during the school’s open house and teachers will announce dissections well in advance.

"The group didn’t want teachers to be able to ask students why," Piscitelli said of opting out. "Teachers have to understand why. For some students, it’s just a gross-out factor. Then the teacher can say, ‘You don’t have to be the one wielding the instrument. Another student can do the cutting.’

Many times, then, a student will agree to do the lab, said Piscitelli. "You need the dialogue," he said. "If a student says, ‘I’m opposed,’ then the teacher will come up with an alternate assignment." The grade will not be affected, he said.

Piscitelli said of dissection, "It is educationally appropriate, but that is not where the argument lies...The argument lies in: Does the educational experience outweigh the death of the animal" That is a debatable issue. Many science teachers believe it is a worthwhile educational experience."

High School Principal Michael Piccirillo said he was pleased members of Last Chance talked to him about their concerns. "It’s a healthy part of the democratic process," said the principal. "We sat down with representatives of the group because we wanted to respond to their concerns in the way we felt best."

He said of the school, "We do have the opt-out policy and feel comfortable with giving students a choice."

"A debatable topic"

Goutos said on Monday that she is organizing a protest to take the issue to the community, outside of the school. She and the club’s other co-president sent out a press release about the protest on Monday which contained a statement that Last Chance for Animals "is NOT organizing this protest."

The club’s advisor, earth science teacher Kevin Duffy, whom both co-president’s said they respect, has not wanted the club to hold a demonstration, they said.

"Mr. Duffy felt that, being a teacher, he knows more the position the administrators are in," said Goutos. She went on about the protest, "This would be too much of a rebuttal and back in their face after the professional approach we had taken," she said.

Duffy e-mailed The Enterprise on Tuesday that he was unable to be interviewed on school matters without consulting the principal and referred questions to Piccirillo. The co-presidents of Last Chance e-mailed The Enterprise on Wednesday saying the club was in the process of switching teacher advisors.

Asked on Wednesday about the protest, Piccirillo said, "Even though they’re students at the high school, it’s not being sanctioned by the club. What they do is their choice."

He added, "We value the process of discussing issues and concerns. It increases understanding. Understanding doesn’t always mean agreement. That’s OK. That’s the real world. That’s life."

Goutos said of her reasons for pursuing the protest, "I feel it is a totally peaceful way to get media attention and is not rude to the school. We just want to get the word out."

She said, in talking to The Enterprise on Monday, "The main goal is being accomplished now....Our school knows about this. But I don’t think the community at large does....Maybe some people will contact the school. No matter how professional we are, they don’t take us as seriously as an outside adult," said Goutos.

"Ideally," she said of dissection in high school, "we’d like to see it completely abolished."

When Piscitelli was asked what the result would be if Saturday’s protest were to raise community concerns, he said, "If people were that concerned, we should have a discussion so people could hear both sides of the issue. The science teachers could certainly articulate their views...It’s a debatable topic: There are sound educational reasons why we do this but I respect these students’ position — that all life should be valued."

Board has varied views on fine-tuning $82M school budget

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Some board members said Tuesday the superintendent’s proposed $82 million budget for next year is perfect while the board’s president heeded the advice of a quarter of the citizens who reviewed the spending plan and said they could not support it.

Several citizens on an advisory committee pointed out that enrollment was declining but spending was still up $3.3 million or 4 percent over this year.

Timothy Burke said that last year he supported the budget because the board had worked to make cuts but he said that the attitude this year was "get it all in while we can" because the tax-rate increase for Guilderland residents is under 4 percent.

The district estimated the tax rate at $19.65 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a 3.81 percent increase over this year.

President Richard Weisz said Tuesday night what he heard from the citizens was that, with declining enrollment, the board should not just accept the administration’s proposal, but rather should pare it down to get a positive vote.

"Our goal can be to drop this below 3.5 percent," Weisz said of the tax-rate increase.

On the other hand, Thomas Nachod, the board’s longest serving member who is retiring after 12 years, recalled years when the board’s goal was to get the tax-rate increase to under 5 percent.

Reacting to members of the budget committee saying the 3.8-percent hike was too high, Nachod said, "Too high" My god, it’s almost too low." The budget, he said, encompasses the board’s goals "at a reasonable price."

"I support the budget, just as it is," said Nachod.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala will present a revised plan to the board next Tuesday, when it is slated to adopt a proposal, to be put to public vote on May 15.

All nine board members praised the budget-building process at Guilderland. Administrators had explained the budget in a series of televised sessions in March to a committee of 21 volunteers, 18 of whom summarized their views in the final session last Thursday.

The superintendent’s budget reflects the two priorities set by the school board 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 (FLES), which the district has been considering for eight years, the budget calls for hiring two Spanish teachers to teach kindergartners, and first- and second-graders at the district’s five elementary schools.

The budget also calls for combining the supervisors’ posts for English and social studies at the high school to save $72,000. The social-studies supervisor is retiring.

In February, 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.

About three-quarters of the 18 citizens who spoke last Thursday supported the spending plan, some with great enthusiasm.

"Maybe I’m just a mom," said Maria Loman, commenting on the best that teachers bring out in their students. "To me, it’s just breathtaking."

Donald Csaposs, a long-time member of the budget committee, said there was a "good confluence of events" this year, citing "a little hiccup in debt service," and the decline of 76 students at the middle school, allowing a team of teachers to be cut. "You’ve got a budget that will probably get approved," said Csaposs.

Robert Hilt, a retired Guilderland teacher, called the budget "reasonable" and said, "I don’t see it as an extravagant budget."

Mark Grimm, on the other hand, said that, in six years, the budget had gone from $62 million to $82 million with 340 fewer students., which he called "a red flag that indicates the money isn’t going to the students. He urged the board to "change the culture of unrestricted spending."

Both the citizens and board members focused again and again on the same topics. They had varied views on offering foreign language study in the elementary schools, combining the supervisors’ post for English and social studies at the high school, adding a district-wide technology supervisor, and adding a science and math enrichment teacher at the middle school.

Board views

Peter Golden set the tone for the board responses Tuesday when he described a school budget as "a search to find the common good."

He said, "Always I see the 30 percent of the community who use the schools and the 70 percent that do not."

Since the social studies supervisor at the high school is retiring after this year, Golden recommended waiting to fill the post until all supervisory positions are reviewed.

He supported keeping the course load for English teachers at four rather than the usual five, so they have time to focus on student writing and urged that the load for social studies teachers be reduced.

Golden said he couldn’t support a career and technology supervisor without a program in place.

He said he "wholeheartedly" supports starting Spanish instruction next year in kindergarten, first, and second grades.

Denise Eisele supports hiring a career and technology supervisor. "You need an expert to provide advice," she said.

She supports hiring a math and science enrichment teacher for the middle school and she supports the FLES program, but would like to see it evaluated.

Like other board members, she supports a summer reading program to help struggling elementary students keep up and said the district should provide transportation.

Cathy Barber doesn’t support the FLES program as proposed; she’d rather it started in the fifth grade and then moved to the lower grades and she suggested offering other languages besides Spanish.

She supports combining the supervisors’ posts for English and social studies and doesn’t see the justification for a technology supervisor.

She supports hiring a second enrichment teacher at the middle school to "spread enrichment around."

Hy Dubowsky, describing himself as "a seasoned budgeteer," said he was concerned about budget expenditures going up 4 percent and about not offsetting increases.

He said the district would be better served by a technology supervisor once it has a curriculum in place. He also prefers extending foreign language instruction "downward" rather than starting in the lowest grades, he said.

Colleen O’Connell said she appreciates the way the supervisor’s budget honored the board’s goals for teaching technology and foreign language.

She supports FLES, O’Connell said, and won’t get into "micro-managing" when language is taught.

She also said a technology supervisor "is critical" and could help the facilities committee that will be discussing how to use state aid to improve the elementary schools and the use of technology.

Right now, said O’Connell, 15 teachers are supervised by an assistant director of physical education and an associate principal; a technology supervisor would do a better job, she said.

O’Connell also supports a second enrichment teacher at the middle school as well as a sixth-grade technology class.

She opposes combining the supervisors’ posts for English and social studies, saying it’s not best for kids.

Thomas Nachod supports FLES and said, while he may have some doubt about the current plan, "I’m not a professional."

He said English and social studies were both great departments and he’d like to keep the four-course load for English teachers while finding a way to help the social studies department.

Board Vice President John Dornbush said of the budget, "I don’t see anything at this point that I would change."

The proposed budget, he said, "maintains small class sizes...the bedrock of the elementary programs."

He said he liked Golden’s idea of waiting a year to hire a new social-studies supervisor.

Dornbush supports FLES and hiring a technology supervisor who can act as "a leader to take us into the 21st Century."

He also supports hiring a math and science enrichment teacher at the middle school to "prepare our students for the jobs of the future."

Dornbush concluded of the budget, "I support it 100 percent."

Barbara Fraterrigo, who has long pushed for the FLES program, supports it and also supports separate supervisors for English and social studies.

She supports the sixth-grade course for technology but is "really struggling with the enrichment teacher."

She prefers spending funds on updating hardware rather than hiring a technology supervisor right away. Fraterrigo concluded by calling the budget "one of the best we’ve had."

President Weisz called FLES "an experiment," teaching kids to think in a second language.

Weisz said it was "a little premature" to hire a technology supervisor and also opposed the new enrichment teacher at the middle school.

"It kills me," he said but, with the school’s declining enrollment, he didn’t think a teacher should be added.

GHS students stand up for animals

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Elijah Sharma and Corrina Goutos care about animals and want to stop people’s abuse of them. The pair of Guilderland High School sophomores are co-presidents of Last Chance for Animals GHS.

The group, which was founded last year, has about 30 members, Sharma said, and meets weekly.

"I’ve been raised to be kind and tolerant and respectful," said Sharma. "I’m a vegan," he said, which means he doesn’t eat any meat or animal products like milk or cheese or eggs.

An only child, he said he convinced his parents to become vegetarians, too. "They haven’t taken the next step to vegan yet," he said.

The first accomplishment he named of the club he helped found was getting vegetarian burgers on the menu at the school cafeteria. "They’re served every day now," said Sharma.

The group, which uses the name of a national organization but isn’t governed by it, said Sharma, has circulated petitions for many animal-rights causes.

The group’s slogan is "Improving the lives of animals and people through education, activisim, and involvement."

Members collected 500 signatures on a petition calling for an end to production of foie gras in New York State, said Sharma. "They force-feed birds to make their livers [enlarged]; it’s considered a delicacy," he said. A first petition was sent to Governor George Pataki, who supported the industry in New York, said Sharma. A more recent petition was sent to Governor Eliot Spitzer, he said.

The group sent another petition with 500 signatures to the chief executive officer of J. C. Penney, said Sharma, asking that the department store no longer sell fur items.

In April, the group will launch a campaign to have animals spayed or neutered and in May, the club will host an art show, Arts for the Animals, with proceeds to benefit The Humane society and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

At school, Sharma said, reaction to the group has been mixed. "It’s really divided," he said. "Some people are really supportive. Some people get angry and defensive. A lot of it is a matter of family tradition."

Sharma, who wants to be a "human and animal rights attorney," said his family has been supportive of his activities.

Principal says
Thefts taken seriously at high school

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Thefts come in "spurts" at Guilderland High School, said Principal Michael Piccirillo yesterday. "Students have to be part of the solution."

He went on, "They have to keep track of their belongings and let us know information. Many times, they know more then we do."

Kids, these days, pack many small and expensive devices when they go to school.

This week, the Enterprise editor received a letter from Colleen Leclair, who is upset that her daughter’s iPod was taken from the girls’ locker at the high school. Her son, who is a senior at the high school, has, as a student there, had two cell phones stolen, as well as a graphing calculator and money from his wallet, said Leclair.

Graphing calculators and iPods can cost several hundred dollars.

"It’s so commonplace, it’s not a big deal," she said of the school’s attitude towards the thefts. "There are signs posted in the locker room that say it’s a high-theft area and you should watch your belongings."

Asked about the signs, Piccirillo said, "They’re to remind our young adults there’s always that potential."

He went on, "We monitor the locker rooms. Monitors go in when students are in gym class to make sure no one’s doing what they shouldn’t do."

Piccirillo said he wouldn’t call school thefts "widespread" at Guilderland and that the amount of theft was "typical" for a high-school. "Kids today carry items of value so there’s a potential for that to happen," said the principal. "Guilderland’s not out of the ordinary."

The consequence of theft is an automatic suspension, said Piccirillo. "We do press charges through the Guilderland Police Department," he said. "We take it seriously"We use our school resource officer to investigate thoroughly. We don’t close a case. We’ll continue to follow leads."

He concluded, "We’re not always successful, but we don’t blow it off."

Piccirillo called the school thefts "disturbing" and said, "It violates the values of our community — the school community and the wider community."

He also said that many forgotten items are brought to the school’s lost-and-found center by other students. "We have cell phones and iPods in lost-and-found that students have forgotten." He said it’s very gratifying when they can be returned to their owners.

Voters to decide: Should GCSD buy a bit of land"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — On May 15, Guilderland School District voters will decide, as usual, on a budget, on the purchase of school buses, and on the election of board members. They will also vote this year on the purchase of a small parcel of land in front of Guilderland Elementary School.

The eight-tenths of an acre of vacant land fronts Route 20 and is owned by the YMCA, which built a recreational facility across the street from the school, on Winding Brook Drive, and had to reconfigure the school’s driveway so it would line up with Winding Brook, using a single light to regulate traffic.

The price is $175,000 and is to be paid for from the district’s unallocated fund balance. School property surrounds the parcel on three sides; Route 20 is on the fourth side. The school has an easement that allows its driveway to cross the parcel to reach Route 20; if the land were sold, the buyer would likely share the school’s driveway.

Tuesday night, the school board was split as to whether the sale of the property should be put to public vote.

Board member Cathy Barber opposed placing it on the ballot and was backed by Peter Golden.

The land is zoned for business, non-retail professional use, which Barber said would lead to a small office building, not "a threatening development," and would generate school taxes.

Referring to a comment made by Assistant Superintendent for business Neil Sanders that the purchase would be "no cost to the taxpayer," Barber said of the fund balance, "It’s still taxpayer dollars...You’re not printing it back there."

She said the money could be returned to the taxpayers or spent on things that would benefit children.

Board member Colleen O’Connell said that, by not purchasing the property, the district would "lose control." She said a small office building could be used by a criminal defense lawyer with clients coming close to the school or by a doctor with psychiatric patients.

O’Connell also referred to Glass Works Village, the $100 million development, combining homes and business, proposed across Route 20 from the school. She said that Glass Works would make land in the area more desirable and likely to be developed.

Board member Golden reiterated Barber’s view asking, "What’s the educational purpose""

Referring to development along Western Avenue, Golden said, "The horse is out of the barn." Answering O’Connell’s other concerns, he went on, "When the uncivilized invades the civilized, there’s very little you can do about it...There are probably criminals that walk up and down Western Avenue anyway."

"Land is something they aren’t making anymore of," said board Vice President John Dornbush.

Board members had said earlier that the parcel may one day be used for district offices or for expanding the Guilderland Elementary School parking lot, although Barber said that adding parking would remove the hill that some had lauded as a buffer from busy Route 20.

Dornbush said he’d rather the school own it than share the entrance and concluded the purchase would be "in the long-term interest of the district."

"All we’re doing is seeing if we have enough confidence in the community to do the right thing," said board President Richard Weisz of putting the purchase up for public vote. "They can say yes; they can say no."

Ultimately, Barber and Golden opposed the motion to place a proposition on the May 15 ballot, while it was approved by the board’s seven other members — Weisz, Dornbush, O’Connell, Thomas Nachod, Barbara Fraterrigo, Denise Eisele, and Hy Dubowsky.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

— Unanimously agreed to create a capital reserve fund capped at $750,000 to be used for upcoming renovations to the district’s elementary schools; $600,000 of the district’s unallocated fund balance will be deposited into the new reserve fund, which has a probable duration of 10 years.

Voter approval is required to spend the money, said Sanders. The vote will be paired with a referendum on elementary-school renovations and, said Superintendent Gregory Aidala, if the referendum does not pass, the money will be returned to taxpayers in the form of reduced debt service;

— Approved tenure for 27 educators — one supervisor, two administrators, and 24 teachers. Aidala recalled his own tenure appointment as "a vote of confidence" and he said, "The backbone of our district is our teachers."

The newly tenured faculty will be celebrated by the board at a meeting later this spring;

— Voted unanimously to have the superintendent send letters to the governor and state legislators supporting reforms to streamline the system for firing tenured teachers, as proposed by the New York State School Boards Association;

— Heard from board member Thomas Nachod that, as of Tuesday, only 80 people had signed up to attend a silent auction fund-raiser being held Saturday at the Western Turnpike clubhouse by the high school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association. Attendees will be able to bid on over $20,000 worth of prizes, said Nachod;

— Heard from Linda Bakst, a former board member, that she supports the district’s current reading program. She cautioned the board to "think carefully" before making any changes;

— Established a memorial scholarship in the name of Lesley E. Grapka to recognize a senior who will be attending college for psychology and has shown compassion for people in need, and has a strong work ethic and a commitment to volunteerism;

— Heard congratulations for the Farnsworth Middle School Math Counts team, which came in 17th out of 52 schools at the March State Math Counts competition. Team members Kyungduk Rho, Beatrice Malsky, Matt Walsh, Abhishek Paul and alternate Chen Gong were coached by enrichment teacher Deb Escobar and math teacher Darlene Lawlor;

— Learned that the Elementary Art Show will be held at the Guilderland Public Library from March 30 to April 19, with an opening reception on April 4 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.;

— Adopted nine policies dealing with special education;

— Agreed to meet at 8:30 a.m. on April 23 to vote on the 2007-08 budget for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services and on the BOCES board election;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that Farnsworth Middle School’s annual Wellness Day, on March 28, allowed students to attend workshops on topics such as yoga, organ and tissue donation, scuba diving, weight training, sign language, self defense, and leadership training;

— Learned that James Dillon, principal at Lynnwood Elementary School, has been invited to give a presentation at Florida’s Second Annual Bullying Prevention Conference in April in Orlando. He will speak about preventing bullying on the school bus at the conference sponsored by the Florida Department of Education.

The board also heard that Dillon is being recognized with an award for leadership from The Academy for Character Education at Sage College on March 21 for his Peaceful School Bus program;

— Heard congratulations for all of the winter sports teams for qualifying for the Scholar-Athlete Award. Each of these teams maintained a team average of 90 percent or above — boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ cross-country skiing, gymnastics, and boys’ swimming;

— Heard congratulations for eighth-grader Brian Reed who qualified for the state level of the National Geography Bee, which will be held March 30 at the New York State Museum;

— Learned that 36 Guilderland students were inducted into the Tri-M Music honor Society, an international music honor society for middle-and high-school students;

— Heard congratulations for the Guilderland High School Chamber Choir, which won this year’s New York State High School A Capella Competition on March 3. The choir, which is directed by Rae Jean Teeter, was to compete in the national finals at Walt Disney World in Florida, but the event was canceled;

— Heard from President Richard Weisz that petitions for candidates to run for the school board in the May 15 election are available through the district clerk. Sixty-eight signatures of eligible district voters are required, based on 2 percent of those voting in last year’s election.

Three seats are open with two of the incumbents seeking re-election. Petitions are due by April 16; and

— Met in executive session on March 27 to plan for future negotiations, to review teachers’ performance, and to discuss a student issue.

Soccer club carries on
AG accuses Leggierio of scamming state

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND -- The wheels of justice are turning steadily in the case of Kennewyck Circle resident James Leggiero, accused of shunting $1.23 million of state funds to himself through an allegedly phony business.

Nearly all records regarding Leggiero and his East Greenbush business, Very Important Property, Inc., that were filed through the state Supreme Court in Rensselaer County have been sent to the judge overseeing the case. Only the ex parte order of attachment, detailing the accounts and property owned by Leggiero and his wife, Kathleen, and VIP were public last week.

Leggiero was employed as an auditor with the state Office of Mental Health. Jill Daniels, the acting director of public affairs for OMH, told The Enterprise this week that James Leggiero is still suspended without pay. His suspension began March 7, a day after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo served him with papers that allowed the Leggieros’ home to be searched and their bank accounts frozen.

Kathleen Leggiero is also employed with OMH. Daniels told The Enterprise this week that Kathleen Leggiero is on administrative leave.

Early reports of the charges included donations made by the Leggieros to local soccer clubs using money obtained through VIP.

Mike Kinnally, who works with the Guilderland United Soccer Club, told The Enterprise that the Leggieros, who have children on the teams, have been on the club’s board of directors.

"It’s a tricky situation for us," Kinnally said. "Our treasurer has looked at our books and found no improprieties." He described the Leggieros’ experience as a "horrible situation," and said, "It’s horrible for the boys. They’re great kids." Kinnally said that, after the initial review, the club has returned its focus to its young members. "We’re just moving on with working with the kids," he said.

The Leggieros did not return calls made to their home. At press time, no further information was available from the state attorney general’s office.

Sally Ketchum plans ‘gorgeous’ storage for Altamont

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Sally Ketchum can take one of a couple of routes towards realizing her plan for self-storage units in the village, according to Don Cropsey, the village’s zoning administrator.

The plan that her architect, Tony D’Adamo, has drawn up is meant to go on property behind the gas station and convenience store she used to own at the corner of Main Street and Prospect Terrace. The storage building would open onto Prospect Terrace.

Since that area is zoned for business, which doesn’t allow self-storage units, Ketchum would have to apply for a use variance before she could begin building the storage units, Cropsey said.

Alternatively, he said, Ketchum could approach the village board. She has made no formal application to the village, he said.

"When you think storage unit, you think ugly," said Ketchum. "Mine’s gorgeous." The plan includes a cupola and fake windows with shutters, she said, which make it attractive from all angles. The building is slated to have roughly 64 available units, according to D’Adamo’s drawing.

Ketchum said that she hasn’t yet decided how much she will charge for rent, but said that it will likely cost more than most storage units "because it’s pretty."

A building like the one Ketchum is proposing usually takes between two and six months to erect, D’Adamo said. He estimated that it will cost $40 or more per square foot to build, and, according to the drawing, there is an anticipated 7,160 square feet of storage available, which would make the cost of the building at least $286,400.

Although Ketchum has made no formal proposal, D’Adamo said that he showed the plans to village officials two months ago and got positive feedback. "I think there was a valiant attempt to fit in," said Trustee Dean Whalen, an architect who chairs the village’s comprehensive planning committee. However he, like Cropsey, noted that current zoning laws don’t allow self-storage units in areas zoned for business. A more appropriate place for something like that would be along the Altamont-Voorheesville Road near the roofing business and Volkswagen repair shop, Whalen said.

Ketchum’s plan for the property on Prospect terrace is better than what’s there now, she said. She’d like to break ground this summer, she said.

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