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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 5, 2007

"I did my five years’
Brackett won’t seek second term on school board

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Richard Brackett, who has served on the school board for one five-year term, will not seek re-election in May.

"I did my five years," Brackett told The Enterprise this week. "It’s time for someone else to take over."

In last May’s election, the incumbent school board president was ousted – which he and others attributed to fallout from the board’s handling of the state comptroller’s assertion the former superintendent had spent school funds improperly. Brackett, however, said this had nothing to do with his decision not to seek re-election.

The job of a school-board member is "to make sure that everybody gets an education," said Brackett who is often outspoken at board meetings. The unpaid position is also one that "is very time-committing," he added.

Brackett is a self-employed electrical contractor. His wife, Colleen, is the elementary-school nurse. They have three daughters.

The time commitment includes attending the regular monthly school board meetings, special board meetings, and committee meetings. Brackett said of the commitment in relation to owning his own business, "No work, no pay."

Petitions for candidates, seeking Brackett’s seat on the seven-member board, are due on April 16. So far, two petitions have been picked up from the district office.

During his time on the board, Brackett has "made a lot of people aware that the administration takes a lot for granted when it comes to spending," he told The Enterprise.

The administration needs to be fiscally responsible, Brackett stressed. "People cannot afford to live here anymore, and they really need to start watching what they’re spending," he said.

At the start of his term, Brackett, along with Frank Faber, the chairman of the high-school’s business department, established a group of community members to wire the entire elementary school for Internet access, he said. "It saved the district a ton of money," he added.

Brackett said he is unsure why members of the community cannot be tapped more often for similar projects. "It helps everybody in the long run," he said.

He also helped bring the Relay for Life to Voorheesville. He considers the overnight walk-a-thon, which raises funds to support the American Cancer Society, to be his "biggest accomplishment" as a board member.

The third annual Relay for Life will be held at the high school on June 2 and 3, with a goal of raising $90,000. The event "brought a lot of people together for a common goal," Brackett said. "A small town can come together for a cause."

As a district, and a school board, "You’ve got to take care of everybody," Brackett said. "The kids in the middle are being left behind."

The district’s $21 million budget proposal for next year, which was unanimously approved at Monday night’s school board meeting, includes the addition of a full-time social worker. The district has never had a social worker on staff before.

The Voorheesville School District faces the same problems that other districts face, Brackett said. "These kids have no place to turn to" We’ve got to give them some outlet, so these kids can be successful," he said.

"Nobody wants to ruffle any feathers" It’s got to change," he concluded of how the schools are run.

After 14 years
Dolin bangs the gavel for the last time

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – After 14 years as a town judge, Thomas Dolin is stepping down to "explore the possibility of running for other elective office," he announced last Friday.

Dolin, a Democrat, was first elected in 1992, and has since been re-elected four times.

"I’ve always had an interest in town politics," Dolin told The Enterprise this week. He and his wife have been discussing his possibilities, he said.

Rules on judicial conduct do not allow him to talk about political issues until his resignation becomes official on April 15, he said, although there is widespread speculation he will be running for town supervisor.

Supervisor Ed Clark, who has run twice on the Republican ticket, said this week he has not yet decided if he will seek re-election in the fall.

"He’s certainly welcome to run," Clark said of Dolin, adding, "We’ll see how it works out when I decide what I’m going to do."

"He did a good job," Supervisor Clark said of Dolin. Clark and Dolin have known each other "for many years" and they "get along fine," Clark said, adding that there is "very little inter-mingling" of their responsibilities.

Dolin’s replacement is decided by town board vote, said Clark. "That’s a thing political parties do" Decide who they want to support," he said.

Kenneth Connolly, a Republican who served as town justice in New Scotland for 20 years, and continues to serve as the village justice in Voorheesville, has offered to fill the post until the fall elections, Clark said. Connolly would fill in until the election, but will not run, Clark said on Tuesday. However, after last night’s town board meeting, Clark intimated to The Enterprise that John T. Keenan, III was a candidate for the post.

Democratic Councilwoman Deborah Baron, before the start of the meeting, had introduced Keenan to the board and town officials. Keenan, a lawyer in an Albany law office specializing in divorce, was appointed recently by the board to handle the town’s animal control cases. Clark suggested that the Democratic board members, who hold a 3 to 2 majority, were considering Keenan for the job.

The town needs to weigh the advantages of appointing someone who will then run for the post, versus appointing an experienced judge, Clark said.

The town’s other judge, Republican Margaret Adkins, is up for re-election this fall.

"I think it would be a great solution," L. Michael Mackey, the Democratic chair for the town, said on Tuesday about the offer made by Connolly. "Judge Connolly is an excellent judge."

Judge Dolin

Dolin, who is 68, has lived in Voorheesville for nearly 40 years. He has three grown children, and four grandchildren, he said.

He practiced law for 29 years before becoming a judge, he told The Enterprise. "I did a lot of commercial lending and trusts and estates work," Dolin said of his years as an attorney.

Dolin said that becoming a judge is frequently "an aspiration of young attorneys," and, when the opportunity came along for him, he took it.

As an attorney, Dolin said, "I always used to look at one side of a case." But as a judge, it is his job to fairly look at both sides of every case, he said.

"I think the town of New Scotland is very lucky, we have a low crime rate," he said.

When asked what he has learned during his years on the bench, Dolin responded jokingly, "I’ve learned that people have a hard time remembering to get their cars inspected.

"It’s been very interesting and educational," he added.

During his tenure, the court’s starting time has been moved earlier to 6 p.m., and the town has also added two morning sessions, so "people have a choice of morning or evening," based on what is more convenient for them, Dolin said.

The court has also initiated a credit-card system for people to pay fines, which people seem happy with, he said. "We have generally updated our computer capability," he added.

The increased enforcement of drunk-driving laws can often require additional hearings, which has put an additional burden on judges, he said, regarding how his role has changed during his tenure.

Over the past 14 years, "the intensity of the job has increased," Dolin said. "I think there has been a modest increase in teenage problems."

Dolin said that he has been struck by the danger in methamphetamine and crack-cocaine use. The two drugs "are problems that seem to be increasing," Dolin said. "That scares me."

The drugs are incredibly addictive and have "damaging effects," he said. "The people that have succumbed to it are really in trouble."

Methamphetamines, Dolin said, "are becoming readily available" That’s a problem."

Dolin said the increasing problem is that, by the time the user arrives in his courtroom, "They’ve already been exposed to it" and succumbed to it."

He spoke of one case where an individual "pleaded with me to put him in a rehab facility." Addicts generally don’t stop until they run out of money, Dolin said.

"Meth, I think, is on the rise," Dolin said. "Young people might think of it as a thrill, and not realize the damaging effects and how addictive it is."

"It’s been a very positive experience," Dolin said of being a judge. "I hope I’ve contributed something," he added.

Adkins has worked with Dolin for just over three years, she said. "I enjoyed working with him" He will be missed," she said of her colleague.

Dolin is "very highly respected" a real credit to the bench," said Mackey.

Judge Connolly

Kenneth Connolly has been a Voorheesville resident since 1968. He and his wife, Diane, have three children.

Connolly began his career in sales and marketing, and attended night school to earn his law degree. Since the start of his legal profession, he helped re-enact the state’s death penalty, aided in the implementation of the DNA databank, and the adoption of a sex-offender registry related to New York’s version of Megan’s Law.

Connolly, a Republican, was first elected as a New Scotland justice in 1979. As a judge, Connolly has a reputation for being fair, he told The Enterprise earlier. "I really think I have been fair and treated people with respect and dignity," he said.

Connolly could not be reached for comment this week.

Dolin told The Enterprise that he has "the highest regard" for Connolly. "He is an excellent judge and one of the finest attorneys I’ve known."

Voters to decide
VCSD proposes $21M budget, increase of 4.7 percent

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – The school board voted unanimously on Monday to put a $21 million budget up for public vote. The spending plan represents an increase of about 4.7 percent over this year’s budget.

Sixty-eight percent of the budget, or about $14 million dollars, will be raised through property taxes, creating an increase in the tax levy of 5.5 percent.

"I think it’s a good budget," Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell told The Enterprise this week. "Everybody tried to do their part to get the number down as best they could," she said.

"Our taxes increase at a faster rate than the salaries of the people who live in this district, and it’s hard," said School Board President David Gibson before bringing the budget proposal to a board vote on Monday.

"The board has been very responsive to parents’ concerns and to students’ needs," Winchell told The Enterprise, following the board’s approval of the proposed budget. The board listened to the parents who were concerned about class size and added a new teacher; and added a social worker, a first for the district, to satisfy the needs of the students, she explained.

The public will have its say on May 15, at which time it will also elect a school board member and vote on a $207,470 bus proposition.

School board members were surprised, when, upon arriving at Monday’s meeting, the newly added position for a social worker, which was listed as part-time at the previous week’s budget workshop, had been adjusted to a full-time position. The change resulted in an increase of about $33,000 in the budget.

In December, high school Principal Mark Diefendorf had suggested hiring a social worker. It was part of a proposal to help ease the transition for eighth-graders into the high school.

Diefendorf fleshed out his plan, and, in an attempt to make the plan more appealing to the board, he dropped the full-time post to a half-time position when he presented a more detailed proposal at the March meeting.

Voorheesville has "never had a social worker assigned to this district," Diefendorf told The Enterprise earlier. "There is an increasing demand on our guidance staff and psychologist," he said.

Most schools of comparable size to Voorheesville have both a social worker and a psychologist in addition to their guidance department staff, Diefendorf said earlier, adding that dealing with the problems of students can often be time-consuming. The social worker would help "develop programs that are pro-active," he said Monday.

Making the newly-created social worker position a full-time position was suggested to the board by Vice President C. James Coffin.

"We’ve seen an explosion of kids having trouble completing their high school program," Coffin said at Monday night’s board meeting. "We’ve got to find a way to deal with it."

The "myriad of issues" that students face in all three schools of the district, Coffin said, is "an impossible task for a half-time person."

From a financial standpoint, "I don’t perceive it as a big stretch," he said. The post would cost about $60,000.

Outspoken board member Richard Brackett warned the board of imminent shock before saying, "I actually back this" Sometimes you just need someone to talk to."

Gibson was skeptical. Creating the position on a half-time basis, he said, would allow the district to "see what the effects are."

Starting the position at full-time would alter the duties of the other administrators, and, if it doesn’t work, he continued, "taking it back out is extremely difficult."

"I think we’re way behind the curve in dealing with these social problems," Coffin said.

"The school social worker is the single most important need to the district," Diefendorf said at Monday’s meeting.

If the position is the district’s greatest necessity, "Why did we not get it until tonight"" Gibson asked.

He then asked for input from elementary- and middle-school administrators.

"We patch things the best we can," elementary school Principal Kenneth Lein said. "The need is certainly there," he added.

"These children come in with their baggage and they need to put it somewhere," said the associate principal for the middle school, Theresa Kennedy. "I don’t think it would be successful to spread a half-time person through the three schools," she added.

Ultimately, four board members backed the new post – Thomas McKenna, Brackett, Coffin, and Paige Pierce – while the other three – Gibson, Gary Hubert, and Kevin Kroencke – opposed.

"Real needs in the district"

"We have some real needs in this district," Winchell said this week.

Superintendent Linda Langevin told The Enterprise a few weeks ago that the elementary school is facing "unanticipated" increases in enrollment, and she expects the growth to continue a rate of 20 to 23 students at the school each year.

Currently, the school district has 555 students, and class sizes at the elementary school range from 20 to 24.

Her initial proposal was to hire a half-time teacher at the elementary school to teach literacy and math skills during the first half of the school day to a fifth of fourth graders.

At that time, Voorheesville Teachers’ Union President Kathy Fiero told The Enterprise that she had a lot of issues with the plan. "It’s a good high-school model, but it’s not a good elementary-school plan," she said.

Langevin then adjusted the budget, making the half-time teacher into a full-time teacher; the new proposal was met with enormous support from parents and school-board members.

Though budget meetings do not generally attract many onlookers, the high-school cafeteria was packed with district parents on March 26. Those who addressed the board were fully supportive of the additional teacher.

Ed Wolinsky has a daughter in the third grade. Wolinsky told the board that he has "strong support" for the additional teacher. He and his daughter agree, he said, "There’s a significant benefit to having a smaller class."

Tanya Hensel, the president of the Parent-Teacher Association spoke on behalf of district parents, mentioning an "overwhelming support for the additional teacher" among the parents she had talked to.

The third-grade class has the second-largest percentage of special-needs children in the school, Hensel said, citing the importance of smaller class size.

"The kids need the continual attention so they can learn to be self-disciplined," Langevin said at last week’s meeting.

She added that the district’s contract does allow a large number of children in a class, but that it has kept to a smaller class size over the years.

"The reason this school district exists is to teach children," Gibson said.


Voorheesville will receive $5.7 million in state aid, an increase of $115,686, or 2 percent over this year’s budget, Winchell told The Enterprise.

Roughly 68 percent of revenues will come from property taxes, 27 percent from state aid, and about 5 percent from other sources, she said.

State aid is broken down into multiple categories, Winchell said. "The foundation aid is really the only one that increased."

The increase was essentially the aid amount the district received for 2006-07 plus 3 percent, she said. Because the other aid categories remained fairly stagnant, the state aid percentage increase for the district remains low, said Winchell.

The $14 million tax levy is an increase over this year’s budget of about $759,515, or about 5.5 percent, Winchell said.

Tech Valley

"We have to look at new ways of doing things," Coffin announced at the recent budget workshop.

Tech Valley High School Principal Dan Liebert attended the March 26 budget meeting to discuss the innovative new high school where faculty will work with local business and science concerns, offering hands-on learning; the school will open in the fall. The school will draw students and support from two different area BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services).

The main obstacle for the Voorheesville board was the $18,000 tuition per student. The first year, only one student from each component district will attend, with enrollment growing annually.

The district will get about half the money back the following year, as it does with other BOCES programming.

Jim Campbell’s daughter, Kenzie, was selected to be the first Voorheesville student to attend the high school. She will be a freshman in the fall.

Campbell told the board that he is the chief financial officer of a 6,000-employee company, and "crossing disciplines is where we need to go" The gain is going to be great."

Board member Kevin Kroencke was not convinced the investment was one the district was ready for. "I’m skeptical," Kroencke announced. He was the only board member who voted against sending a student.

Kroencke asked Liebert, "Why not let you work out your bugs first""

Liebert answered that the first years will have the highest faculty-to-student ratio, and students will have the greatest opportunity to learn then.

Gary Bates, a district resident, told the board that he has been working as an engineer for General Electric for 30 years. "This is a great investment in the future," he said. "Waiting to see if it works is how we destroy a lot of good ideas," Bates added.

Theresa Gallagher, a member of the advisory board for BOCES, also chimed in on the discussion.

"I’m just not ready to dive in at this point" I’m not sure that ninth grade is the right time to start," Gallagher said.

The board ultimately decided in a 5-to-1 vote, to support Tech Valley High School in next year’s budget.

"I think this is a valuable experiment," Gibson said.

McCartney, V’ville reach agreement

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Alan McCartney is hoping to put the past behind him.

McCartney, the former superintendent of the Voorheesville School District, and Anthony Marturano, the former assistant superintendent for business, were accused in January of 2006 by the state comptroller’s office of inappropriately paying themselves $216,000.

A second audit released in November said that McCartney charged nearly $12,000 in personal expenses to the district in the two years prior to his July, 2005 retirement. Marturano was not accused in that audit and he has consistently asserted his innocence while McCartney has declined to comment to The Enterprise.

The school district brought legal action against the two men in an attempt to retrieve the money; it announced Monday that a settlement has been reached with McCartney. Negotiations with Marturano are ongoing.

Both McCartney and Marturano counter-sued the district, school-board President David Gibson confirmed at Monday’s meeting.

"I really would rather just get past it," McCartney told The Enterprise on Tuesday. "We have our settlement."

Gibson said at Monday’s meeting that the settlement is "an agreement not to disclose in public," but it could be obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. The Enterprise submitted a FOIL request for the documents on Tuesday, and has not yet heard back.

Superintendent Linda Langevin said yesterday that The Enterprise’s FOIL request had been submitted to the school district’s attorney, who will notify McCartney’s attorney.

"That’s not unusual," said school board Vice President C. James Coffin of the "not to disclose in public" nature of the agreement. "That’s the agreement that was reached by the attorneys." Coffin did agree that the matter was of public interest.

In a memorandum from Langevin to the school board, dated Aug. 14, the costs to the school district at that time were outlined, and totaled nearly $102,000.

On Monday, Langevin said that it seemed unlikely the school district’s legal fees will be covered by insurance.

Following the first audit announced by former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, an investigation into the allegations was conducted by Albany County District Attorney David Soares’s office. It found that there was no basis to prosecute the two retired administrators. Soares said the school district’s "weak internal controls" are what likely led to the problems.

Following the November audit, Soares’s spokesperson, Rachel McEneny, told The Enterprise that the case was being reviewed. "It will go to the Public Integrity Unit of this office," she said at the time. A call made Wednesday to the district attorney’s office was not returned.

"A lot of effort has been made to improve our processes over the past year," Gibson told The Enterprise yesterday. "We’re glad to be tying up these loose ends, so we can turn more of our attention to issues like educating our children."

New state maps may affect Voorheesville flood insurance

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Flood maps around the state are set to be reconfigured and digitalized within the next few years, which could affect flood insurance in the village.

After a roughly $1.2 million mapping project, primarily funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Albany County will have updated flood maps, said William Nechamen, floodplain manager with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. He said Wednesday that he expects that the project will be finished sometime in 2009.

In the last 10 years, two bridges that cross the Vly Creek in the village have been reconfigured, said Gerald Gordinier, one of the village’s two building inspectors. A bridge on Stonington Hill Road and another on Pine Street have been changed, he said this week. "For that reason, I believe we are entitled to new maps," said Gordinier. The current flood maps for the village, he said, were made in 1982.

Recently, the DEC, which has partnered with FEMA for the project, held a meeting to inform all municipalities in Albany County about the process of remapping, Nechamen said. Albany County is a priority for remapping because of the population, he said.

Gordinier attended the meeting and reported on it to the village board at its March 27 meeting. Insurance rates for residents who already have flood insurance in the village will be protected, he said, but those who might be affected by flooding according to the new maps will likely face higher flood-insurance premiums.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

— Heard from Liza Agresta and the skateboard-park committee, in an hour-long discussion, about equipment for the proposed park. Agresta was representing R.E. Woodson, Inc., which sells skateboarding equipment. She suggested that the village look into getting state or corporate funds to help pay for the roughly $40,000 project.

The board hopes that the town of New Scotland will share funds for the park and committed to writing a letter of support for the skate park before the skate-park committee brings its proposal to the town;

— Heard from Will Smith, the village’s superintendent of public works, that bids for a new sidewalk and repairs to a water main that runs under part of the railroad track will be opened on April 18;

— Planned a workshop meeting for April 11 at 6 p.m. at Village Hall; and

— Held a public hearing on the village’s budget for the coming fiscal year. Thomas Mensching, who was the only resident to speak, said, "My village taxes will have gone up by nearly a factor of three."

The village’s planned $1.9 million budget has a tax rate of 97 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This year, Mensching will be paying about $233, he said, to which the board answered that that amount of money wouldn’t cover the cost of garbage removal, should residents have to have private haulers pick up their trash instead of the municipal garbage pick-up that the village currently offers.

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