[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 17, 2008

Half-a-year after contract expires
Voorheesville teachers frustrated with negotiations

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Teachers here packed the school-board meeting hall Monday night as the union president expressed their frustration with an unsettled contract.

The three-year contract expired on June 30, and negotiations have been ongoing since the spring of 2007.

Kathy Fiero, the president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association, which represents 115 teachers, told the board, "The VTA’s primary goal in these negotiations was to identify areas in our contract where we do not compare favorably to other Capital Region schools and to attempt to remedy those deficiencies. Given our teachers’ — and more importantly our students’ — performance, we believe this goal is reasonable."

She also said that, "to recruit and retain a fine staff of educational professionals," Voorheesville needs higher benefit and salary levels.

The current contract has a salary schedule with 28 steps along which teachers progress each year. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree on the first step earns $38,150 for 185 days a year; with a master’s degree, the step-one teacher earns $40,050. A teacher on the 28th step earns $78,590 with a bachelor’s degree and $80,490 with a master’s degree. There is added compensation for coaching, advising a club, or chairing a department.

Under the current contract, the district pays for 90 percent of individual health insurance on several different plans and 50 percent on dental insurance.

Both sides told The Enterprise that salary hikes had been agreed upon; while no one would name the current stumbling block, it seems likely it has to do with benefits.

C. James Coffin, the vice president of the school board and a member of the negotiating team, responded to Fiero’s comments. He ran Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of the board president, David Gibson, who was out of town on business, Coffin said.

"Negotiations typically do take time," Coffin told the crowd of over 130, stating that the major items "have been resolved."

"Only one or two things are left, that’s all," said Coffin. "That’s a helluva accomplishment...I think we’re inches away from resolution of the contract."

He went on, referring to the district’s lawyer and chief negotiator, Norma Meacham, "Our last exercise was to send a message through our hired gun...The response was unacceptable to us."

Addressing Fiero and the teachers, Coffin concluded, "Put your thinking caps on. Bring something back to us."

Laughter rippled across the hall as the four other school board members listened without comment.

Teachers’ view

"We’ve done all the thinking we can do," Fiero told The Enterprise afterwards. "We had most of an agreement wrapped up. They put in a term that would diminish the benefit," she said, declining to say what it was.

She did say, "It would result in tier-ing," meaning the benefit would apply to some teachers but not other, new hires.

Fiero said the teachers were unanimous in rejecting the offer.

"It’s really one item," said Robert Streifer, a French teacher on the negotiating team along with Fiero, Tim Mattison, Pam Christman, Tim Kelley, and Ken Young.

"The association has been extremely creative to come up with win-win solutions, which, one after the next, have been rejected," Streiffer told The Enterprise.

Fiero said the drawn-out negotiations have affected morale. She wore a big blue button to Tuesday’s meeting that said, "Working WITHOUT a contract."

"It’s difficult to work in an environment when you don’t feel respected as a professional," Fiero told The Enterprise. "The board is elected to represent the community. I’m wondering if it does."

Fiero said her association worked from a list of over a dozen schools used by the district as comparable and then did research on benefits and salaries at those schools. "We were second from the bottom on salary," she said. As a "data-driven district," when it comes to curriculum and student performance, Voorheesville should pay attention to this data, too, said Fiero.

Striefer took a printed card out of his wallet that itemized "VTA Talking Points" — three of them. The first is that teachers are paid in the bottom third of Capital Region schools while performing in the top 10, it says.

The second is that Voorheesville is losing highly-qualified candidates to better-paying districts. And the third is that teachers want a settlement that will "make us competitive with an average-paying school district in the Capital Region."

Fiero said that eight teachers have recently retired and the district did not get its first-choice candidates to replace them. She cited the example of a physics teacher from Massachusetts who thought the salary was not enough to offset the cost of living in the area.

Asked if the teachers would picket as they had in the past when negotiations weren’t fruitful, Fiero said, "We’re hoping not to. We hope the board will re-consider."

Board’s view

Asked if the board would re-consider, Coffin told The Enterprise that it is now up to the teachers to come back with an offer. "We’re waiting to hear," he said. "The teachers simply can’t have everything they want."

He went on about the new contract, "Quite frankly, we made significant improvements to the bottom and middle of the salary schedule, recognizing that we need to compete and maintain our qualified staff... Everybody agrees on salary."

The item that derailed negotiations "has nothing to do with program," said Coffin. "What they want has nothing to do with the improvement of the educational program, nothing whatsoever to do with teaching or learning. We said, ‘You can’t have it precisely the way you want it.’ We offered a modification and they said, ‘No.’ We said, ‘Give us something to work with.’

"It’s damn foolishness to expect we’ll give away taxpayer money," said Coffin who is on the district’s negotiation team along with fellow school-board members Kevin Kroencke and Timothy Blow. "When we negotiate a contract, we have to look at how that sets us up for the future," said Coffin.

Referring to recent statements by the governor and state legislators about capping taxes, since New York homeowners are the most heavily taxed in the country, Coffin said, "It’s getting considerable play downtown. If it happens, it could have a tremendous impact on the district’s ability to maintain programs...It’s our responsibility to move forward with caution, building in flexibility to our financial plan to preserve program."

Asked if the school board is fairly representing the community, Coffin said, "Absolutely. That’s what it’s all about. It’s our responsibility to deal with the financial side of the district. It’s our obligation to reject things that are out of step with the community...We’re the watchdogs of the treasury."

Coffin said of the school districts that Voorheesville has compared itself to, "We’re running with the big dogs." He went on, alluding to Voorheesville’s lack of a large commercial tax base, "Other districts have a greater financial ability than we do. We try to find the middle road."

Coffin praised "the willingness of taxpayers in the district to support a strong program." He concluded, "It’s our responsibility to say no when you’re just pouring money away." Referring to New York State United Teachers, the union with which the VTA is affiliated, Coffin said, "NYSUT doesn’t like to hear the word, ‘no.’"

Superintendent’s view

Superintendent Linda Langevin said that, in the current contract, while step one is "on the low end" compared to other schools, the top steps are equal to other districts, making Voorheesville competitive in the job market.

She said that the schools the district compared itself to were: Albany, Ballston Spa, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Bethlehem, Burnt Hills, Capital Region BOCES, Cobleskill-Richmondville, Duanesburg, East Greenbush, Green Island, Guilderland, Middleburg, Mohonasen, Niskayuna, Ravena, South Colonie, Saratoga, Schoharie, Scotia-Glenville, Sharon Springs, and Shenendohowa.

Asked if it is hard for Voorheesville to attract and retain high-quality staff, Langevin said, "No. We’ve already addressed that in the new contract." She said salary changes had been agreed to. "We do have a high-quality staff," added Langevin.

She said the physics teacher from Massachusetts, to whom Fiero referred, wanted to start near the top step. "I’m limited in what I can offer," said Langevin. "He wanted Boston wages. We did get an excellent physics teacher," she said.

"There is competition," Langevin said of hiring teachers in the Capital Region. But, she went on, "The candidates I’ve recommended to the board have been highly qualified."

Responding to the "talking point" that highly-qualified candidates are being lost to other schools, Langevin said, "Once we settle, I think that will take care of itself."

She also said, "We are a small school and we have to balance the expectations with capacity and cost-effectiveness...The parents and the community support us well. We’re always mindful of balancing the budget. That’s close to our heart. We’re doing the best we can."

The agreement, she said, will be "a fair one."

Asked if there was room for compromise on what Langevin called the "one item left," which she, too, declined to name, Langevin said, "I do feel hopeful it will be solved."

About whether the board members are representing the community in negotiations, Langevin said, "I really think the community has trust in the board, as they should."

Asked if she thought the teachers’ morale was suffering with the drawn-out negotiations, Langevin said, "I know these teachers work very hard. Their hearts are there for the children. Although they may be personally impacted, they’re not changing their performance in a way that would have a negative impact. They have a lot of integrity and care for the children."

Sports is a force in V’ville

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Varsity athletes told the school board Monday what their teams — some winners, some not — meant to them.

Athletic Director Joseph Sapienza introduced players from each fall sport.

"We started the season as teammates and ended as brothers," said football player Sean Fitzmaurice. "It’s because of Coach Sap’s teaching we got as far as we did," added a teammate.

Stevie Church said three-quarters of her swim team went to sectionals. The Guilderville team — with swimmers from Guilderland and Voorheesville high schools — is the longest-running merged team in New York State, she said, and is proud of that distinction.

Lexi Burtman, a six-year veteran of the girls’ tennis team, was praised by her coach and said the team won the sectional title for the fourth year in a row and is hoping for a fifth.

"We’ve just built a tradition, a dynasty if you will," said Mackey Lloyd of the boys’ cross-country team. "When kids hear ‘Voorheesville’ and ‘cross-country’ in the same sentence, it puts chills up their spine. I mean, we’re a force."

"What made this season special and unique," said Sapienza after representatives from 10 different teams had spoken, "is these young people...[were] actively involved in all areas of the school and community while performing academically."

The school board’s vice president, C. James Coffin, said that, for a small school district, Voorheesville offers a wide variety of sports. "It’s an indication of the kind of support parents, taxpayers, and staff put in," he said. "Athletics is such an important part of life...The high of winning, the low of losing, and the discipline that is developed."

Echoing Lloyd’s words, Coffin concluded, "We’re a force when it comes to sports."

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Applauded Colleen Bates, a first-year student, sponsored by Voorheesville, attending the new regional Tech Valley High School, after she gave a PowerPoint presentation on her experiences there. She said doing homework on a computer and learning through doing projects were two major differences from the traditional education at Voorheesville. Bates continued to play on the Voorheesville junior-varsity volleyball team;

— Heard a complaint from Richard Brackett, a former school-board member, that someone in the district office used a computer and mailing list for "personal gain."

"Your confidential little office is not so confidential," said Brackett, declining to name the alleged culprit when The Enterprise asked him.

Superintendent Linda Langevin told The Enterprise that the district office has "a strong filter system" on its computers. "It’s not do-able," she said of Brackett’s allegations. "A big ‘stop’ sign comes up," she said if someone attempts non-district use of computers.

"We have a huge policy attached to Homeland Security and Internet use," said Langevin;

— Accepted resignations for retirement from Amy Ridell, high-school guidance counselor; Carol Kadamus, library media specialist; and Anne Smollen, keyboard specialist in the guidance office;

— Appointed Melissa Peck and Robert Bradshaw as custodial workers at $11.28 per hour, and Joseph Relyea, who had been a custodial worker, as a maintenance worker for building and grounds at $19.19 per hour;

— Appointed Michelle Bintz, who had been an office worker, as a library teaching assistant at $13.78 per hour;

— Made the following coaching appointments — Henry Czerwinski for varsity baseball at $3,645 and Kyle Turski for junior-varsity baseball at $2,207, Matthew Fiato for varsity softball at $2,970 and Terrence Ryan for junior-varsity softball at $2,016, Steve Relyea as varsity track head coach at $3,124 and Philip Carducci as varsity track assistant at $1,941, and Thomas Kurkjian for varsity boys’ tennis at $3,124;

— Agreed to a plan submitted by high school Principal Mark Diefendorf for new student clubs to form as subcommittees of existing clubs. Diefendorf said this would encourage interested students to start clubs and would allow for their dissolution if interest flags;

— Agreed to a request by Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell to participate in an energy demand response program, which rewards the district for diminishing usage during peak times. The biggest drain on the grid system is from May to October because of air-conditioning, said Winchell.

The district will get a $10,000 meter to clock usage for free, she said. "It’s really the right thing to do for the environment," Winchell said, adding, "We can always pull out...I don’t see a downside. It’s doing our part";

— Adopted resolutions honoring three long-time employees — Dianne Elmendorf, a food-service worker; head custodian William Kelly; and Wayne Palombo, a building and grounds maintenance worker;

— Heard from Langevin a description of a new post, curriculum coordinator, which the board had discussed at last month’s meeting.

"From an academic standpoint, the district is pretty darn good...We’re interested in incremental improvements," said Coffin. "You can’t rest on your laurels...We’ve got to have somebody lead the charge"; and

— Postponed a discussion on the length of terms for school board members until President David Gibson returns, since, Coffin said, Gibson has "strong thoughts" about changing the term length, which is currently five years.

His own opinion, Coffin said, is that a three-year term "is just too short — you barely get to understand and know what the job is."

Board member Timothy Blow, to much laughter, suggested discussing "parole opti <br> e ranch for needy kids get bumpy ride
< By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — A proposed not-for-profit horse ranch had a bumpy ride at the planning board meeting here last week. Neighbors came out to protest the requested use, and planning board members requested the ranch’s business plan.

Also, a new office space and restaurant could be in the works at Olsen’s Nursery.

Thomas and Wendy Detwiler, of 17 Straight Lane, submitted a site plan to keep horses on their property — a permitted use on their parcel of 30 acres in the residential forestry district. The Detwilers want to start "Eagle Ridge Youth Ranch" to allow economically-disadvantaged children, who may have single parents, the opportunity to work with horses.

"It’s very expensive to take horseback riding lessons," Wendy Detwiler told The Enterprise.

"It’s pretty much just an outlet for single parents and kids to get more out of life than things that are being thrown at them right now," Thomas Detwiler told the board.

Last month, Thomas Detwiler said that each of 10 students per lesson would be teamed with his or her own horse and adult volunteer trainer. The project requires the construction of an outdoor riding arena and wind shelters for horses.

The program might run from 3 p.m. to dusk in the spring, and from 9 a.m. to dusk in the summer, Detwiler said.

Detwiler has 18 years of experience in farming, including 10 working with horses, he said. The Detwilers told the board that they plan to use three acres for hay. They also plan to compost horse waste in the garden and fields. Detwiler said that he would have excess waste trucked away.

He told the board last Tuesday that children associated with the Capital City Rescue Mission and the J.C. Club in Albany would be eligible to attend the ranch program.

Planning board Chairman Robert Stapf asked how the Detwilers would deal with background checks on the volunteers, and if the clientele would include those with drug or alcohol problems.

Wendy Detwiler said that the ranch board of directors would design criteria for volunteers. The planning board asked who is on the ranch’s board of directors.

"We’re still in the very beginning process of this," Wendy Detwiler said.

Stapf said that he spoke with a director of one of the organizations with which the Detwilers hope to work, and that he was told that a ratio of two adults to six children was the standard for field trips.

About the Detwilers’ intentions, Stapf said, "They’re well-intended, but are they well-thought out""

Thomas Detwiler explained that the organization escorts would not be the horse trainer volunteers. The escorts "would have nothing to do with it," he said.

Board members asked how the children and volunteers would be monitored if they worked one-on-one.

Board member Cynthia Elliott asked if the Detwilers had liability insurance. Stapf said that the Detwilers should submit a copy of their insurance report on safety issues to the board. Board member Kevin Kroencke asked if the Detwilers could submit a copy of the business plan from the Oregon ranch on which the Detwilers have based their organization.

Stapf asked what the Detwilers would do with the horses over the winter, and said that the board’s questions were designed to see "if you know how to take care of horses." He suggested that they use watering troughs with warming appliances.

Elliott said that they may need to buy hay. Their land, she said, "won’t grow a lot of hay. It grows mud."

"I object to the whole thing," said a neighbor on Indian Fields Road. She said that the road was too small for horse vans.

Another neighbor said that increased traffic would affect her "piece of heaven."

Stapf invited the neighbors to send in written comments for the record.

Ken Ringler, of Copeland Road, said that he does not want the character of the neighborhood changed. He asked the board to limit the number of children allowed at the ranch at a time, and he suggested that the classes be held during the workday so that the classes do not affect "when people are home enjoying their properties."

Stapf said that the board would move slowly with the applicants, and that, when the ranch is up and running, the Detwilers would be able to ask for an increase in the size of their operation after another public hearing.

Permitted use

"We’re in favor of your project," Stapf said. He promised a decision at the next planning board meeting.

"This is a permitted use," Elliott said. She said that the Detwilers could put 25 horses on their 30 acres. "Realistically, that could be allowed without coming to this board," she said.

Asked for their reaction to the board’s questions and the neighbors’ comments, Wendy Detwiler said, "I was just very...shocked, I guess. A lot of the things they were asking...This was just a planning site meeting."

Detwiler told The Enterprise that she was unsure whether or not she needed an attorney.

"Are they even allowed to ask for these things" This has nothing to do with our site plan," she said. "It was really not what we expected."

She described her husband’s farming experience. "He grew up on a farm. His dad had a dairy farm." He also worked at friends’ farms, she said. She said that putting three acres into hay production is now uncertain, depending on where the board says they can put their arena and pastures. The Detwilers hope to open this spring. They have several volunteers already, she said.

"Our main purpose...is to foster hope in children through emotional, physical, and spiritual healing," she said. Detwiler apologized for breaking into tears. She said, "We have four children of our own. The last thing we would do is put them in danger."

She said that the questions from the board and the neighbors had upset her.

"We’re not a correctional facility. We’re not bringing kids here against their will. They want to be here. They’re not going to run off the property," she said through tears.

The program will allow the children "to have the individual attention that they need," she said.

About the board, Detwiler said, while still choked up, "I think they just got the completely wrong idea." In a firmer tone, she said that the board’s requests for information "put the cart before the horse. We were just shocked," she said.

The board told the Detwilers that their site plan should include the size of the proposed parking lot and the material to be used on the lot, the location of the run-in sheds, the location of the area into which the manure will be tilled, engineering details about the proposed extension of the roadway, and details about drainage from the site showing that nearby water supplies will not be damaged.

Olsen’s grows

Stapf invited James Olsen of Olsen’s Nursery on Route 85 to present information, but not a formal request, about commercial plans for expansion at his property. Olsen was not scheduled on the agenda, but he acquiesced.

Olsen said that he wants to move the nursery activity to a back field and build a 2,000-square-foot office space, and a restaurant where the business is now. Everything about his plan is compliant with the current zoning except one building, he said.

Olsen is working with Keystone Builders to design commercial buildings with rural character, he said. The buildings would not house retail enterprises, he said.

"It’s not going to work. It’s never going to work," Olsen said. "We’d like to put some apartments above it...for cash flow."

Olsen said that the apartments may be studios designed for nursery or restaurant employees. The proposed restaurant would be a "family-type" place, he said.

"It’s definitely not going to be a bar," Olsen said.

The board said that Olsen would need to show the board landscaping, lighting, and storm-water management plans. Stapf said that the board’s consensus on the proposal is positive.

"I like mixed use," Elliott said, referring to the proposed apartments.

"If Bank of America wants to come in, then, guess what" We’re not going to put apartments there," Olsen said.

Board member Charles Voss liked Olsen’s plans.

"Run with it. Seriously," Voss said.

The board also approved a request by Olsen to add 1,296 square feet onto each of two plastic-covered green houses. Olsen also requested the addition of two 816-square-foot hoop-type plastic-covered cold houses, and an 864-square-foot framed cold storage building.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Granted David and Kim Raylinsky’s request to allow sheep on 3.2 acres at 1983 Indian Fields Road, which is zoned for residential and agricultural use. The board said that the Raylinskys should install a fence 20 feet from their property line along the bank of the Onesquethaw Creek.

Board member Jo Ann Davies asked how they would use water.

"I’ve got plenty of water," David Raylinsky said. "I plan on hooking up to town water and using the well for the vegetable garden. The well is sealed in a casing. Does it matter"" he asked;

— Tabled a request by Marjorie and John Waldman to construct a pond on Normans Kill Road. Marjorie Waldman said that she did not yet have enough information for the board;

— Heard a request by Matthew Fiske to subdivide 18.82 acres on Youmans Road into five lots. The parcel is zoned for commercial use. Fiske plans to build a home on one lot and sell the others for similar use, according to ABD engineer Mike Davis.

Davies said that the proposed home uses are on some of the limited commercial property in town.

"This is just chopping away a piece of it," Davies said.

"This is a commercial zone, and buyer beware," said town engineer Mark Dempf.

Davis said that residential use is allowed in the town’s commercial zones with a special use permit.

"It was [zoned] rural agriculture, and changed to commercial. It’s a permitted use," Stapf said.

A public hearing will be held for the request next month, the board said;

— Scheduled a public hearing for a request by William Kavanaugh for a six-lot subdivision of 57.57 acres with frontage on both Pinnacle Road and Price Lane;

— Set up an escrow account to pay for engineering fees for a request by Greg Ferentino and his neighbor Walter Vivenzio to create a private driveway across four parcels at Salem Court and nearby Fielding Way.

Ferentino said that he and Vivenzio want a way to get from their interior lots, of which both own two, to Krumkill Road without dealing with their neighbor in the front of the lots.

Stapf said that a road could not be put in near Salem Court because of a blind curve where there is no sight-distance.

The planning board and Ferentino disagreed about the rights previously granted by an earlier SUP.

Stapf said that the board does not have a problem with Ferentino’s request to put in a driveway, but that it is concerned with traffic on Salem Court.

Planning board attorney Lou Neri said that the previous special-use permit (SUP) was to improve Fielding Way out to Krumkill Road.

"There’s no place in that SUP that names Fielding Way," Ferentino said.

The board’s advisors agreed, however, that the permit was not granted with an awareness of allowing a "back door for the property."

"Have your counsel talk to our counsel," Stapf said; and

— Gave a favorable response for the zoning board of appeals for a variance for Howard Amsler of Blackbird Prime Properties LLC. Board member Elliott recused herself and represented Blackbird as its surveyor.

Blackbird owns the manufactured-home park and garage at 1990 New Scotland Road. Elliott said that the owner has fenced the two areas and cleared out drainage ditches.

"It’s been a separate use since before zoning," Elliott said.

[Return to Home Page]