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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 17, 2008
GCSD School Board race
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND As the school board debates policy on campaign leafleting, the three incumbents Catherine Barber, John Dornbush, and Peter Golden are circulating petitions for re-election.
Candidates’ petitions, with at least 63 signatures, are due in the district office on April 21. According to the board’s clerk, Linda Livingston, five people, including the three incumbents, have picked up petitions; as of Monday, none had been returned.
At the same time, a group of social-studies teachers is questioning the role of the teachers’ union in the May 20 election.
The Guilderland Teachers’ Association last week “pushed” a resolution through to support Barber and Dornbush and will offer to pay for signs and ads on their behalf, write eight high-school social studies teachers in a letter to the Enterprise editor, published this week.
The teachers, who lost their supervisor this year as the post was merged with that of the English supervisor, are highly critical of the union president, Chris Claus.
“I will be offering no one money,” Claus told The Enterprise on Monday. “The union has given me permission to approach the candidates once petitions have been filed… I’ve been authorized to offer no one money.”
Claus said he was “disturbed” that the April 10 meeting was being discussed in the press when the minutes have not yet been approved.
It is “premature,” he said, to talk or write about candidates’ getting union support since no one is officially a candidate until after April 21 and “the person has to be open to support.”
“If not, there’s no GTA involvement. Period,” said Claus. “I don’t see that as news.”
“The high school recently surveyed its members and found that 75 percent rejected the idea of any monetary support, whether in the form of a cash donation or the purchase of materials,” write the social studies teachers.
Claus said that “sounded pretty accurate” but pointed out that the high school is just one of seven buildings.
He also said, “Obviously, I have rubbed some members of the social studies department the wrong way.”
Claus, after six years at the helm of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, did not seek re-election this year. Maceo Dubose, a middle-school counselor currently serving as the GTA vice president, was elected president and will assume office July 1. He ran unopposed.
Claus, 56, is a reading teacher at the high school. Asked why he didn’t seek re-election, he said, “I’m close to retirement...I want to be able to teach without being the union president, and to help my successor.”
The three school board incumbents expressed a range of opinions when The Enterprise asked them last week about union endorsement and about campaigning on school grounds.
“I don’t think candidates accept or reject support,“ said Barber, adding, “Board candidates are not political. We’re not endorsed by parties or groups per se.”
About leafleting, she said, “I did not do it before. I always felt like it would bother people.”
Dornbush said last week that he would accept an endorsement from the GTA. “I respect the union,” he said. “I think they’re honorable.” He pointed out that, because of his job at the University of Albany, he is a member of the New York State United Teachers, with which the GTA is affiliated.
Dornbush said he had never leafleted on school grounds, and never been handed a leaflet there either.
Golden said on leafleting, “This idea of shutting down free speech...[is] a very bad example to set for children. Children should be exposed to all kinds of opinions.”
Golden said he knew he would not be offered union support. “If you want less accountability and higher taxes, then you should vote for the union candidates.” he said.
The union and the school board do not have “identical” interests, he went on. “In Guilderland, it’s been portrayed that the union speaks for the schoolchildren...No, the bottom line is the board speaks for the community and the schoolchildren...School boards were started to rein in the excess of professional educators....That’s why it’s so dangerous when boards start to view themselves as part of the administration.“
Matthew Nelligan, a social studies teacher and the first signer of the letter, said offering candidates money “corrupts the process.” He went on, “This is a non-partisan school-board election. ... Chris makes the only decision about what is a good school-board member...I think it is a complete sham. This is a Boss Claus operation.”
Nelligan said he is “hopeful” things will change under Dubose. “What you’ve had is the equivalent of Tammany Hall,” said Nelligan. He said Claus’s predecessor, Sean O’Neill, a middle -school resource-room teacher, “cared about bread-and-butter labor isues.” Nelligan went on, “Chris is a collaborationist...He’s on the administrative council. He won’t stand up to the people he sits down with.”
Claus responded through The Enterprise, “My ability to work with members of the school administration and members of the board of education is something I’m pretty proud of.”
Claus declined to comment on the allegations in Nelligan’s letter about last year’s elections. “Last year was last year,” he said, “and it was dealt with.”
Claus was willing to talk about the process this year for choosing candidates to support. He said last week, “I have invited building-level leaders to have discussions” about the three incumbents. The representative council, made up of the four district leaders, and seven building presidents, and building representatives, would then discuss whom to support.
Claus said of offering union support, “We’ll only do so if it’s welcome.” He said he is “always prepared” to be turned down, but concluded, “It has never happened.”
Unlike in previous years, there will be no survey for candidates to fill out. The surveys, Claus said, were “not that helpful” and often were returned late.
“If a non-incumbent...wants support from the union, it’s their responsibility to contact the union,” said Claus.
Claus concluded of the role of the union in an election, “It’s in the interest of the school district to have a good board. What’s in the interest of the teachers is in the interest of the school district.” Claus, who regularly attends school board meetings, said that it’s important to support “people good for the board.”
He went on, “Unions have a long history of being politically active. It’s generally supported, praised, and even expected.”
Six years ago, when The Enterprise interviewed Claus and O’Neill as the union leadership changed hands, Claus said the union had “evolved” beyond what his father warned against: “Don’t become a floor-stomping professional.”
He said, “I want this to be win-win, where the teachers and school district work together for the good of the students.”
O’Neill said that, when he arrived in Guilderland, the GTA was “a union under siege.” It was September of 1973, he said, soon after the Taylor Law (the part of the state’s Civil Service Law that defines the limits and rights of unions for public employes) was passed in New York and the superintendent, Thomas Looby, was “a brilliant man but a bit of an autocrat.” O’Neill said, “He didn’t know how to deal with people.“
Things opened up under his successor, said O’Neill. “Peter Alland had the vision and invited people to participate,” said O’Neill. Alland was followed by Harold McCarthy; he had spent his career at the district, beginning as a teacher, and he placed the union president on the administrative council for the school district.
“That was unheard of in New York State,” said O’Neill. “He took a risk.”
As the district grew, so did the number of teachers and the power of the union. O’Neill estimated that, in the mid-eighties, the union had about 230 members. Now the GTA has 750 members.
Money first offered last year, cards sent
Last year, for the first time, the union offered $500 to the two candidates it supported Colleen O’Connell and Gloria Towle-Hilt. O’Connell, an incumbent, accepted the support of the union but not the money. “I don’t need the money,” she said at the time. “I’m just not comfortable with it.”
Towle-Hilt, O’Connell’s running mate, who retired last year from teaching at Farnsworth Middle School, accepted both the endorsement and the funds from the GTA.
“It means they‘re supporting me as an individual who thinks for herself,” she said at the time. “I have a reputation for making the best possible choices for children.”
Each estimated she would spend a little over $500 for campaign signs and palm cards. They came in first and second in a five-way race for three seats.
Additionally, the union sent out cards just before the election in support of the budget and of O’Connell and Towle-Hilt, using a list of addresses of students’ homes obtained from the school district.
The year before, cards had been sent out in support of the budget and candidate Richard Weisz, who won. This year, concerns were raised by Golden that releasing the directory information was illegal either in violation of state law that prohibits school districts from campaigning or in violation of a federal act that protects students’ privacy.
In last year’s election, Barbara Fraterrigo, an incumbent, held onto her seat, coming in third. She ran with two newcomers; all three of them were endorsed by Guilderland Parents Advocate, a group that had been critical of the way the district teaches reading,
One of Fraterrigo’s running mates, Carolyn Kelly, who had filled out and returned a questionnaire for the GTA but had not received the union’s endorsement, said the day after her defeat, “It’s unfortunate postcards went out from the GTA on Saturday, supporting their chosen candidates. That’s a huge expense; it obviously worked...I don’t know if any parent can work past that type of machine.”
Fraterrigo spent her own money to have 100 signs printed at $4 each and made her own flyers. She and her running mates planned to distribute flyers at school events as she had in years past, but were stopped by the superintendent at the time, Gregory Aidala.
“We have to maintain the appearance of not permitting partisan activities on school grounds,” Aidala said at the time.
The board is currently debating its policy on campaigning. (See related story.)
Controversy over directory information
The board’s policy committee has drafted a policy this year that will prohibit the release of the list in the future, which the board is slated to vote on at its next meeting. And Claus has said the union will not use the list in this year’s election.
“The board was clearly struggling with the question,” he told The Enterprise last week. “We felt it was appropriate to give them a chance to figure it out.”
He cited comments made by board member Denise Eisele that not using the list this year was the ethical thing to do.
Asked if he had any regrets about using the list the last two years, Claus said, “I have none, none at all...We made a Freedom of Information Law request that was appropriately granted. I have no apology.
Claus told The Enterprise in January that he got the idea from a New York State United Teachers workshop that “gave suggestions on being more politically active.”
Nelligan’s letter cites a quote from NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn that he hadn’t advised members to use the Freedom Of Information Law to get students’ home addresses.
Claus said last week that one of the people attending the workshop recommended getting the list, as other schools do. “Ideas pop out,” he said of attending workshops.
Korn said this week, “NYSUT regularly and routinely does workshops on communicating and how to work to pass the school budget…One of the things we talk about is obtaining lists of people who voted in previous elections and of obtaining lists of people who are likely to support the budget. The particulars are different in every school district.”
Those lists, he said, can be of union members in the district; of booster club members; of registered voters; or, for school districts that have the appropriate policies in place, of students’ home addresses.
Korn said of the latter, “We have 1,400 bargaining units, including over 700 school districts. I know for a fact other districts provide these lists.”
Korn also said of Claus, “Chris is a wonderful leader, a hardworking president, a man of integrity.”
Consolidating supervisors’ posts
The letter from the social studies teachers ends by saying that “the GTA leadership has largely fiddled while Rome burned,” stating the leadership has not dealt with job elimination and changes in working conditions imposed by the district, presumably a reference to the consolidation of the supervisors’ post.
Patricia Hansbury-Zuendt, formerly the English department chair, now supervises 44 people in both the English and social-studies departments.
When The Enterprise asked her earlier this month if the faculty is satisfied with the change, she said, “I have not had any loud vociferous complaints.”
Claus, as a reading teacher, is one of the 44 people supervised by Hansbury-Zuendt, and has no complaints about it. He said last week that, formerly, every department at the middle school and high school had its own chair. “As people retired, consolidation has occurred,” he said. “You’d have to be asleep at the switch not to see that it’s a reasonable thing to be considered at the high school.”
Superintendent John McGuire has said he will conduct an analysis of the supervisory role at Guilderland.
Board debates policy on campaigning
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND As elections loom, the school board on Tuesday debated changes in its policy on campaigning.
The proposal, to be voted on at the next meeting, on April 29, forbids any campaigning on school grounds except on Election Day, at least 100 feet from the polling place; during board candidate forums; and at school-board meetings.
The proposed policy also points out that students have a constitutional right to free speech and may advocate for candidates on school grounds as long as they are not disruptive.
Catherine Barber, an incumbent seeking re-election who chairs the board’s policy committee, said at Tuesday’s meeting, “We can’t limit the content,” meaning if the school grounds were opened up for board candidates to hand out flyers, anyone could do so on any topic.
“You can have a public forum during a certain time period,” countered Peter Golden, another incumbent who is circulating petitions for re-election although he says he hasn’t yet decided if he’ll run. Golden also said, “We ought to expose students somehow to some of this.”
“The commissioner of education has been concerned about the appearance of the use of school property to advocate a position,” said Barber. “It quickly gets out of control...Who enforces that?”
“I’m really very concerned...about shutting down the democratic process,” said board member Hy Dubowsky, describing the school as a public institution. “We have elections for a reason, Cathy.”
Dubowsky said newcomers face a “stacked deck” against incumbents and he would like to “open it up for certain times” and expose the students to it. In a school election, said Dubowsky, candidates want to reach the parents; that’s why the list of student addresses used by the teachers’ union was so valuable, he said. (See related story.)
“It’s good for kids to see democracy in action,” agreed board member Barbara Fraterrigo, who was stopped from distributing flyers at school events last year. “We’ve done this for years and years.”
Fraterrigo said that limiting leafleting to the campaign season is “a compromise I could live with.”
“It would be open to all,” she said. “The great thing about America is the sharing of ideas...It makes us a better nation.”
Board member Colleen O’Connell, who was re-elected last year, told Golden and Fraterrigo their position was “totally inconsistent with the position you had on school security.” She also said that calling it anti-democratic is elevating leafleting to “something it isn’t.”
She said, too, that surrogates rather than the candidates were handing out literature.
“I was at all these events until we were kicked off,” objected Fraterrigo.
“My vision is we set it up well back from the school,” said Golden, allowing people a choice as to whether they want to meet candidates and accept their flyers.
“I don’t think it was our intent to bar free exchange of ideas,” said Barber. “The problem is with the...distribution of partisan political literature on school grounds, that really bothered people. They’re going to the school to see their child play in a concert or [be in a] science fair...They shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of people passing out flyers.”
Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt, who was elected last year, said, as a former social studies teacher, she was “pulled in so many different directions.” The right to hand out literature is part of American history, she said, but a school is a “special space” and “has to be protected.”
Ultimately, Vice President John Dornbush, also an incumbent who may run for re-election, polled the board asking each of the nine members to comment on which of three routes the policy should take on campaigning shut it down completely, open it up completely, allow it with restrictions.
Everyone agreed on the third alternative, but had a variety of opinions on what the restrictions should be.
Three incumbents consider school board run
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Two of the three incumbents on the Guilderland School Board say they are not yet sure if they’ll seek re-election on May 20, although all three are circulating petitions.
John Dornbush, who has been on the board since 1999 and currently serves as its vice president, cited “health reasons” as determining his decision.
Peter Golden, who was elected to his first term three years ago, says it will depend on who else enters the race. “I certainly don’t want to see the board loaded up with retired employees,” he said.
An author, Golden said he also faces a deadline on a book he’s completing on the Cold War.
Catherine Barber is committed to seeking a second term. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot in three years,” she said. “I feel I could contribute something.”
A mother who used to spend a lot of time in the classroom, she said, “I like being involved in the schools. Education is of the utmost importance. That was my initial reason for running, and it’s still valid.”
Her accomplishments include heading the communications committee when it came up with the idea of holding coffee klatches so board members could chat informally with the public.
Barber, a lawyer and musician, currently chairs the policy committee and said she is proud of the new policy curbing cyberbullying. “It’s a little bit groundbreaking,” she said, adding, “I didn’t do it by myself.”
Goals for her next term include continuing the expansion of foreign-language instruction at the elementary level. “It’s a manifestation of what we’re about,” she said of the school district. “We support arts and language.”
Golden, reviewing his accomplishments, said, “I’ve really had an impact on cost containment, being more business-like about looking at the budget. Oversight is a key component of the board.”
He went on, “What a battle it is to make people toe the line and push for high standards. It’s a constant fight.”
He cited the “resistance” he felt when he first started questioning health-insurance policies. “Now we have more than one insurance agent involved,” he said.
The “battle” that lies ahead, he said, is “pushing for outcomes.” Golden has asked that the district publish test scores from comparable districts, information that administrators say is already easily available.
”Often the people who want the conflict to go away have an enormous agenda,” said Golden. “You’re not performing your legal mandate if you’re not willing to confront people. If you pretend you’re an extension of the administration, you shouldn’t be on the board.”
Golden concluded of being on the school board, “It’s a thankless task...If you’re doing your job, you’re going to annoy someone at ever meeting.”
John Dornbush, asked why he’s stayed on the board for nearly a decade, said, “It’s a commitment to education, to the families of the community. It may sound corny, but it makes me feel good.”
Dornbush works as the assistant director of financial aid at the University at Albany.
About accomplishments during his tenure, he said, “I’m very proud of the selection of John McGuire as superintendent. He has more than met my expectations.”
The board had been divided, 3 to 6, in selecting McGuire.
Dornbush’s goal for another term is to focus on “the whole notion of technology...to push towards really, really preparing our students for jobs in a high-tech world.”
He pointed out that, when the board president asked about goals, “I was the first to articulate a year-and-a-half ago the need to build up our math, science, and technology [programs].”
Dornbush would like to see Guilderland students be able to get jobs locally as Tech Valley burgeons “so we won’t have to look to other countries,” said Dornbush. “We have to educate all students to find something useful to do.”
Old Army tank launches a fusillade of memories
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
Ever since Rodger Sample was a kid, he’s been enthralled with the instruments of war the guns and Jeeps, the cannons and tanks.
“I’ve always been interested in military equipment,” he said. “I was 10 when World War II started.”
He lied about his age to join the National Guard at 16. When he was 17, he joined the Army. It was 1949, the year before the start of the Korean conflict.
“When MacArthur said we were going to invade Korea, he looked for anyone with amphibious training,” said Sample. His unit was called to action.
He vividly recalls his 18th birthday, on Sept. 16, 1950. “I was in Korea in the harbor the morning of the invasion. I was standing on this ship, getting strafed. And I thought, ‘Here I am in the middle of the world. It’s a great place to be.’ I loved it. It was like the greatest party I was ever at.”
Sample went on, “Four months later, I was in the same harbor...The Chinese pushed us out.”
His military duty was “extended” to three-and-a-half years when the war started.
His last few months in Korea, he said, “My nerves started going.” When Sample was told his unit was going home, he recalled, “I went in the corner and cried.”
After he returned to the States, he joined the National Guard.
Sample never lost his love of military equipment.
Last week, he saw the letter in The Enterprise asking about the old Army tank that once stood next to Route 157 just before the entrance to Thacher Park.
Sample knew the tank well. Despite a hurt leg that wouldn’t let him climb the stairs to the news office, he showed up at The Enterprise, wearing a cap that announced his Purple Heart status “combat wounded” and bringing slides he had taken years ago of the 1940 tank.
“It was one of the earliest light tanks or scout cars with a 37-millimeter cannon on the front,” Sample said. “It ran on an aircraft engine. The National Guard in Albany had them. It’s the type of stuff they gave to England before we got in the war. They used them in Africa.
“The trouble is, if you hit them with anything, they fell apart.”
This particular tank marked the entrance to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Route 157, he said. In the 1960s, he said, “When the post broke up, they sold the building and the tank went for seven- or eight-hundred dollars.”
It was purchased by Albie Loden, a veteran himself. Loden had fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He took the tank up to his Schoharie farm, which is where Sample photographed it a half-century ago.
“Loden used to drive his grandkids around in it years ago,” said Sample. “Somebody bought it 20 years ago,” he said. One friend told him it went to a New Jersey buyer; another said it was in California. “They got 25 or 30 grand for it,” said Sample.
“You’d be surprised,” he concluded, “how much World War II equipment is lying around here not that I’m going to tattle on anyone.”
Perlee’s proposal approved
By Jo E. Prout
GUILDERLAND Neighbors warned against the two-lot subdivision of eight acres on Berne-Altamont Road because of worries that their properties would flood, but the planning board here approved the proposal.
The planning board also supported a rezone application for Dutchman Acres on Depot Road to go from rural with a three-acre minimum to a country hamlet, a first in the town.
Jeff Perlee, who lived next to his parents in the village of Altamont for years, said that he purchased a home outside the village at 1189 Berne-Altamont Road to have more room. The parcel is zoned for rural use with a minimal five acres. Perlee wants to subdivide the parcel into five-acre and three-acre lots. On the smaller lot, Perlee wants to build a home for his parents, who are in their 80s, so he can continue to care for them.
Perlee apologized to the board and his neighbors for “erring to appear” at the last meeting. He noted that the area around his home has many parcels that do not meet the minimal zoning required. Perlee said that seasonal groundwater from Knox runs to the bottom of the escarpment in his neighborhood, but that he plans to keep the large white pine trees on the property.
Board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that Perlee’s plan should show where the water line runs across the property, and where wetlands behind a pond and creek lie.
“I was actually surprised how dry it was out there,” Feeney said about his initial inspection of the property.
George Marshall, of 1129 Berne-Altamont Road, took issue with Feeney’s assessment of dryness, and gave a PowerPoint presentation to explain otherwise.
“That driveway acts as a creek,” Marshall said. “I’ve had to sandbag my garage.” He said that three to four inches of standing water is outside his garage, with two inches inside, and he showed photos of the water.
Feeney said that new construction must meet the town standards, which do not allow a developer to create a worse condition. If possible, he said, the developer can make a condition better.
Other neighbors worried about what they called a “mud field” there, and how close Perlee could build to the pond.
Feeney said that a building must be 100 feet away from the pond and that, if Perlee’s plan will disturb more than one acre, he will need to file a full storm-water prevention plan and receive a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit.
Gregg and Chris Meyer, and their co-owner, Rob Kohler, asked for their Depot Road property to be zoned as a country hamlet. The board dealt with the confusion of whether or not it should give an opinion on the rezone or approve the concept plan before it.
The 41-acre property is near Guilderland High School and could allow path connections between neighborhoods. The country hamlet designation would allow the Meyers to have a greater-density housing subdivision. Chris Meyer said that 75 percent of the parcel would remain as green space, and that 45 units would be built. Of those, Dutchman Acres would have 25 single-family homes, one 12-unit building for seniors, and four two-unit buildings.
Meyer said that a traffic study by Creighton Manning Engineers found that traffic would not be affected in the area, and that emergency access could be obtained from School Road.
Feeney noted that, on a small parcel on the property, the town had sold its right-of-way to access.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
The proposal will go before the town board on May 6 for a public hearing.
“I think we are in concept,” said Planning Board Attorney Linda Clark.
“This is concept review,” Feeney said. “The statutes are pretty clear.”
Town planner Jan Weston said that the confusion could stem from a premature hearing before the town board.
“They can’t have their hearing until we give our statement of findings,” Clark said. “Clearly, this is concept review for the applicant.”
Board member Terry Coburn said that the amount of parking for the 12-unit senior building was too little. The board agreed that the proposal has many unresolved site planning issues.
“We get 45 days to craft a response,” Feeney said.
In other business, the planning board:
Approved Phil Crisafulli’s site plan for a 9,000 square-foot medical and office building at the intersection of Hague and Western Avenue, in front of Windmill Estates.
“It looks residential,” said board member Paul Caputo. “You did a nice job.”
The board asked that a sidewalk be installed on the eastern end of the parking lot, curb end islands with landscaping added, a landscaping plan provided, street trees along Western Avenue added, a landscape screen added, and a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan filed because of disturbance of more than an acre;
Approved Patrick Chip and Christopher Smith’s site plan to open an audiologist’s office at 1728 Western Ave., the site of a former hair salon.
“I’d like to renew my request,” Caputo said. “If the zoning department can just give us a little paragraph about what the [application] entails, so all residents in town are treated equally.”
Caputo has said before that some plans with no use changes come before the planning board, while others do not, and he has asked for a brief accounting of the reasoning from the zoning department; and
Approved a request for an in-law apartment on Spawn Road. The board said that the use by a relative must be documented with the town each year.
Raising hope that soldiers roll home
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Weathered by the same desert sun as the minarets of Fallujah’s mosques, a Pennsylvania-made flag has come home to roost.
One Marine handed the flag to another during the Sunday ceremony George Roods, who served in Vietnam, passed the mournful black POW-MIA flag to Frank English, who served in Korea.
“It really came full circle for us,” said Suzi Granger of all the threads that tied the event together. Granger is the president and founder of the Albany chapter of Rolling Thunder Inc. an organization that lobbies for the return of prisoners of war and those who are missing in action.
The group, which usually gives three or four flags a year, chose the Guilderland Fire Department because of its support for soldiers and Rolling Thunder, Granger said. For three of the four years since the Freedom Run started, the department has helped the group of motorcyclists on their tour of the area to honor fallen veterans.
“We don’t just give away flags,” Granger said, explaining that each flag is sent to Iraq, where it is flown during a mission and a certificate is made by the squadron. Veterans can see that there is a friendly place, which will offer support when a flag is flown, she said.
English’s family is a home to veterans. Aside from himself, five of his nine children have served, he said.
“I like the camaraderie, I like the spirit,” he said of the Marines. He remains friends with a man he met at boot camp in 1952, he said. Two of his children joined the Navy and three joined the Air Force from which his father retired after 20 years, English said.
Of having a child choose the Marines, he said with a smile in his voice, “I wouldn’t have minded.”