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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 9, 2005

Dr. McCartney lauded for gusto, business smarts, working in harmony

— Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — "This will be my 16th graduation at Voorheesville and each time it’s great to look back on what our kids have accomplished," Superintendent Alan McCartney said, adding that he sees it as an accomplishment every year when students complete high school and receive a diploma.

McCartney is retiring after over 30 years in education, the last 16 as Voorheesville’s superintendent. He will be most remembered his colleagues said, for his fiscally conservative management and the legacy of a district in good financial standing.

"He’s a good budget man," school board President Robert Baron said. McCartney’s a long-standing superintendent who has put the district in a strong financial position, Baron said.

Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Union said McCartney, with the help of Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell, established long-term planning during his tenure, with five or 10-year rotating plans for buses, technology, and building repairs, rather than trying to meet emergency needs. This approach has benefited the district and made it easier for teachers to complete their jobs, Fiero said.

For as long as he has been Voorheesville’s superintendent the Capital District Business Review has never ranked the district lower than fifth among the 50 school it ranks, said school board member Tom McKenna.

"We’ve been in the top 10 percent over 16 years; that’s a tremendous accomplishment," said McKenna, who also lauded McCartney’s exemplary financial-management.

He’s kept the district budget at very reasonable levels, McKenna said, "He saved us over a million dollars in construction costs when we added on our new middle school."

McCartney said he’s been reflecting on his years at Voorheesville and thinking about what he wants to say. "If there’s something magic here, something special — it’s the people," he said praising the community, administrative team, and teachers.

"It doesn’t matter what plan you use," McCartney said; a district is only going to be successful if "you find those people to nurture... then get out of the way and let them do what you’re asking them to do."

"The hokey old saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’" is true in Voorheesville, McCartney said.

Voorheesville’s schools are successful because everyone comes together, he said citing the building of the creative playground and the recent massive fund-raiser to fight cancer, Relay for Life. When the terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001, within three days the community had everyone together, McCartney said, "That’s Voorheesville."

McCartney’s last day is July 15, but he says he plans to stay in the area and remain at his house in Weathersfield with his wife, Marcia.

"You can use all the policy and programs you want, but without qualified staff and a community support then," a school district won’t be successful, he said.

When the elementary school and high school received national recognition with a Blue Ribbon award, community support and volunteers were a major component of that declaration, McCartney said.

Also, he said, Voorheesville’s top scores on state-required tests — with fourth-graders in the top 10 and eighth graders right at the top — are a result of all the other people involved, McCartney said.

"I think a lot of people take Dr. McCartney for granted," Baron said, "Things runs smoothly... He makes it look easy," Baron said.

Varied Career

In McCartney’s three decades in education, he has been a social studies teacher, a coach, and a junior class advisor; he has also worked on summer programs for kids, worked at the Association for Retarded Citizens, been an assistant principal in Mexico, N.Y. and a superintendent at Crowne Point. "I have a good background for what goes on," McCartney told The Enterprise.

As Voorheesville superintendent, he has served on a number of local, regional, and state, education committees. He sat on legislative committees, and in the House of Delegates, he chaired the Capital Region Northeast Regional Information Center, as well as serving on regional advisory committees and on a sportsmanship summit committee.

The legislative committee was the most interesting one to him because it delved into why things are being done a certain way, he said.

McCartney served on quasi lobbying groups, worked with legislators, worked with educational hardware and software, served on a distance-learning committee, developed student databases, and worked on establishing identification numbers so that each student can be tracked from school district to school district across the state.

McCartney said it was good for him to get involved in things outside of the district to see how things impact everyone else.

Tom McKenna, who in addition to being a school board member is also the president of the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation, said the foundation chose to honor McCartney at this year’s gala because "he has been the driving force behind the schools for the past 16 years."

The gala was held Saturday at the Albany County Club, where there were cocktails, dinner, dancing, music and a silent auction which raised over $20,000.

As the honoree, McCartney named projects for some of the foundation’s funds. He chose an art gallery at the high school; the restoration of the school bell, which is now sitting in the high-school foyer; an elementary school flag; and a reference library for the elementary-school teachers.

This year’s gala was the foundation’s second. Last year, Ed Diegel, Voorheesville’s retiring elementary-school principal, was the inaugural honoree.

The foundation "honors people for their service," McKenna said. While there is no set criteria, the foundation is looking for someone who "exemplifies giving," McKenna said.

McCartney has "the ability to take calls from the board and community, and handle any problem with gusto," McKenna said.

"He understood what the board is trying to accomplish and we worked in harmony together," Baron said adding that McCartney had a "broad knowledge of the law to keep us out of trouble."

"He’s an excellent boss," Fiero said speaking from a teacher’s perspective, "He has had a very open-door policy."

"He had trust amongst the staff," Baron said.

"I think he’s fair and has had a problem-solving mentality," Fiero said.

McCartney is the one who Instituted Volunteer Recognition Day, Fiero said. She acknowledged the importance of community and parent involvement in the schools and said McCartney fostered those relations by asking teachers to keep a list of volunteers so those volunteers could be recognized at a reception at the end of the year.

"He’s a hard gentlemen to replace; he’s done a great job," Baron said.

From the beginning

When McCartney moved to Voorheesville, his daughter was in middle school. She is now in her mid-20’s, married with two children.

McCartney’s son, Ryan, also a graduate of Clayton A. Bouton, is now 20 and lives in Guilderland.

McCartney said he hasn’t been disappointed in his decision to come to Voorheesville. "It’s not changing jobs, but changing a lifestyle," McCartney said of switching locations as a superintendent. He got involved in Pop Warner football and got involved with the Voorheesville community. "I became more than just the superintendent of schools...It’s what keeps you in a place," he said.

"In the long run, it’s been a good run," McCartney said. "I’m not sure I’m ready...I can’t imagine not going 24-seven," he said of retirement, adding, "I don’t think about it as retirement."

McCartney would like to do some consulting work next, go into a district and help them reorganize, he said. McCartney has been a superintendent for 23 years, and would like to use his expertise to help others, he said.

This year, McCartney has had an intern, and he enjoys imparting what some would call wisdom — it’s more like imparting tales, he said.

"The job changes on a daily basis," McCartney said. "It has its moments, but overall it’s a great job."

Retirement bliss

In his soon-to-be-found free time, McCartney said he would like to re-teach himself the instruments he used to play, including the trombone and the guitar. He started to play the piano once and he has an interest in the Ukulele. "I really love music," McCartney said. He also wants to watch his kids and two grandchildren grow up.

His hobbies are playing golf and woodworking. McCartney’s father was an electrician and plumber and his grandfather was a mason. McCartney said he inherited all their tools and he has found carpentry to be very relaxing. He pulled out a picture of a beautiful, handmade wooden cradle he had constructed for his grandchild.

As a superintendent, he said, he puts a plan in place but, "You don’t really see the result until graduation or it may take a year or two," he said. But, building a cradle, he said, "You can see it and it’s done — finished. It’s a therapy thing."

Stundents matter

During his tenure, "A lot of things have happened in education" school administration has taken a more collaborative mood, he said, "working with people rather then them working for you," McCartney said noting that he thinks that’s a positive change.

When it comes down to the bottom line it is the students that matter, he said.

Schools fail when people ask, "What’s in it for me"" Which, he said, is the mentality of society today. "If that’s allowed to move into a district," and the thought process goes from "we" to "me," that will be the collapse of a good education system, McCartney said, — the single issues kinds of things, he said.

As a superintendent, he listened a lot, McCartney said, While he did influence a few things, the superintendent’s job is "to support as hard as you can the things that benefits all of the kids and see if you can move it in a positive way," he said.

People often forget that Voorheesville is a small school district, with a small budget, McCartney said. Things like number of classes, number of students in a classroom, periods in a day, how many days to take out for testing, are major decisions, he said.

"I get really annoyed when I hear people say you should run a school district as a business. It’s not a business. We’re not making things; we’re working with young people," he said.

"There is a gloom-and-doom story about education, but I think education is alive and well," McCartney said.

Education as a whole is doing well, McCartney said.

"We’re still here — we’ve been here forever," McCartney said adding there aren’t many businesses that could say the same thing.


Two things that are ever-changing in public education are state funding and state mandates, McCartney said.

The biggest struggle for public schools in the future will be financial, McCartney said.

"The taxpayers are getting worn out," and they’re tired of the political debate on how to finance schools, McCartney said.

He said that 104 mandates have been added, "I can’t remember any of them going away," McCartney said.

The biggest issue will be finding revenue, he said.

Someone has to figure out a better way to fund schools than through property taxes, he said. "We can’t continually go to that well."

The rules change during the game, McCartney said, explaining that in the past Voorheesville has had its state aid reduced mid-year.

Some years, the school has rearranged curricula for new state requirements and then, mid-year, that standard is changed again, he said. Voorheesville has sent it’s teachers out for training and then, a few months later, the state changed its mind, and that training became useless, McCartney said.

New mandates, allow for no period of adjustment to find funding, McCartney said. "We like to plan."

"It’s not a job; it’s an adventure," McCartney said.

McCartney also takes issue with all the testing. "We need to look at quality rather than quantity," he said. The school doesn’t even get the test results back in time to help place students based on their needs, he said.

McCartney also said he becomes very aggravated when a problem, or something that happened elsewhere, causes the state to pass legislation so that every school district has to follow a new rule or regulation, some of which are very costly.

"The taxpayer won’t believe me, but we do not have a ton of administrators...We’re doing double and triple duty," McCartney said.

Besides meeting the ever-shifting state requirements, another challenge for McCartney over the years has been the equally unpredictable weather.

As the district’s top administrator, McCartney said one of the hardest decisions he was faced with was whether or not close the school for a snow day.

"It’s a tough decision," McCartney said, which greatly affects the students’ safety and parent’s schedules. McCartney went on to say that he is not an expert on weather and with the TV weathermen wrong half of the time, "I have to decide if it’s going to be a bad enough of a snow storm."

McCarntey at 5 a.m. checks out the weather channel and pears out the window, "you can never truly be sure ...there can be nothing on the ground but the weatherman is calling for a Nor’easter," he said.

Another tough task for the superintendent, McCartney said, is telling teachers or staff that "they just aren’t going to make it here — this district isn’t for them." On occasion, he said, he even had to tell employees that not only was "here" not right for them, but they should consider a career change.

Improvements and changing times

Schools are doing much better now with early intervention, helping struggling students early on to prevent problems later, McCartney said.

Schools are also more enlightened dealing with awareness of cultural diversity, he said. And teenagers now are more aware of what is going on in the world. Schools are realizing that their students are no longer just competing with the student the next district over, but instead competing with the world economy, "a student at a desk across the seas," McCartney said.

And schools are making a better attempt at preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, McCartney said. Schools are now training students to be prepared for change, rather than trained for a specific job.

Schools are also better at realizing that college isn’t for everyone, and are developing vocational training, for a diversity of fields including auto mechanics, nursing, and hotel management, so students can be prepared to work right out of high school, he said.

The demands and pressures on kids today are much greater than in the past, especially with the changing job market, and because the country is in a period of unrest, McCartney said.

"When I was in high school, parents were concerned that teenagers would sneak off and have a couple of beers," McCartney said. Now, there are drugs, and gang situations, he said.

In an era time where both the parents have to work for income, there’s often no time for family dinners anymore, "it’s hit and run," McCartney said; it’s harder for families to spend time with each other.

When asked how he saw this effect students, McCartney responded, "Kids feel alone." He added that more counselors are needed at schools now.

There is rushed feeling at Voorheesville and as a result less family time, McCartney said. There’s a sense that a student had got to do everything and has got to be good at everything, McCartney said. Kids are left on their own more.

"It’s much tougher now than when I was in school," McCartney said. He also added that school is more difficult academically as well, one of the reasons being just because there is more to learn, "There was less history to learn when I was a teenager," McCartney said.

McCartney then pointed to a wooden pump lamp sitting on the bookshelf in his office. He made it in technology class in high school, and now students are creating computer-aided designs.

"I leave it there to remind me this is where we came from," he said. "We need to go from pump lamps to the next step."

In conclusion, McCartney said that he thinks the district is in great shape. "Together we — I almost said we — together they, can do anything and overcome any obstacle. When push comes to shove, Voorheesville will come together."

Tax collector post cut

— Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — This fall, at the election booth, there will no longer be a column for tax collector.

The town board unanimously passed a resolution last month to eliminate the elected position at the end of the year. The tax collector’s duties will be performed by the town clerk’s office beginning in January.

Reasons council members gave for wanting to eliminate the position are to save on the cost of salary and health benefits, to provide better year-round service to residents, and to reduce the size of government.

The town clerk, an elected official, and deputy town clerk, a hired employee will answer resident’s tax questions throughout the year. During the tax season in January, February, and March, the board will hire one additional staff member.

Councilmen Scott Houghtaling said that he saw it as good opportunity to reduce government and eliminate a department.

Supervisor Ed Clark agreed, saying, "I’m an advocate of smaller government."

He went on to say that a number of people working in town hall are elected officials, and, with an array of people trying to work together who have previously run against each other, "The fewer elected positions we have, the better off we’ll be."

This year, the long-time tax collector, Marilyn Holmberg, received a salary of $15,347.85.

Houghtaling said that he thinks most the savings will be from benefits.

Holmberg has been the tax collector for 16 years, she told The Enterprise. She would not be able to continue as tax collector be cause of heath reasons, she said.

This year’s deputy tax collector, Arlene Herzog, and Holmberg’s daughter, Judy Fritz, filled most of the tax-collector duties this past winter while Holmberg was ill.

Herzog planned to run for tax collector if the board had not eliminated the post.

Lance Luther, who chairs New Scotland’s Republican committee, told The Enterprise that the GOP would have backed Herzog.

Board members have expressed interest in hiring Herzog as the part-time specialist to help out during the busy tax season because of her expertise.

Herzog told The Enterprise that she enjoyed doing that job, and that she has been the deputy tax collector for four years.

Now that the tax collector’s information has been computerized, Herzog believes that fewer hours will be needed for the position. But she said she isn’t sure eliminating an elected position is the best way to go. She added that she really wasn’t thrilled about running a door-to-door campaign, though, and that she didn’t need health insurance because she uses her husband’s plan, and that, since she is already 62, she doesn’t need retirement benefits.

"I enjoy doing the computer work; it’s a nice thing to do in the winter," Herzog said.

Council member Andrea Gleason said she was willing to give this new system a try for one year, adding that the real test will play out at budget time, to see the actual savings.

In order to reinstate the elected position of tax collector, the New Scotland Town Board would have to pass a town law.

Stewart runs for supervisor

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — The town’s Democratic committee has endorsed Elizabeth Stewart, a business-development manager, for supervisor; she’ll run against incumbent Ed Clark this fall.

"I’m running because New Scotland needs to be a town for young people and old as well," Stewart said.

She said the town needs affordable housing for people at both ends of the age spectrum.

Connie Burns, who chairs the town’s Democratic committee, said several candidates wanted to run but the committee chose Stewart because she is "very smart" and was the candidate most up-to-date on town issues.

"She’s a take-charge person who will study whatever she has to know," Burns said.

Stewart told The Enterprise that running for supervisor is something she has "toyed with" for some time and now, with her youngest of four children in graduate school, and with less traveling for her work, she has the time.

Stewart has lived with her husband in New Scotland for 30 years working as a business development manager, primarily with bio-technology companies.

She has a bachelor’s of science degree from the State University of New York Institute of Technology, in Utica, where she is also currently enrolled for a master’s degree in management.


"How many kids have we lost out of this town"" Stewart asked.

The town needs to offer affordable housing for young people to look at, Stewart said.

With nanotechnology underway, the Capital Region is on the edge of development, Stewart said, which will change the whole geography.

"The whole flavor of Albany County is going to change," she said, as she compared the situation it to Silicon Valley in California.

New Scotland needs moderate growth in both commercial and residential development, Stewart said. But with that, infrasture is needed, she said.

"I do not like to go to a place with wall to wall houses," she said, adding that she likes green space.

As for seniors, Stewart said over her 30 years in New Scotland, she has seen the original owners of houses "forced to leave, not by choice but out of necessity."

She cited both high taxes and lack of services as driving forces.

What seniors also need is a place for camaraderie with people their own age as well, she said.

Amedore Homes’ proposal for senior housing on Route 85 is "an excellent idea," she said. It is a housing opportunity for seniors which will bring in more tax dollars for the town, she said.

"Seniors aren’t getting out a 8 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m....They aren’t putting stress on the infrastructure," Stewart said, referring to traffic and road patterns.

"I think the town should go forward with it," Stewart said; which would mean a Planned Unit Development re-zone approval by the town board.

Stewart said that her mother-in-law is 96 years old and they just moved her into in the area from out of Gloversville. Stewart’s 88-year-old mother lives in Albany and her father is a 90 year-old snowbird, who travels back and forth between here and Florida.

Council seat

Peg Neri, also of Voorheesville, got the Democrat’s nod for a council seat in May.

Neri, an attorney, is an income-tax litigator for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. She has lived in New Scotland for 11 years.

Her husband, Louis Neri, is currently serving as legal council for New Scotland’s planning and zoning boards.

She said she wants to "expand the tax base in an effort to keep taxes down without infringing on services."

There are a lot of critical land-use issues facing the town, she said. As a town council member, Neri wants to look at the area that is zoned or could be zoned for commercial use," but, she is not saying that there should be town-wide rezoning, but instead a town-wide look at where the existing commercial district is and the best use of that commercial land.

Neri has three boys, two of whom will be going to college in the fall, she said.

She has always been interested in town government, she said, and has followed the issues, only now, along with her continued interest, she also has time.

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