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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 30, 2006

Humble hero recounts rescue

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Michael Hanley sounded humble this week after being praised as a hero last week for helping to save his neighbors from their burning home.

Hanley and Guilderland Police Officer John Govel pulled Ray and Alice Stealey out of their home at 454 Church Rd. last Wednesday morning. Both men grew up in the Church Road neighborhood and lived next door to the Stealeys.

The two men have known each other and the Stealeys all of their life, Hanley told The Enterprise this week.

"I live on one side, and Johnny’s mom lives on the other side," said Hanley. "It’s kind of a close neighborhood.

"We live next door and the fire was coming out their back door," Hanley told The Enterprise, as he described the scene on his way to work at 5 a.m. on March 22.

After seeing the flames, Hanley quickly told his mother to call 911, and then banged on several windows around the house on his way to the garage for a hammer in order to gain entry into the home. It was after he came around the corner from the garage that Hanley first saw Govel’s police cruiser.

"I was just happy to see his car there"I knew I had help," said Hanley. "I just wanted to get them out of the house."

Hanley then gave Govel the hammer to smash out the bedroom window of Mr. Stealey, who is legally deaf and blind and uses the assistance of an oxygen tank to breathe, he said. The two men called out for the elderly couple as they peered into the smoke-filled home.

Mr. Stealey was only a few feet away from window and Mrs. Stealey came down the stairs when she heard their voices, according to Hanley.

The two men made sure the window was completely broken out before they pulled the elderly couple through the window.

"First we pulled Mrs. Stealey out, then we got Mr. Stealey," said Hanley.

Govel brought Mrs. Stealey to his police car, and Mr. Stealey walked to the cruiser on his own, Heanley said. There they waited for an emergency medical service team to arrive.

No one was seriously hurt according to Westmere Fire Chief William Swartz, who last week credited the two men with saving the Stealeys lives.

The Stealys were taken to St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany for smoke inhalation, and were released. Since their house sustained major damage, they have been staying with relatives.

Driver hit man, not charged

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — No charges were brought against a Guilderland man who hit a pedestrian on Western Avenue last Friday, putting an Albany man in the hospital, according to Guilderland Police.

Near 10 p.m., Tommy Chen, 19, struck a pedestrian on Western Avenue east of Gipp Road as he was driving west in his 2003 Honda Accord. The man he hit, Henry Morrison, 41, was crossing the road when the accident occurred, police told The Enterprise yesterday.

"He was crossing the road in the area of Westmere Plaza"[Chen] basically struck him with the front of the car and dragged him a short distance," said Officer Eric Batchelder of the Guilderland Police Department, who helps investigate accidents in the town.

Morrison was transported to Albany Medical Center by the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad and was listed as being in stable condition on Tuesday. The front end of Chen’s car was damaged, including damage to the front bumper, hood, and windshield, police say.

Morrison was walking north across Western Avenue, not in a designated crosswalk or at an intersection, and was struck while in the middle of the road. Batchelder said Chen was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that speed was not a factor in the accident.

Personal-injury pedestrian auto-accidents are not all that common in Guilderland, but do sometimes happen along the town’s busy avenue, according to Batchelder.

"The investigation is being wrapped up," Batchelder told The Enterprise.

The scoop on picking up dog poo

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — For those of you who love your pets, but don’t love to clean up the messes they leave behind, help is only a phone call away.

When Doodies Call is a brand-new, fully insured, pooper-scooper service based in Guilderland. Debbie Zarrelli and Sharon Siegal decided to start the local service, which, they say, nation-wide is a multi-million dollar business, because it is a service that a highly pet-populated suburban town like Guilderland lacks.

"I love dogs a lot," said Siegal. "I thought it would be a really nice idea for the community."

The idea for the business came after Siegal visited her aunt and uncle’s home one weekend and one of their neighbors had a poop-scooper business. It is fairly easy work and a much-needed service for today’s busy pet owners, Siegal told The Enterprise, so she pitched the idea to Zarrelli.

"She started laughing at first, and she liked the idea," said Siegal, "and then she started looking on-line."

It was after some Internet research that Zarrelli discovered just how much poop was really being scooped across America.

"I did quite a bit of research on-line, and was surprised to find so much on this type of business"All of the states have pooper-scooper businesses except for three of them," said Zarrelli.

A national pooper-scooper convention is held every year. This year’s convention was held in Orlando during the first week of March, and last year’s convention was held in Oregon. According to Siegal, the first official pooper-scooper business started in Long Island.

"There are literally hundreds and hundreds of pooper-scooper businesses across the U.S. and Canada," Zarrelli said.

Zarrelli and Siegal say dog waste ruins property appearance and inhibits its use, causes unpleasant odors, offends neighbors, gets tracked into homes, attracts rodents and parasites, is a water and lawn pollutant, and can present a serious health risk to humans and other animals.

When Doodies Call are scheduling spring cleanups now, and after an initial cleanup a weekly or monthly maintenance schedule can be setup. The business owners say, although they love dogs, they are asking pets not be in the yard during a scheduled cleanup.

For a weekly fee, they pick up pet poop, and bag it for owners to dispose of.

The two Guilderland pooper-scooper entrepreneurs have created a website for customers to easily make or cancel appointments, check out prices, and look through the businesses payment options. The website address is www.whendoodiescall.com.

"We’re getting a lot of jokes about it, like ‘Is the business picking up yet"’ But you kind of expect that with this type of business," Siegal said.

$79M budget proposal
Super says he’ll keep tax hike under 5%

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Based on school-board recommendations, Superintendent Gregory Aidala said Tuesday night that he will fine-tune his $79 million spending proposal for next year to have a tax-rate increase of under 5 percent.

He also said that he will present the board on April 11 with a "Chinese menu" of options to choose from on controversial issues.

The revenue side of Guilderland’s spending plan will become more clear after the state legislature adopts its budget, due on April 1 but often late. Currently, the district is planning on the same amount of state operating aid as last year, about $8.9 million or 11.27 percent of the budget.

The board passed a resolution Tuesday to hire a consultant who will look for additional state aid in the area of special education.

The consultant will "see if there is some aid we might be able to recover," said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

The consultant will receive 10 percent of that aid, once it is recovered, as payment, Sanders said.

"This is a very complex area of aid," he said, amounting to "a little over $3 million" and involving about 700 students.

Additionally, Aidala said, administrators will take a second look at property assessments, indicating updated numbers on increased property value may decrease the tax-rate hike. The current estimate is that Guilderland residents would pay 5.66 percent more in taxes next year, or $19.39 per $1,000 of assessed value.

"Concern about property taxes can’t be emphasized enough," Aidala told the board members Tuesday night after listening to their recommendations.

To get below 5 percent from 5.66 percent, would take "another $350,000 to $400,00 in swing," Aidala said.

"I remain cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to do that," he concluded.

Requests to restore

Tuesday’s board meeting began with carefully-prepared statements from nine people, each asking the board to restore items to the 2006-07 budget proposal. About 50 people sat in the gallery, listening to the requests, leaving when the budget discussion was over.

Seven parents and a high-school social worker asked that a social-worker post, proposed to be cut, be restored to next year’s budget. The draft budget cuts a full-time post at Altamont Elementary School to three days, since the school has fewer than 300 students. The social worker would work the other two days at the Farnsworth Middle School, replacing a third full-time social worker there.

Several of the parents also were upset that 25 or more teaching assistants, for a total of 150 hours, are to be cut as well.

"We thought we could count on the services of social workers and teaching assistants...We’re very concerned," said Dr. Millicent Eidson, who said her special-needs child will enter the middle school next year.

"I wouldn’t mind paying a higher tax rate for really critical core services," she said.

Another mother, Suzanne Gunther, described her autistic child as "bright, beautiful, and exceptionally smart." Her child does well academically but has benefited from services that helped with her social skills, said Gunther, fostering tools that will be used for a lifetime.

"I don’t want to make it harder on these kids...Let’s not take a step backward," she said.

An Altamont parent, Michael Farry, said that parents whose children now don’t need the services of a social worker or teaching assistant might some day. "No one ever expects tragedy to occur, but it does every day," he said. "All our children must deal with it."

He said he nearly fell off his chair listening to Archie Bunker-like comments made by a member of the citizens’ budget committee that parents should pay for help on their own. (See letter to the editor from Timothy Burke.)

The board also heard from a high-school counselor, Karen Murphy, distressed over the cut of an associate principal position at the high school.

"She has been able to oversee the big picture," Murphy said, and, in overseeing the seven counselors has been "accessible, loyal and committed to us." Without her expert guidance, Murphy said, the counselors won’t be able to maintain the quality and the strength of the guidance program.

Some consensus

While the nine school board members expressed varied views on some specific items, all expressed general support for the $79 million proposal and appreciation for the budget process. The administration presented its plan in six televised sessions to a citizens’ review panel. (See related story.)

The board members expressed support for the decision to spend the money next year to convert bonds for the debt service for the $20 million Farnsworth Middle School expansion and renovation project.

Picking up an idea expressed by Richard Young on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory committee, school-board members recommended, rather than combining the social-studies and English supervisor into one post to save money, the disciplines should be kept separate but money could be saved by having the supervisors each teach courses half-time.

While Peter Golden said it was "a good idea" to have the English and social studies supervisors teach, he also said that the classes at the high school that combine disciplines are so popular that students are admitted by lottery.

If a single supervisor were trained in both fields, he said, "The intellectual synergy would benefit our students."

Board members also supported an idea raised by Bryan Anderson, another citizen on the budget committee — cutting both assistant principals for the two largest elementary schools next year, rather than cutting one post next year and the other the following year.

Varied views

Consensus was not reached on all issues.

Board members were divided — two spoke for each side — on whether English teachers should teach five courses like most other high school teachers rather than the four they teach now. The change would save about $110,000.

The board was divided on the issue last year, too, with the four-course majority ultimately prevailing, citing the richness of the program and the extra time it takes to help students become critical thinkers and good writers.

Aidala did not initially include the issue as one that would be part of the April 11 presentation. When asked about it by board member Barbara Fraterrigo, he said, "The board has to come out and say, ‘This is something we want to do.’ There will be the heat of the feedback."

Aidala said he could make the issue one of the "menu items" for the board to choose from at its next meeting. "I’m leaving it in your capable hands to make that decision," he concluded.

On other issues, Richard Weisz said it was "too much at once" to cut a social worker and teaching assistants. He recommended keeping the full-time social worker at Altamont Elementary next year.

He said he was willing to accept some cutbacks in teaching assistants, stating that assistantships had grown like grass. He applauded the administration for having the courage to reign them in.

Weisz supported having the high-school English teachers teach just four courses instead of the five most other teacher are responsible for. He called the rich English program one of the "core beliefs of Guilderland."

Weisz supports the current salaries and benefits for staff. "Good quality teachers are expensive," he said.

Board Vice President Linda Bakst said, "If cuts are made...they will affect students...I don’t believe there are simple solutions."

She called the labor contracts reasonable, stating, "You don’t get something for nothing."

Referring to comments made by some citizens on the budget committee, Bakst said, "Those who look to test scores as a measure of success are misguided." Guilderland students, she said, are empowered to succeed.

Referring to a recent transportation study on ways to save money, Bakst said that middle-school and high-school students "can walk a bit."

She suggested finding out if an analyst for test data could be hired through BOCES rather than by the district to save funds.

On the social-worker post, Bakst said, "If there is money, I would restore those cuts...We need to do a better job of mobilizing what’s in the community and being a clearinghouse."

Thomas Nachod said it is critical to restore the social worker at both Altamont and Farnsworth.

"We’ve worked hard to get a safer environment," he said.

John Dornbush also supports restoring the social-worker positions.

While he supports foreign-language instruction at the elementary schools, Dornbush said, "I don’t see it this year. Sorry."

Cathy Barber said having a six-tenths social worker at Altamont Elementary would keep the ratio the same as having a full-time social worker at the larger elementary schools. She said that she understood Altamont’s concerns, though, and was also concerned about the ratio at the middle school.

Barber said she could support the cuts in teaching assistants since the recommendation came through the special-education department.

As a violinist, she concluded that, if schools don’t spend money on the cultural arts, "We could find these opportunities are gone."

She also said that the funds spend on front-door security monitors at the elementary schools equaled what the district used to spend on cultural arts.

Colleen O’Connell said the nine people who spoke to the board at the start of the meeting were "obviously sincere, obviously passionate."

But she said their comments were in "marked contrast" to views expressed by citizens on the budget committee.

"What is best for all the kids," said O’Connell, "is that this board passes a budget that will pass the first time."

If a school budget is defeated twice at the polls, a state-capped budget is adopted, which O’Connell referred to as a "dire consequence."

On the social-worker position, O’Connell compared the enrollment at Altamont of 279 to that of Guilderland elementary at 585 and said, "The need of 279 kids is different than 585." She also said Altamont should consider itself fortunate to be "a nice cozy small village school."

Peter Golden said of the citizens’ committee, "The basic message I got was, cut taxes, change nothing."

He went on, "There’s got to be a common ground."

Golden supported maintaining the four-course load for English teachers and said it was a privilege not just for the students but for the teachers. Giving examples of dedicated teachers in different fields who devote many extra hours to their work, Golden said he would like to see joint writing programs between the departments with enough extra hours that kids could be helped in different disciplines with their writing.

Golden also said he could support the social-worker cut if there were the same standard, and he would like to see data.

"This search for the common good has not been much fun," he said. "It’s exhausting."

He praised the district administrators for working 12 to 14 hours a day and went on to read his thoughts about the common good.

"Remember the elderly couple on your street...probably living on a fixed income," Golden urged. He said those without children benefit from good schools because their property values increase.

He urged putting aside narrow interests and to see ourselves as part of a larger community, and concluded, "Please recall how much you value your community or you wouldn’t live here."

Barbara Fraterrigo said the time will come when the "luxury" of English faculty teaching four courses won’t be sustainable. They "will have to bite the bullet," she said.

Long a proponent of teaching foreign language in the elementary schools, Fraterrigo said the board could be leaders by at least starting that program next year, perhaps just for kindergartners.

"We are not preparing our kids for the 21st Century if they do not have those skills," she said.

Fraterrigo supports keeping three full-time social workers at the middle school. the board debated the issue long and hard three years ago, she said. "the needs are still there," said Fraterrigo. "We’re just going back in time."

She also said she hoped the district could continue with the full-time social worker at Altamont. "if you catch problems when children are little, you don’t have to face it later," she said.

She concluded on the possible result of a budget rejected by voters, "contingency is dire...We don’t want to go there."

Finally, President Gene Danese gave his views.

He began by saying he’d like to keep the tax hike below 5 percent although he didn’t know if that would be possible.

More revenue would be needed before the social-worker post could be restored, Danese said.

He also said it was inevitable that English faculty would have to teach five courses. He called it " matter of equity" and recommended doing it this year.

Without more revenues, Danese concluded, he couldn’t see adding anything.

Citizens have varied views on $79M budget proposal

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Guilderland residents who support the school district’s $79 million budget proposal for next year and those who oppose it both point out that the 75 percent spent on salaries and benefits is not immovable.

"The administrators negotiate those contracts; the school board approves them," said Raymond McQuade, who supports the budget.

"I don’t believe people are overpaid; you get what you pay for," he said. But he went on to question the benefits, asking, "Why so rich""

He said Guilderland employees are paying for options they don’t know about and don’t care about.

Mark Grimm, who opposes the spending plan, said, "This budget makes it clear the highest priority is not students, parents, or taxpayers; it’s employees....Our bargaining units have an undue influence."

Grimm listed cashing out sick days and providing health insurance for employees’ children until they are 25 as excessive benefits.

Grimm and McQuade were among a score of citizen volunteers who aired their views last Thursday after a month of budget review.

During the sixth and final televised budget-review session, a number of common concerns were voiced — although the citizens commented on both sides of those issues, often advising board members in opposite ways.

The citizens spoke for and against the budget draft in about equal numbers.

The proposed spending plan, presented by Superintendent Gregory Aidala, represents an increase of about $3 million or 4.51 percent over this year. The district estimates that Guilderland residents would pay 5.66 percent more in taxes — or $19.39 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The school board’s role was to listen during the review sessions. The board is slated to adopt a final spending plan on April 11 and voters will have their say on May 16.

The most frequently-named topics at the wrap-up session included:

— Revising health-insurance coverage for district employees. The school board has focused on the issue this year as annual costs for health-insurance coverage at Guilderland have doubled in the last five years to $8.2 million. Six of the citizens on the committee advised revising health coverage while two said to maintain it;

— Combining the duties of the English and social-studies supervisor at the high school into one job; one supervisor would oversee 41 social-studies and English teachers, saving $85,000 in salaries and fringe benefits next year. Four committee members spoke against merging the position while two others posed different plans to save money;

— Requiring English teachers to teach five courses like most other high-school teachers rather than the four they teach now, which they say allows more time for in-depth writing and analysis. This would save two teachers’ salaries and benefits, or about $110,000. Two citizens on Tuesday spoke in favor of keeping a four-course load, while two others recommended five courses;

— Lengthening the elementary-school day, as recommended by a transportation study, to save money on busing. Two committee members recommended lengthening the elementary-school day;

— Maintaining front-door monitors at the elementary schools for security reasons. Three committee members urged shedding the monitors and spending the money elsewhere while two said to keep or expand the monitors’ hours;

— Teaching foreign language at the elementary schools, rather than beginning, as now, at the middle-school. Four citizens spoke in favor of an early start to learn another language;

— Cutting 25 or more teaching assistants for a total of 150 hours. One committee member favored the plan while seven urged restoring some or all of the aids;

— Cutting a full-time social-worker post at Altamont Elementary School to three days, since that school has fewer than 300 students. The social worker would work the other two days at the middle school, replacing a third full-time social worker there. The annual cost for a social worker, including both salary and benefits, is about $58,000. Two citizens spoke in favor of cutting the social-worker post while six opposed the cut;

— Phasing out over two years the two assistant-principal posts at the elementary schools. The savings next year would be $95,000, and the following year would be $105,000. Two spoke in favor of the cut while none opposed it; and

— Returning the high-school associate principal position to administrator for special education, while maintaining the full-time administrative dean’s post. This would save $4,500 next year in salary adjustment. One committee member recommended cutting the freshman dean while another outlined other administrative cuts.

Citizens’ speak

Superintendent Aidala, called on each committee member to state their views.

Walter Jones, who termed the spending plan "prudent," said he was disappointed that cuts were made on areas "that directly affect student education."

He said he would prefer the part-time grade-school security monitors be "shed" instead.

Jones called the merging of the English and social-studies supervisor post "a disservice to the program."

Jones recommended adopting a "level load" of five classes for each full-time teacher, a proposal the school board, in a split vote, rejected last year.

Jones said he did not want to degrade coverage, saying it would "stress out teachers" to have a low-level health-insurance plan.

Raymond McQuade called the cutting of 25 teaching assistants and the reduction of a social worker "a Band-Aid solution," and urged putting them back in the budget.

McQuade said he was disturbed when Steve Hadden, the administrator for special programs, had said, "I’m going to have to get creative."

Hadden is shouldering most of the cuts, said McQuade, and "It’s the responsibility of the board and the administration to be creative."

Jeanna Cornetti said she would like full-time social workers at Altamont Elementary and at the middle school.

She also said the federal No Child Left Behind "unfunded mandate" greatly increases stress on students.

And, she looks forward to seeing the budget successfully passed.

Rae Ellen Burke said the budget had doubled in the last 14 years.

"We pay more per child than any district in the area," she said. "We are not at the top of anything except the shortest school day for elementary students."

She also said programs were not evaluated. And she supports cuts to special education, saying psychological services should be provided by parents. Even with the social-worker position cut, she said, the district has enough people in place to handle emergencies.

Burke recommended cutting the freshman dean’s post, calling it "nothing more than a highly-paid guidance counselor."

She said the district has an excellent student-to-teacher ratio, even with the teaching assistants cut. She also backed a five-course load for English teachers and said, unless changes are tried, they can’t be evaluated.

"We must be willing to make the tough decisions," said Burke. "People are going to have to do more."

Cheryl Alban said she was "struck by the passion of the school staff." She also said, "Any cut is going to be painful."

She questioned the sense of cutting a social-worker position with an increasing special-needs population, and she said it doesn’t make sense to combine the English and social-studies supervisor.

Spending $28,000 per year for a part-time front-door monitor isn’t as central as services that impact students and teachers in the classroom, she said.

Timothy Burke, Rae Ellen Burke’s husband, said, "These numbers are worse than they appear if you consider we’re losing students."

The budget gap is getting larger, he said.

Teachers, who are required to have master’s degrees, can teach their students about teamwork and bullying, Burke said, meaning social workers aren’t needed to do so.

He also said, "We need to refer kids to appropriate mental-health professionals," indicating the district shouldn’t bear the brunt of the costs. "We don’t keep track of how many...referrals are made," said Burke. "There’s no information."

Fewer administrators would be needed at the high school, Burke indicated, if teachers took an active role in discipline. Teachers, he said, should be "the first line in dealing with kids’ behavior."

"The profanity we allow our kids to use is unacceptable," said Burke.

Robert Hilt, who described himself as a budget supporter and retired teacher, said, "It all boils down to transparency."

His family moved to Guilderland when his son was in the fifth grade and reading at a second-grade level, Hilt said. A teaching assistant worked with his son for half a year, teaching him phonics, which improved his reading, and set him on a successful course.

Hilt expressed his concerns over the teaching-assistant cuts and over the merging of supervisors at the high school. Supervisors help teachers become better educators, Hilt said, and the evaluation process "becomes a little bit farcical" if not properly implemented.

Charles Kuon, the father of a second-grader, said he likes the overall class size in elementary school. He suggested, with declining enrollment at the middle school, that should be looked at "before we get there."

Kuon said he thinks the district can do better with transportation and that busing costs will continue to "skyrocket"; he suggested combining the middle-school and high-school runs.

Kuon said he supports teaching foreign language in the elementary schools.

He also said that pension costs, health-care costs, and energy costs are all way over the consumer-price index. "You have to educate the community about that," said Kuon.

He concluded that property taxes are the most equitable kind of taxes and are fair across the board.

Karen LaFreniere, who said she is employed in the private sector, stated that layoffs have become the norm and benefits are "a perk that has become unaffordable."

She said she was disappointed that a number of the budget discussions centered on defending the status quo.

Teaching assistants are politically the weakest group, LaFreniere said, and she also said that allowing high-school English teachers to carry a smaller course load has to be addressed.

Six full-time high-school administrators are excessive, LaFreniere said.

If the elementary-school day were extended 30 to 40 minutes, she said, students would receive three to five weeks more of instruction, which would help address the concerns of the extra testing required by the state and federal legislation.

Mark Owen called the Guilderland School District one of the best in the area.

Of the social worker in Altamont, Owen said, "Service should be based on need and not on numbers."

He also said he’d like to see some of the teaching assistants reinstated.

Owen, who works in the private sector, said everyone calls Guilderland’s benefits "the Cadillac of benefits."

"I see them as a good way to attract candidates," said Owen.

Mary Toscano supported teaching foreign language in the elementary schools, citing the global economy. Much research has been done, she said, on the benefits of early foreign-language introduction.

She suggested working with the University at Albany or The College of Saint Rose on advances in education.

Toscano said she’d like to see more textbooks brought home, rather than just Xeroxed sheets, which are easily misplaced.

She also suggested selling tickets to offset the costs of sports.

Toscano termed cutting teaching assistants "appalling," stating that they offer tutoring and keep order in the classroom.

David Langenbach said he was not very comfortable with the social-worker or teaching-assistant cuts. As a former Guilderland school-bus driver, he said, he could see the difference in students after teaching assistants had been introduced into the classrooms.

"Some of these small young kids have a lot on their plates," said Langenbach, and a sense of self-worth is essential to their growth.

He also said, "We’re at a crossroads here. Taxpayers can no longer have their rich program if they want lower taxes.... Somewhere down the road, something has to give."

Mark Grimm pointed to a $400 easel as an example of "poor purchasing practices," and concluded, "A no vote makes a statement the old ways of doing things can no longer be sustained."

Donald Csaposs said that the proposed budget’s 4.5-percent spending increase over this year is beyond the consumer-price index for four major reasons — debt service for the middle-school building project; pension costs, energy costs, and health-insurance costs.

The goal with health benefits, Csaposs said, should be to attract quality employees but to be in step with the "broader community."

He suggested the district could save by cutting security systems at the schools that shut out the world.

Csaposs concluded that he doesn’t support or not support budget drafts, but will make a statement on the final product.

David Heller, who described himself as the father of a young child, said he wants what is best for students.

He said he’d like to see the teaching assistants stay and, if a cut is needed, the elementary school assistant principals could go, as already outlined in the budget.

"The TA’s directly affect our children," said Heller.

He said he’d like to see a longer school day.

This year’s budget passed by just 303 votes, Heller said, concluding, "We need to give citizens more of what they’re looking for." He listed a longer school day, foreign-language instruction at the elementary school, and cutbacks on health benefits.

Bryan Anderson said his elementary-age daughter is having an "excellent experience" and she is "enjoying learning."

Having grown up in New York City himself, where the classes could have 32 or 33 students, Anderson said that he appreciates the small class sizes at Guilderland.

He said he also appreciates the budget’s single-digit increase when energy costs are soaring.

Anderson recommended an "aggressive review of health plans." His employer, with workers across the country, used to offer 10 different health plans, he said, but it now offers just one.

"In 2006, health-care coverage is not a primary driver in competitiveness," Anderson said.

He suggested speeding up the reduction of elementary-school assistant principals — cutting both next year — to help offset the teaching-assistant and social-worker reductions.

Anderson said the district needs to look for better results in negotiations and suggested that maybe more board involvement there will help.

Tracy Murphy said, "I share most of your same concerns." He said he agreed with McQuade on health insurance and said the time to consider new options for plans is now.

He also said he agreed with Rae Ellen Burke that other districts pay less per student but have higher scores.

"If the vote were tomorrow, I would vote no," said Murphy, concluding the budget draft was a good effort but he said he isn’t convinced it’s the best effort.

Richard Young said that, as a taxpayer, he appreciates the "real sacrifice" made in drafting the spending plan. It’s not a budget the staff is enthused about, said Young, and he cautioned the school board not to overreact.

"A silent majority of the town is in favor of schools," said Young.

A 5-percent hike is not out of line, Young said. He supports the plan and thinks his neighbors would, too.

Young said that, rather than combining the English and social-studies supervisor, it would make more sense to keep the supervisors in place and have each teach half-time.

He favors keeping the course load for English teachers at four so as not to "dilute the system."

"Our kids come out with excellent reading, writing, and speaking skills," Young said, which are critical to have.

He concluded that his son and his son’s friends are getting accepted "by colleges all over," which Young termed "the prize at the end of the process."

Carolyn Kelly called the estimated 6-percent tax hike "beyond comprehension" and said, that, after the town-wide revaluation in Guilderland last year, "Homeowners are still reeling."

"I cannot support the current budget," said Kelly. She said money could be saved in health care and transportation.

Kelly also recommended combining two district administrative posts — that of assistant superintendent for curriculum, and director of human resources.

She also said that instructional supervisors at the middle school and high school should be combined to serve grades six through 12. She said, too, that there should be no more than two house principals at the middle school and each should serve two houses.

Kelly said that the "hysterical attitude" towards testing must change. And she said that school starting times should be changed immediately, in time for the start of the next school year.

Teaching assistants should be restored, said Kelly, calling their value "immeasurable."

Foreign language should be taught at the elementary schools if Guilderland students are to compete in the 21st Century, Kelly said.

She said she is concerned about the lack of textbooks in math and science, which she called "crucial."

Kelly, who served on a subcommittee of the Safe Schools Committee, which recommended increased security measures at the elementary schools said that the five schools continued to lack a front-door monitor at all times.

Kevin Risko, with a son in the school district, said that the budget is largely dependent on labor negotiations. He suggested the district develop a committee, similar to the citizens’ budget advisory committee, to comment on collective bargaining agreements.

He also said he doesn’t agree with giving "full-time benefits" to employees who work 20 hours a week; he said the cost of benefits was more than wages.

This can be changed at the negotiating table, said Risko. "That’s where the rubber hits the road," he said.

Risko said he couldn’t support the budget, based on high salaries and "Cadillac benefits."

"The message needs to be sent the increase of our taxes is not acceptable," said Risko.

"Representative democracy"

"Some things I agree with; some things I disagree with," said Superintendent Aidala at the close of the meeting. "Some things are accurate; some things are not accurate," he said of the volunteers’ comments.

Aidala said he hopes the school board will take a "holistic approach."

A contingency budget, which is capped by the state if voters defeat a spending plan twice, is "not a pretty picture," Aidala said.

"We heard both sides of the issues...The committee is not speaking in one voice," said Aidala.

He closed with a comment on representative democracy, pointing out that the school-board members are the elected representatives of the community, and it is up to them to provide direction.

Aidala said it would probably be unwise to look for citizen input in sitting at bargaining tables with employees.

The board is the elected body, said Aidala. "That’s called a democracy...a system that’s worked for 200 years...."

Concerns about traffic, wildlife raised

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — A 75-lot subdivision is being proposed for 214 acres that stretch across town lines from Guilderland into New Scotland.

At last Wednesday’s planning-board meeting, neighbors on heavily-traveled Church Road questioned the effect the subdivision would have on traffic and on the wildlife harbored on the property.

Scott Lansing, of Lansing Engineering in Malta, described the acreage on Church Road in Guilderland as stretching south to Krumkill Road in New Scotland. The neighborhood is tentatively named the Normanskill Preserve.

Town planner Jan Weston said the site has two major ravines that feed into the Normanskill Creek. She said that the property is on the open-space registry for the state, and that portions of it have wetlands, farmland, and steep grades. An Environmental Impact Statement should be required for the property, she said.

Weston said that 53 of the lots only have access to Krumkill Road in New Scotland; the two towns would need agreements for road maintenance, she said. The proposed infrastructure crosses municipal lines, too, she said.

"This conventional layout is not realistic and cannot be approved by the planning board," Weston said.

Lansing also proposed a clustered layout with two curb cuts on Church Road. In the northern section, he proposed 22 lots for large, expensive estate homes. Moderate- to high-priced homes on half-acre lots are planned for the western section, and lower-cost starter homes are planned for the southern section. Lansing said that only about .65 of an acre of wetlands would be affected with the conventional layout, and that none would be with the clustered layout.

"We’re looking for guidance from the town" for the type of clustering that will work on the site, Lansing said. Regarding inter-municipal agreements, he said, "We feel that there can be a resolution."

Planning board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that the foremost issues with the proposal are the grading, clearing, and storm-water management of the site. He asked Lansing to provide more information about the plans.

Feeney said that, when he walked the property recently, the wetlands seemed to have changed from those mapped for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

"The .65 acre wetlands disturbed on the conventional layout seems kind of low," Feeney said.

Town regulations require applicants to show a conventional layout that accounts for permits that might be needed, he said.

Plot thickens

"It seems like the DEC would consider it all one wetland. Maybe not. Summarize the wetland impacts, then it seems to me there’s acres," Feeney said.

Lansing said that the Albany County Health Department approved a proposed packaged wastewater treatment plant for the subdivision. He said that 120 units on 29 acres in New Scotland would be included in the project. In New Scotland, the neighborhood would require rezoning, Lansing said.

"The plot gets even thicker," Feeney said. He said that Guilderland would have to "reach out" to New Scotland to see what board members there think of the proposal. If it goes through, Feeney said, the project would require a forced main upgrade and an upgrade to the nearby pump station.

Feeney later said that he was "a little shocked at the density [proposed] over there," because of the lack of sewer and water services in New Scotland.

"It does seem out of character for that area" of New Scotland, he said.

Lansing said that the plan calls for Guilderland water to be used on the New Scotland side of the subdivision. He said he would go before the New Scotland Planning Board soon.

"I expect something from them," Paul Cantlin, the zoning administrator for New Scotland, told The Enterprise this week. He said that, so far, there is nothing about the subdivision on the New Scotland planning board agenda for next month.

Robert Stapf, who chairs the New Scotland Planning Board, told The Enterprise that he saw a presentation on the subdivision a month ago, but that it has not come before the planning board. He said that, because the proposal is for a Planned Unit Development, the application must go before the town board before a possible hearing with the planning board.

Asked if the town was likely to approve the subdivision, Stapf said, "I don't know. It's got positive aspects to it."

Once public water and sewer are in, Stapf said, other sanitary facilities could be built in the area, too. Also, he said, the types of homes to be built would "be a positive to the tax base of the town."

Residents’ concerns

Former Guilderland Planning Board member Regina DuBois, who lives on Chaucer Place, said at the meeting that intermittent streams on the property will empty into the Normanskill Creek. She agreed that an EIS is needed for the site.

"Church Road is really substandard for the amount of traffic traveling on it," DuBois said. She asked that a traffic study be done in the area.

Sandy Smith lives across from the northern section proposed for the development.

"Church Road is an absolute nightmare," she said. Children in the area are not allowed to cross the road because of the fast traffic, she said. She said that cars from other subdivisions drive on Church Road to get to the Thruway entrance.

"It’s an issue that is way overdue to be looked at," Smith said. "You need to remember the people in this town who lived in this town who like this town. It’s becoming a city."

T. R. Laz, who said that his wife Desiree’s family has lived in the area for 50 years, said that the survey flags on the property do not match his idea of the property line.

"Preserve’s a nice pretty name," he said, noting that the subdivision is a housing complex.

Feeney said that a clustered subdivision keeps its open space undeveloped, because the open land is deeded to the town or a property owners’ association.

Andrew Mackie, who works for the New York Audubon Society, said that the area is worthy of protection. He said that the property is home to five state-listed species of special concern, and to hundreds of other species.

Board member Paul Caputo said that he wants a definite answer from New Scotland before the next concept presentation in Guilderland. He agreed with Laz’s comments. "You really don’t develop anything in a preserve," Caputo said.

Weston noted that a boulevard is proposed to link two of the developed sections. "A boulevard is expressly forbidden," she said.

"We won’t belabor it," Feeney said. "If you get us that info, we owe you a decision."

New pastor of a motivated flock at St. John’s Lutheran

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — Before he does anything, the new pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont said, he needs to learn the names and faces of his congregants.

"I’ve found an assistant to whisper names in my ear," Rev. Gregory Zajac told The Enterprise.

Zajac, 53, started work at St. John’s in February. He lives in the newly-renovated parsonage next door.

St. John’s congregation is much larger than Zajac’s old one, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, in Penfield, a Rochester suburb.

"I’ve not gotten used to that yet," Zajac said. "Sunday morning, when I look out on the congregation, I’m used to seeing maybe 50 people. Here, it’s double that."

The community character is also much different from the working-class town of Penfield.

"Those are people who were able to make things, repair things, grow things, things that keep the community going," Zajac said. "However, they were not people who were used to organizing or making long-range plans and carrying their plans out. That kind of organization was left up to my wife and a couple of capable people. At St. John’s, there is a wealth of individuals who have management positions, are executives, teachers, engineers. It’s wonderful to work with people who can organize things and carry out plans."

With the organizational work taken care of, Zajac said, he can focus on his pastoral duties.

He’s not planning any major changes, especially while he’s still learning what child belongs to what grandparent, Zajac said.

"I believe that one of the gravest sins a new pastor can commit is to say ‘Nothing significant happened here before my arrival,’" he said. "I have been preceded by competent pastors and I will build on a foundation that has been laid."

"Counter-cultural message"

A Baltimore native, Zajac attended Loyola College and earned a master of divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. He preached in Penfield for 21 years.

His wife, Melinda, works as an accounting manager for the Alternative Living Group in Schenectady, and they have two grown children, Sarah and Mark.

One of the reasons he enjoys being a pastor, Zajac said, is the chance to be present during the significant moments in his congregants’ lives—weddings, funerals, baptisms, illnesses.

"After all, who do you call in those instances, in the joys and the sorrows" It’s a privilege to be invited into people’s lives," Zajac said.

His favorite activity as a pastor, Zajac said, is teaching fifth-grade communion preparation classes.

"It’s an age when children have begun to understand abstracts, but have not yet lost their sense of awe and mystery that comes later with adolescence," Zajac said. "They’re able to read well, but they don’t have all the hormones dumping into their system yet."

Zajac, who came of age in the 1960’s, views his ministry as, in some ways, carrying on the counter culture movements of that decade.

"The culture says, ‘There’s no free lunch. It’s up to you. You get what you pay for,’" Zajac said. "The counter-cultural message of the Gospel is that Jesus has done everything for us. You can’t pay God off. All you can do is give him praise, love, and thanksgiving."

The challenge, he said, is bringing that counter culture message to people with busy lives.

When St. John’s was founded 134 years ago, Zajac said, church-goers expected sermons to last for 45 minutes. Not so anymore. Zajac tries to limit most of his to 15 minutes.

"Today, if you are going more than 20 minutes, well, it better be good," he said. "It’s better really be good."

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