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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 27, 2006

Miller proposes housing
V’ville seniors to live the high life"

By Michelle O’Riley

VOORHEESVILLE — A local developer has submitted a proposal to build new senior housing — nine condominiums — at 80 Maple Avenue. Troy Miller, owner of Miller Construction and CM Fox Real Estate, plans to tear down the old farmhouse on the property that forms the gateway to the Salem Hills development.

According to Miller, the 900-square-foot condominiums will each have one bedroom with separate laundry and storage facilities. The cost for each unit may range from $165,000 to $180,000.

The building, he said, will be beautiful and will be an aesthetic improvement to the area. His plan is to construct a residential building that will fit into the existing area’s architecture.

Miller had a preliminary meeting with the village planning commission last month to discuss his proposal. According to Miller, the meeting went well. "No one debates the need for senior housing," he said.

Discussions have been underway for over a year about plans for Omni to build a large senior complex near St. Matthew’s Church in the village. Currently, there is no senior-housing complex in Voorheesville.

The next step for Miller is to go before the zoning board on May 3. Four variances — for lot size, property-line setbacks, maximum density, and municipal sewage — will need to be approved by the board before Miller can move forward with the project. The zoning board will hold a public hearing on the request for the variances at 7 p.m. on May 3 in the village hall.

If the variances are approved, Miller will then need to go before the planning commission, said Deputy Clerk Treasurer Karen Finnessey. The village currently has very strict zoning laws for multiple-dwelling housing for seniors, said Finnessey.

Miller said he is not worried since a senior-housing project he is working on in Altamont was approved and his plans for Voorheesville are similar but on a different scale. Ground will be broken on the Altamont project this week, Miller said. There, he is constructing row-house-style units with a Victorian look, which he plans to have completed in eight or nine months, he said.

In Altamont, Miller is building eight 800-square-foot units on a 16,000-square-foot lot.

Altamont has no other senior housing, although a larger project, with 72 units, proposed by Jeff Thomas, has been in the planning stages for over a year. It is to be located on Brandle Road, just outside the village line. The last hurdle in proceeding with that project appears to have been cleared as this week the village settled with Brandle Road landowners over purchasing a well site for a municipal water source. Litigation had held up progress on the project.

Miller has lived in the area his whole life and owns multiple residential properties in Guilderland, Voorheesville, and Altamont. He has also been building in the area for the past 12 years. When helping his mother transition from her home into a smaller residence, Miller began to notice the lack of local senior housing options.

"My mother would only accept being in the village," he said.

However, if Miller were not in the real estate business he doubts that he would have been able to keep his mother in the village, he said.

That helped make his decision to turn the Park Street property in Altamont into a senior-housing complex. He said that, within three days of the publication of an Enterprise article detailing his plans, he had reserved all four pre-constructed units in Altamont.

The problem is, there is not enough vacant land in Voorheesville to do significant building, said Miller. Due to this, seniors are getting pushed to the outskirts of town where there are no sidewalks for them to get to the library, the stores, or the banks, he said.

He explained how the families he has worked with are so appreciative of the opportunity to be able to keep their relatives living locally.

"A lot of these seniors have made Voorheesville what it is," Miller said.

He admits that the project in Altamont began for tax purposes. But it turned out to fill a significant need in the area, which has positively impacted the lives of its residents. As the need for housing increases, Miller hopes to be able to continue building in the area for its seniors.

Prez Pofit runs on experience

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — Joseph Pofit, president of the Voorheesville School Board, is a confident straight shooter, whose ideas are well thought out.

"I think what the public just saw" was a very traumatic time for the board"The board continues to take their responsibility very seriously," Pofit said of recent findings by the state comptroller.

He believes other school districts across New York are going to be dealing with similar difficulties in financial management with new legislated standards, the comptroller’s audits, and more responsibility for individual board members.

Board members are all volunteers and not necessarily experts in financial matters, Pofit said.

"It’s been an awakening for each board member," Pofit said; they are now striving to take their knowledge to a "higher level."

Pofit serves on the boards finance and audit committee, plus the governance and planning committee, which looks at structure and reviews information that comes up from the site-based management teams at the district’s schools.

"The board definitely needs to spend more time on the financial integrity of the district," Pofit said in response to a question about how the board has handled the Comptroller’s findings. It’s important to have each member know what is going on internally, he said.

There are some members who don’t know as much about school budgets and the funding of education as others, and are somewhat quiet during discussion of these topics, Pofit said. He has a goal to "bring everybody on the board up to a level of comfort with the numbers," he said.

"My role is to help facilitate that," Pofit said.

Pofit announced at a recent board meeting that he has taken on a new role as the district’s chief financial officer, a new duty of the president .

No one wants to take on that role without knowing the going-ons of the district, Pofit said. It’s a new title he’s comfortable with, he told The Enterprise, adding that it certainly "heightens one’s awareness of the huge responsibility."

Pofit’s job is with the Catholic Charities developing senior housing, assisted living, and nursing homes; he deals with the planning and financing of these programs for 14 counties. Pofit went to Columbia University and has a degree in public health. He declined to give his age.

If re-elected, Pofit has a long list of objectives: developing curriculum; completing the capital project, maintaining the present facility; minimizing the cost to taxpayers as part of the budget process; upgrading technology, because he’s not so sure Voorheesville is innovative enough; maintaining and securing the best teachers and supporting them with professional development opportunities; and offering an academic program that is balanced, he said.

When the board proposed the major building project for the high school and middle school, constructed over five years ago, one of the major pitches to the public was that, with the larger space, the building would be a community resource. "I want to continue to reinforce that," Pofit said.

The building is not just open during school hours, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. but should be a resource to the community after hours. That does have to be balanced with the expense, he said.

"I don’t want to drive people away because it’s too expensive," Pofit said of fees.

When making decisions on ancillary services, one of the factors Pofit considers is the number of people who will benefit or use those services. Not every kid in the district uses Kids’ Club, Pofit said, but he also doesn’t want the cost of a program like day care or adult education to be so high that residents can’t use it.

This board particularly, values the building being a community resource and not just for classes, Pofit said, something he strongly believes in as well, whether it be for senior citizens groups, or clubs.

In terms of the BOCES classrooms, Pofit said, he’s not going to worry about that now. The superintendent was responding to proposed new housing developments, such as Kensington Woods, bringing in more students which might require extra classrooms, Pofit said. If that were approved by the town of New Scotland it could take five to seven years for the whole site to be built out, Pofit said. He would not want BOCES to be shipped out, he said, but he sees no issue at this time. Pofit said currently, the district has some extra space.

In terms of the upcoming curriculum development, one of the reasons the board "moved the middle school up to the high school was to have a more seamless program," Pofit said, and also so that advanced scholars could take on more challenging courses, and enroll in high-level classes.

Pofit said he has been impressed with the department chairs’ abilities to work on curriculum from elementary grades all the way up. Voorheesville has a very strong curriculum and instructional program, Pofit said, and he wants to make sure it’s innovative enough, that it challenges children, offers good opportunities, and is academically adventurous.

The curriculum should be supportive of everyone’s academic needs, Pofit said from special education to middle level and gifted students.

To review the curriculum, the district needs more data-driven assessment, he said.

"This board is data hungry," Pofit said, rather than just making subjective decisions. By the time the district gets state-test results back, it’s too late in the school year; also, those scores don’t give enough information, he said. The school will need to implement its own evaluations on what a child knows as he enters a unit of study, or a class; what he has learned half-way; and what he leaves a session with as a way to monitor the student’s progression, Pofit said.

The board has always encouraged community members to come to meetings, Pofit said. This year, the board has actively pursued getting different student groups to come to the meetings to give presentations or to offer input. The board has also improved and updated the district’s website, putting more information on its pages, including meeting minutes, Pofit said.

Linda Langevin has been a very visible superintendent, Pofit said, joining community groups, attending the village of Voorheesville and town of New Scotland meetings, and watching Voorheesville’s sporting events.

Some people don’t want to attend the school-board meetings, Pofit said, but board members have been responsive to residents when they call or write, Pofit said.

Gary Hubert launches first run for school board

By Holly Grosch

Gary Hubert, often wearing khakis and a striped button-down shirt, has been a soft-spoken observer at school board meetings in recent years. He started attending board meetings five years ago, he said, because of budget concerns.

Both of his children graduated from Voorheesville. Hubert celebrated his 59th birthday on Easter Sunday in his Salem Hills home, where he has lived for 25 years with his wife, Portia.

Hubert doesn’t have enough information to say whether or not he would have reacted the same way as the sitting board did to the comptroller’s findings, he said. He can’t say if the board made the proper moves or not, but he pledges to be more open to the public.

"I’m interested in more effective communication with the public," he said.

Hubert thinks, when residents called for a public forum, that would have been a better avenue to discuss the allegations and the board’s actions rather than just at the beginning of the school board’s regularly -scheduled meeting.

A separate meeting widely advertised dedicated to open discussion would have been in order, Hubert said.

In general, he would like to get the public more actively involved in meetings, although he hasn’t yet figured out how to accomplish that, he says.

Over the years, Hubert said, he has had mixed feelings on the board’s response to public input. Sometimes he found the board to be very responsive and other times it was clear members had "made their decision and that’s the bottom line," Hubert said.

Hubert has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked as a student teacher in special education. He has about 30 credits towards a master’s degree in public administration and he worked for 15-and-a-half years with developmentally disabled adults at the Schenectady Association for Retarded Citizens. He now works printing high-speed digital images for Brigar Inc., a direct-marketing company. So, Hubert said, he has experience in both human services and computer technology.

This year’s budget proposal is fairly reasonable, Hubert said. He believes the district is funding the education program adequately. His concern for the future is curriculum development; special needs have been an interest his whole life, he said.

The two board subcommittees he is most interested in serving on are the curriculum committee and the group that negotiates contracts.

"The board is the oversight committee of the entire district," Hubert said. Board members have to be aware of what’s going on in each area, including contracts with administrators, he said. Based on the problems the board has had, Hubert said, it appears that board members were "not as in touch with the operations of the district as much as they should have been."

He has participated in employment contract negotiations from both sides of the table, as an employee and as a manager, Hubert said.

Hubert’s wife is a teaching assistant for the district and also the advisor for the high-school theater club the Dionsians. Hubert said he will abstain from any votes that directly affect his wife or any of the programs with which she is involved. In terms of negotiating contracts, it would limit his role, he said, but he does not see a conflict in his negotiating the administrators’ contracts, for example.

Hubert has always been a strong supporter of the arts and theater, and finds them very valuable in forming well-rounded students, he said. He would like to see the theater-arts program expand, and he likes the direction the district is moving with the newly-created middle-school-level drama club.

As for ancillary services, he said, "We can’t pour money in and not get anything back."

From what the assistant superintendent for business has said, it seems that BOCES is making money for the district at this point, so it is not a concern for Hubert until the building runs out of space, he said. He’s not sure if he’d be willing to expand the building to keep hosting BOCES classes in Voorheesville. Additionally, an analysis of the cost to the district would have to be done, he said.

With adult education, the district should not be losing money, Hubert said. The adult education should be self-sufficient program; he’s in favor of raising the fees to break even, he said.

For the building project, the board has to rely on professionals, architectural firms, and construction companies. Hubert said he is eager to correct the problems at the elementary school. Of particular concern is the temperature difference between the third and first floors on hot summery June days. Last year’s temperature readings in some rooms reached over 90 degrees.

This type of major building project is the perfect example of the need for community forums to inform the public of what is going to be happening, Hubert said.

While the quality of food in the lunch program has received rave reviews from students and staff — he has beard the praise — Hubert said, it's a program that needs to break even. It is important to provide a quality lunch program though, Hubert said.

"We live in a wealthy district," he said but Voorheesville also has people with limited incomes. "A quality nutritional lunch should be provided to all," he said. Perhaps, Hubert said Chef Tim Mulligan will have to substitute some of the more expensive items.

"Controlling energy cost"gosh," Hubert said on a day when he just spent $2.97 per gallon for his car’s gas. Keeping this cost down is tough one, he said.

The first step for the school is identifying where the costs are being accrued. While he thinks the new energy-education program has been implemented well, everyone has to try a little harder to reduce consumption — breaking habits, he said.

"Above all, I think I’m an above-average listener," Hubert said. He will strive to listen to all sides, consider facts and figures, and he believes he has a talent for comprehending the feelings of groups of people.

V’ville School Board candidates questioned

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — School board President Joseph Pofit is being challenged in his race for re-election by long-term community member Gary Hubert.

The election comes on the heels of community criticism about the way the board handled informing the public about the alleged misappropriations of $216,000 and pursuing civil suits against previous administrators Anthony Marturano and Alan McCartney.

Hubert said he decided to run in March of this year and, while the board’s handling of the state comptroller’s findings was a factor in his decision to run, it was not the only reason. He said he would be running regardless of whose term is up — he is not running to oust Pofit, he said. "I want to contribute to the district," said Hubert.

Pofit has served on the school board for eight years; a special election put him in office for three years, and now he is completing the last leg of a regular five-year term. The Voorheesville board has seven unpaid members.

Hubert, who has attended school-board meetings over the last five years, has decided to make a run to sit on the other side of the table.

Hubert said he has the background to contribute to the board and has tossed around the idea of running before. This will, however, be his first attempt. He wants to be hands on in the upcoming year’s anticipated curriculum review and development, to ensure students of all abilities are served: special education, average Regents level, and advanced.

Hubert is also campaigning on providing "more effective communication with the public," he said.

Pofit was elected President by the board last July and said he has liked the leadership role.

The other board members have been enjoyable to work with, he said. The current composition of the board is ideal with a wide mix of talents — from business to facilities. Each member contributes and serves in a distinct role. Pofit said he appreciates how the board members work so well together, coming from different vantage points, and then acting cohesively.

Pofit brings from his career business sense and experience in working with a variety of different groups as chairman, Pofit said.

"What I like to do is get the [school] board to come to a consensus"I want everyone to speak, adding and contributing to our discussion," Pofit said. The issues

The Enterprise discussed current issues with the two candidates to construct profiles highlighting their views. The topics included:

— Curriculum: The board has stated that, in the upcoming year, it wants to review the curriculum at all grade levels. The candidates were asked what direction the curriculum should take and what programs they would like to implement. Some board members have expressed a desire for full-day kindergarten as opposed to the current half-day, others support teaching foreign language in elementary school, rather than waiting till middle school.

— Repairs: With the upcoming $3 million to $4 million building project at the elementary school, and another $1 million in repairs at Clayton A. Bouton High School, candidates were asked the best way to implement the process and what role a board member plays .

— Energy: With increasing energy costs, and the district’s new energy-education program implemented in August, the question was asked about how to reduce energy expenses and how to encourage the energy-management program to save more.

— Lunch program: The district hired a new chef manager in February of 2005. Tim Mulligan has transformed the lunch program, offering more choices, fresh food, and healthier options, but at higher cost. The program last year had been running at a loss, and the district has been implementing new initiatives to make a profit. This includes increasing sales to both students and staff and selling healthy snacks, like fruit cups and wraps, to kids after school through vending machines purchased through a milk grant.

The question was asked about what the lunch program should cost and if quality and health is worth extra expense.

— Ancillary fees: In the past year, board members have discussed and, a number of times disagreed, over ancillary fees and services.

During a budget workshop this spring, Superintendent Linda Langevin said the district must review how long it can continue to host BOCES special-education classes in the schools’ buildings. The district gives up space and shares some faculty, but gains revenue and diversity.

This summer, the board discussed what to do about adult education, which was running at a loss.

And, at the most recent board meeting, elected officials weighed the value of Kids Club to the district with rental fees. Kids’ Club is an independent after school day care program at the elementary school.

— Financial controls: One of the hottest election issues this year is financial internal controls. After the state comptroller announced the misappropriation of $216,000, the school district has implemented a number of safety measures, including creating new positions that will report directly to the board; an internal claims auditor, to review warrants, receipts, and checks; and an internal auditor directed by the board on what matters to look into, whether it be employee-certification records or finances. Candidates were asked how they would participate in the checks and balances of the districts finances.

— Communication: The board was criticized for the way it handled informing the public about the misappropriations. Hubert was asked how he would have handled the situation, and Pofit was asked to reflect on his and the board’s actions.

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