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

Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 22, 2007

List says not guilty
Developer accused of burying debris

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A local developer was issued a ticket after a resident complained that he buried debris in her yard years ago.

The town’s code enforcer, Rodger Stone, followed up on a complaint made by Fort Hunter residents, Maureen Iuorno and her neighbor, that developer Richard H. List buried stumps and garbage in their backyards.

"We never buried anything," List told The Enterprise this week. He said he had been issued a ticket by Stone and plans to plead "not guilty" in Guilderland Town Court on April 9.

Last November, the town sought advice from the law firm of Wein, Young, Fenton, and Kelsey. At the time, the move was heralded as an "unprecedented action" by town Councilman David Bosworth.

"We were asked to come in as an outside counsel because of a possible conflict of interest," Paul Wein told The Enterprise. "If it violates the town code, then we will proceed with litigation."

Supervisor Kenneth Runion said that the town cannot get involved with a private lawsuit, but that the town looked to outside counsel to see if a town code was violated.

According to town code, it is not illegal to bury stumps at a residence as long as the location is clearly identified on a subdivision map. However, according to the complaints, List did not inform anyone about burying debris.

"That was not done," Wein said of a map indicating buried debris. "You can’t just dump construction debris anywhere you want around town."

Runion said last week that he was leaving the matter for the attorneys to sort out. Wein, said he was waiting for word from the building department.

"If they advise us about a zoning violation," Wein said, "we handle the litigation."

Iuorno said she discovered the debris when her family contracted to have an in-ground pool installed in their backyard.

"We actually called him out here when we first discovered the problem," Iuorno said of List. "He promised lip service"He kept ‘yesing’ us, but the reality of it is that he never came through with anything."

Iuorno said that List denied ever burying the debris in the first place, telling her, "You have my word as a man. I’ve never buried a stump in my life."

However, Iuorno told The Enterprise that, even if List did not bury the debris himself, she talked to List’s workers who actually did.

List’s view

List, however, said this week that there was "no merit" to the statement his workers had buried debris.

He said that, on Oct. 17, 2006, he met with Iurno, who lives at 206 Placid Drive, and a neighbor, who lives at 208 Placid Drive, in Lone Pine Village. "I explained we did not bury debris in their yards," said List.

At the time he visited the Placid Drive site, List said, all that was visible were a few pieces of wood on the surface.

Three days later, on Oct. 20, List said, a pool company dumped dirt, stumps, and debris on property he owns in a different section of Lone Pine Village, a quarter of a mile from Placid Drive. "He said they were told to dump it there," List said of the pool builder. "I did eventually get them to move it," he said. List said he did not know who ordered the dumping.

List has been in business since 1966 and never received a complaint about dumping, he said. "Our sites are clean as a whistle," he said.

List said he is involved in two businesses: Manchester Associates, Ltd., which builds homes, and Richard H. List, Inc., which does excavation, preparing home sites.

"I’ve built over 500 homes in the area and we’ve never had a problem like this before," said List.

List said that he acquired the Placid Drive properties in 1986 or 1987 and surmised that, if there were stumps or debris buried there, it was before or after he had anything to do with the properties.

Iuorno’s view

In addition to large stumps and "massive piles of woodchips," Iuorno said, construction debris such as manhole covers, siding, and scrap metal were found buried.

"They weren’t small stumps either; they were massive," she said. "Some of the trees were the size of telephone poles"We went to EnCon with it."

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation told Iuorno there wasn’t a high enough percentage of construction debris for its involvement and that it was a town matter, she said.

Iuorno said the stumps, wood chips, and other compostable buried materials made the lawn dangerous and unstable, as large sink holes would appear when materials decomposed in the ground.

Placement of the pool was impossible without removing all of the debris and back-filling the entire area with new dirt for stability, said Iuorno, expenses which all came "out-of-pocket."

"It would have been a lot easier for him because he has all of the excavation equipment readily available"and mountains of dirt," she said of having to get someone besides List to do the work.

Iuorno said List has done it to others, too, saying another nearby resident besides her neighbor was affected.

"They had to actually move their pool to the other side of their house," she said. "I think the problem is that most people tend to give up and go away. Once you go away and it happens again, you have to start all over."

The ordeal cost her family thousands of dollars for the debris removal, Iuorno said.

Their house was built in 1989 and Iuorno said the owners before them moved into the home in January of 1990. Wein said that, because of the date, there may be a statute of limitation on what can be done.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer contributed the comments from Richard H. List to this story.

Luibrand to hear case
Chief charged with harassment

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The town board on Tuesday night appointed Kevin Luibrand to hear the case of Guilderland’s suspended police chief, James Murley, who now faces a fourth charge — sexual harassment.

The unanimous vote was taken after an executive session.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise yesterday that Luibrand was selected because "he’s an attorney familiar with the law; he’s done Section 75 proceedings in the past," said Runion, referring to a section of Civil Service Law dealing with disciplining employees.

The administrative hearing, over which Luibrand will preside, could result in a range of recommendations, from a determination that the charges are without merit, up to a recommendation for dismissal.

Although Murley has declined commenting to the press on the advice of his lawyer, William J. Cade, Cade told The Enterprise last week that Murley will be fighting the charges and has no plans to retire. Cade lauded Murley’s decades of service to the town and questioned the validity of the charges.

Murley, 60, has been with the Guilderland Police Department since 1972. His deputy chief, Carol Lawlor, is now acting chief.

The town board met in closed session last Thursday to discuss a report on the initial complaint against Murley, sexual harassment, filed by a department head on Feb. 5.

The town had hired Claudia Ryan, an attorney specializing in employee relations, to investigate the sexual-harassment charge, which led to three other charges. Murley was placed on paid administrative leave from his $96,844-a year job on Feb. 8. He was suspended without pay on March 9.

Last Thursday, Runion said, the board looked at the report submitted by Ryan and followed her recommendation to proceed with disciplinary action on violations of the town’s sexual harassment policy.

Murley is now charged with: misconduct in connection with interaction with a vendor; violations of the town’s ethics law, involving interactions with other town employees; misconduct regarding the maintenance of complete and accurate attendance and leave records; and violations of the town’s sexual-harassment policy.

The charges are all administrative disciplinary matters, Runion said earlier; none of them are criminal charges. The case is currently under review by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, which is working with the town and the State Police, Heather Orth, spokeswoman for the district attorney, told The Enterprise last week.

Runion declined to say which parts of the town’s sexual harassment policy Murley is accused of violating. The policy prohibits unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work or creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.

At its meeting last Thursday, the town board also agreed to hire Brian O’Donnell to present the town’s case at the disciplinary hearing. O’Donnell was chosen, said Runion, because "he’s a local attorney who specializes in labor relations work."

"Everyone we’ve hired for this is an independent person," said Runion, indicating they have no ties to the town.

Runion said earlier that he, himself, had known Murley for 25 years and it was "a very difficult process" for him to go through.

"We decided we would retain independent representatives on each aspect of the case," he said.

O’Donnell will serve the new charges this week, Runion said, and Murley has eight days to respond. "We’re hoping to have the hearing scheduled within a month of the original charges," he said, which was March 9.

The hearing date will be arrived at by the attorneys, he said.

Asked about various accounts in the media, giving specifics on the charges, Runion said he didn’t know who was leaking the information. "Something starts as a rumor," he said. "It builds and changes"It could be someone talking to an employee or a former employee who thinks they know what’s going on."

Runion concluded, "The investigation is now complete" He anticipates no further charges, he said.

Other business

In other business at its March 20 meeting, the town board, by unanimous vote and with little or no discussion:

— Appointed Kimberly Jones as a member of the Board of Assessment Review, with a term that expires Sept. 30, 2011;

— Appointed election custodians and party representatives for 2007;

— Appointed Todd Robert as a telecommunicator from the Albany County Civil Service list;

— Authorized release of escrow for the Bowers subdivision on Fuller Station Road. The town’s Department of Water and Wastewater Management is holding $252.16 and interest, said Runion, and "all work has been completed in satisfactory manner"; and

— Declared itself lead agency and issued a negative declaration in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act for the new Tawasentha Park footbridge that will cross the Normanskill.

The bulk of the brief meeting was spent honoring the Guilderland High School Co-Ed Varsity Cheerleaders.

Runion lauded them for winning a national championship for the second year in a row at Disney World in Florida; they then came home, he said, to win the Suburban Council Competition.

"Thank you for all the support from the town of Guilderland, all the people and all the businesses that helped us get down to Florida," said cheerleader Nick Zanotta.

Each cheerleader was presented with a certificate and then they posed before the town seal as friends and family snapped pictures and applauded.

Pedestrian hit on Route 20

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A 47-year-old man was hit Tuesday night as he crossed Route 20 just east of Johnston Road.

Wayne Hatch of Stephentown was listed in fair condition yesterday evening at Albany Medical Center.

Hatch was not in a crosswalk, said Guilderland Police Lieutenant Curtis Cox, when he was crossing with a friend from the north side to the south side of Western Avenue, in the 1600 block. It was 8:02 p.m. and dark when he was struck by a 1995 Saab, driven by Paul Lafferty, 32, of Connecticut, said Cox.

"Lafferty was heading eastbound and it appears he didn’t see him," said Cox. Lafferty stopped right away, Cox said.

Hatch suffered a serious leg injury, Cox said, and was transported to Albany Medical Center by the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad.

Guilderland Police diverted Western Avenue traffic for about two hours, through Crossgates Mall, said Cox, "while we did accident reconstruction."

As of yesterday no charges had been filed, said Cox. "It’s still under investigation," he said, adding, "If anyone witnessed the accident, we would like to speak to them."

The Traffic Safety Unit of the Guilderland Police Department can be reached at 356-1501.

GCSD defends program
A new chapter in the reading saga

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — School board members asked for answers — and numbers — about the district’s reading program in February after three parents complained about their children’s difficulties.

Last Tuesday, they got them in a lengthy presentation describing and defending the reading program.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress, once a reading teacher herself, began by having the teachers who packed the meeting hall stand. Praising their work, she called them "the fabric of our program."

"There has been a great deal of criticism and misinformation about Guilderland’s reading instruction circulating in conversations, in print, and on the Internet," said Andress. She said "a clear picture" would be offered, and concluded, "We are, indeed, meeting student needs."

Four years ago, when parents in a group organized by Melissa Mirabile raised concerns about how the district teaches reading, the school board decided the matter should be handled by teachers and administrators. At the Feb. 6 meeting this year, after hearing the three parents complain, several board members wanted to get involved and demanded answers.

The board last Tuesday, in its questions after the presentation, and later in a discussion at the end of the meeting, made no suggestion for a reading advisory panel as had been proposed by Mirabile’s group four years ago and rejected by the board.

Board members did discuss their response to the three parents and to another parent, Linda Beliveau, who addressed them after Tuesday’s presentation. They had varying views on communication and board civility.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala concluded Tuesday’s presentation by saying there were two issues — "the statistical component" and trust.

"Do we, as a board, have confidence in [the staff] to provide the highest level of services"" he asked, answering himself, "For me, the answer is an unequivocal yes."

The board, said Aidala, governs policy. "We have to leave the details to staff," he said. "They are good at what they are doing." The district, he said, had proven its commitment to support students with special needs.

Towards the end of the meeting school board member Peter Golden asked Aidala, an administrator, why he used the word "we" in referring to the board.

Board President Richard Weisz responded, "Civility is respecting people when you disagree."

Aidala answered, "I consider myself to be a non-voting member of the board."

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo referred to comments made by Beliveau. She had described the frustration of her child’s struggles learning to read and praised the three parents who spoke publicly in February about their children’s struggles and the school district’s failures.

While parents appreciate teachers, Beliveau said, they felt they had no other alternatives. She told the board, "It’s important you reach out to them now."

Fraterrigo suggested the board hold private dialogues with parents.

"We want every kid in this district to be successful to the degree they are able," she said.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Mirabile states that the reason she went public with her reading concerns was she felt forced to by an administration that wouldn’t listen.

Fraterrigo went on to say, "For some reason...the teachers felt, by [board members] asking questions, it was an attack...I have never, ever heard that." The teachers, she said, have been lauded. "Everybody knows they’re trying their best with what they have," said Fraterrigo. "They really shouldn’t feel under attack...It’s the system."

"Perception is people’s reality," said Aidala.

Board member John Dornbush said the "spreadsheets of services offered to the three children" of the parents who had complained, which the board reviewed in executive session, looked comprehensive.

Board member Cathy Barber said that the board has a lot of power to effect a lot of people, not just those in the meeting room. The board, she said, should not make decisions "based on emotion"; it causes people to lose confidence.

Board member Denise Eisele supported Fraterrigo’s idea for discussion sessions with parents.

She also said, "I feel that, as a board member, I should be able to ask questions."

The staff likes to feel their point of view is respected and listened to, said Weisz. The board has to be judicious, he said, when it gives negative information and it has a duty to investigate. "Sometimes there is a rush to judgment when it’s all televised," he said of the board meetings.

Board member Thomas Nahcod disagreed with Fraterrigo’s suggestion and said the board already has a procedure, where the board votes on matters requested by parents to be heard in executive session.

Fraterrigo responded that it was "a lot healthier" to have people talk directly to the board rather than through writing letters to the editor. The Enterprise, over the last month, has run a dozen letters about the Guilderland reading program and board civility — from parents; residents; Chris Claus, the president of the teachers’ union, and Nachod.

"The point of the letter I wrote to The Altamont Enterprise was about respect," responded Nachod. "I believe teachers and administrators did feel attacked." Nachod said the board has every right to ask questions but overreacted to the complaints from the three parents.

"Yes, we should listen. Yes, we should get involved," said Nachod. "But we also need to follow our policies and we have to treat all our people with respect...I did hear that teachers felt threatened, so I must be talking to different teachers."

Board member Colleen O’Connell referred to bookmarks that outlined the district’s "chain of command" for parents to follow if they have complaints or concerns.

Procedures are set up, she said, "because people care." Without such procedures, the district would be "chaotic," said O’Connell.

"The process itself is important," said O’Connell. "We wouldn’t have set it up if it didn’t matter."

By the numbers

Mary Helen Collen, the district’s new data coordinator, went over a series of graphs and charts that described state-required test results at Guilderland, comparing them to area schools and statewide results.

Tests for middle- and elementary-school students are graded at four performance levels. Students at the top level, 4, exceed standards; students at the next level, 3, meet standards; students at Level 2 need extra help; and students at Level 1 are deemed to have "serious academic deficiencies."

Collen’s charts showed that 79 percent of Guilderland students in third through eighth grades taking the English test last year scored at Level 3 or above. The range went from 88 percent of fifth-graders at Level 3 to 67 percent of eighth-graders.

Lynne Wells, supervisor for English language arts, social studies, and reading at the middle school, described this as "the V factor," a national phenomenon, where students who do well in elementary school and high school show a dip in tests scores in middle school.

Wells said that Guilderland middle-school students "fall down" on the multiple-choice part of the test. "Our kids do great on the writing aspect," she said.

She also said, "I don’t want to narrow our focus so much that we make our instruction all about testing. We have to look at the big world picture."

Board member Golden, responding to Andress’s statement that 92 percent of Guilderland graduates get a Regents diploma, which includes passing an English Regents exam, and 90 percent of Guilderland students go on to college, said that nationwide 55 percent of college students have a degree six years later. Golden said that note-taking and term-paper writing were stumbling blocks.

"A six-year study in Guilderland would end the discussion," said Golden, of whether the "V factor," the dip in middle-school scores, goes away or reappears in a "more virulent form."

"These are the kind of numbers the board should look at," said Golden.

"That’s an esoteric hypothesis," responded Superintendent Aidala "We are overloaded with 5,000 tests, trying to analyze the results, trying to get information to teachers...To go off on this tangent...We have to establish our priorities." He concluded, "We are trying to target the individual student and providing growth."

Collen also presented data showing performance of Guilderland students "far surpasses" statewide averages. She broke out numbers for general education students and for students with disabilities and she compared unofficial scores with neighboring districts.

In last year’s English test, on which 79 percent of Guilderland students had scored in levels 3 and 4, the highest percentage locally was 85 percent at Niskayuna followed by 80 percent at Bethlehem and Saratoga; the lowest was 73 percent at South Colonie.

Collen also presented a chart showing the elementary students at Guilderland receiving academic intervention services (AIS) or remedial help, broken down by school and gender. The lowest percentage of students needing help — 19 percent — is at Guilderland Elementary; the highest percentage — 26 percent — is at Lynnwood Elementary. In all of the elementary schools except Altamont, more boys then girls receive help.

Collen said that 31 percent of all students in New York State receive academic intervention services.

She also described the many ways teachers are looking at test scores to analyze student needs.


Andress read a 1934 quotation from reading expert Paul McKee about the controversy over instruction in phonics, stating some believe it’s wasteful and harmful and others believe it’s imperative.

"In Guilderland, we’ve never joined a side...We’ve always followed both in our instruction," said Andress. "We’ve looked carefully recently at this push for phonics first and meaning second. But we’ve maintained a model that respects children’s potential and learning in which skills and meaning go hand-in-hand right from the start. This is how teachers teach. We have never called our program Whole Language...."

The research, Andress said, shows that phonics must be taught but doesn’t advocate one method.

Andress went over the different methods of instruction used at Guilderland and outlined the district’s goals.

Students are to become "strategic readers with a full range of strategies for figuring out words and understanding text," she said. They are to read a variety of genres and understand various purposed of reading.

Students are to use writing as a tool to make sense of the text and they are to "develop an appreciation for the power of reading in their lives."

Guilderland’s curriculum, Andress said, "is based on the essential components of reading, as recommended by the National Reading Panel...and as required by the New York State ELA standards. This includes phonemic awareness, word recognition, background knowledge and vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and motivation to read.

"And then don’t forget," concluded Andress, "the state requires students to read 25 books a year."


Educators then went over reading assessment and instruction at each level — elementary, middle school, and high school.

Dianne Walshhampton, principal of Guilderland Elementary School, began with kindergarten, and its state-required screening, and continued, describing the primary services — which she termed "an extremely individualized program." She concluded by describing a new summer intervention program, offered for the last two years to students leaving kindergarten who have "significant reading needs."

Wells then talked about academic intervention services at the middle school. She went over the various materials and programs used, concluding, "Support for struggling students is not only about the materials but also the approach." Support usually comes in small groups or one-on-one, she said.

Wells said that 225 students, or 16 percent of Farnsworth students, receive AIS instruction.

"For adolescents, literacy is more than reading and writing," said Wells. "It involves purposeful, social, and cognitive processes. It helps individuals discover ideas and make meaning."

The transition to the high school from the middle school is a "big step," said high school reading teacher Chris Claus, who is also the president of the teachers’ union. "Many vestiges of childhood" are left at the middle school, he said and few students think, "Boy, oh boy, I can’t wait to go to reading class," he said to ripples of gentle laughter.

"The best instruction, if not willingly received isn’t going to go very far," said Claus. High school students become serious about learning to read because they want to graduate, he said later.

Claus supervises the tutorial reading instruction of 79 students, with the help of four teaching assistants, he said. He also described a "push-in" program and support that is offered by an assistant in the classroom.

"We have asked for an additional reading teacher," he said of a current budget request for next year.

Claus also went over assessment, beginning with the eighth-grade ELA test, and ending with the 11th-grade English Regents, an exam he described as challenging. In between, an Advanced Degree of Reading Power test, which Claus described as "not too intrusive" — is used. All ninth-graders are tested and a few 10th-graders are given the ADRP he said, because, in between the two state-required tests, "We want to see how kids are doing."

High school reading teacher Lisa Nissenbaum then went over the specifics of reading instruction, concluding, "This isn’t just about passing the test."

Super says
District must set priorities if it wants to change the shape of the day

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The shape of the school day won’t be changing any time soon at Guilderland.

Members of a task force reported to the school board late last month that an extended study is needed of all scheduling and transportation options.

The task force said any scheduling changes should be driven by instructional priorities and should be part of the collective bargaining process with the teachers’ union.

A new transportation schedule must be built, rather than amending the existing plan, the task force said, and any major shift must consider the costs and benefits as well as allowing for adequate notice — at least six months — for the community.

The 18-member task force — made up of parents, teachers, students, administrators, staff, school-board members, and the transportation supervisor — met 10 times for a total of 20 hours.

"The essential question we started with was: How can the Guilderland Central School District seek to maximize use of instructional time for students and staff"" said Co-Chair Martha Beck, principal of Pine Bush Elementary School.

The task force considered such influences as transportation, interscholastic sports, and cost, said Co-Chair Mary Summermatter, principal of Farnsworth Middle School.

About 30 different sports are offered to students in grades seven to 12, she said, and up to 730 students participate in any one given season. Farnsworth students are excused early for away games, which poses a "dilemma," Summermatter said.

The district covers more than 50 square miles, said Beck, has "high-density traffic" on Route 20, has a high school and middle school that are 5.6 miles apart, and has to transport students to private schools and special education students to a variety of programs.

Beck also went over a chart specifying the length of school days at various local districts and said, "We found ‘instructional day’ was a relative term."

Some schools, she said, count band and chorus rehearsals or club meeting time as part of the school day while other districts include the 10 or 15 minutes between bus arrival and the start of formal instruction. The elementary-school day at Guilderland is currently five hours and 45 minutes, the same as South Colonie and five minutes shorter than Bethlehem. Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, and North Colonie all have six hours and 10 minutes while Voorheesville has six hours and five minutes.

Guilderland is planning next year to include the 15 minutes after the buses arrive as part of the instructional day.

The task force reviewed research on adolescent sleep needs, said Summermatter, and found mixed viewpoints on whether the research was applicable to Guilderland High.

The cycle of body-temperature changes occurs in different patterns and peaks and therefore the ideal time of day for learning can vary from one person to the next, she said.

The task force looked at reversing the elementary- and middle-school starting times as well as other configurations and found there was no "eureka" solution, said the co-chairs.

"We really hoped we’d say, ‘Eureka! We found an answer’...We couldn’t find anything. There were always stumbling blocks," said Summermatter.


Three years ago, in February of 2004, Jesse Ramos, then a high-school freshman, told the school board, "Basically teenagers need more sleep."

He cited research, including that published by Monitor on Psychology that adolescents are biologically driven to sleep longer and later than adults do, and argued for a later start to the high-school day. Ramos served on the recent task force.

Last year, a 21-page report prepared by Transportation Advisory Services consultant Christopher Andrews, hired by the district, recommended changing the order in which the high-school, elementary-school, middle-school days begin and end, or lengthening the day for the elementary schools in order to allow runs with fewer buses.

Currently, district bus routes operate nominally on a three-tiered system. High-school students are in the first tier. Their day begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2:25 p.m. Elementary students are next, starting school at 8:10 a.m. and getting dismissed at 1:55 p.m. Middle-school students are last, starting at 8:45 a.m. and getting dismissed at 3:17 p.m.

"Tight bell times increase the need for additional buses to complete the routes in less time," Andrews stated in his report.

Schools in the area with more than 5,000 students like Guilderland are triple tripped, while those with under 5,000 students are double tripped, he said.

"Although the district considers itself triple tripped," he wrote, "the tight bell times...have the effect of negating the cost benefits of triple tripping...."

Under "true" triple tripping, Andrews wrote, the entire fleet makes three trips throughout the district, transporting students in different grade levels at different times.

The reason most schools transport elementary students last in the morning is that the high schools and middle schools are typically zoned district-wide, as they are at Guilderland, meaning that the buses must cover the entire district to pick up students. After completing these runs, the fleet can then be disbursed to the smaller elementary zones to transport their students.

"In Guilderland," Andrews wrote, "the buses traverse the entire district for high-school students, then have 40 minutes to separate into the elementary zones, then have 25 minutes to again traverse the entire district for the middle-school students. Given the shortest elementary-school day, in the afternoon, the district is again unique in having the elementary transported first.

"These factors," he concluded, "result in the inefficient use of drivers and vehicles."

What’s next"

Superintendent Gregory Aidala said that so many interrelated factors are involved in the school day that seeking solutions is "very discouraging."

"It was like this giant bubble," he said, explaining that, if something were pushed in one place, something else popped out in another.

There were, he said, "too many demands to provide everybody’s first choice."

He said that "clear and specific priorities have to be established."

Aidala went on, "As long as we had universal agreement, we could move forward." He added, "We want this to happen at minimal cost" and stated it wasn’t worth buying more buses and hiring more drivers.

The task force, he said, tried to make everyone happy and therefore couldn’t recommend a change.

"We at least outlined all the issues," he said.

Board President Richard Weisz said, "I’ve always been a big believer that, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it," although he said sleep research raised the question it might be broken.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

— Heard from April Clas, the mother of an eighth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School, about the "tragic consequences of sleep deprivation." She said the high school day begins way too early. She cited studies from the universities of Minnesota and Kentucky, as well as a recommendation for later start times from the National Sleep Foundation and suggested flipping the high-school and grade-school start times and having sports practice before school or for a shorter time after school;

— Appointed Collins and Scoville Architects to help with plans for use of the district’s EXCEL aid. Formerly, the district had regularly used Dodge, Chamberlin, Luzine, Weber Architects, but, this time, sent out requests for proposals.

After meeting in executive session, the board made the appointment with an 8-to-0 vote;

— Heard from Aidala about a proposal, researched by high school Principal Michael Piccirillo, for tutoring suspended students. Rather than working individually with a tutor, they will be tutored in groups at the school from 3:15 to 5:45 p.m.

Aidala said it "provides better service at a lower price";

— Approved a memorandum of agreement setting an hourly rate for teachers of $36.38;

— Heard from Weisz, who chairs the board’s audit committee, that the state comptroller’s office has completed it’s work at Guilderland.

"Sometime in the next few months," Weisz said, "we will be given a draft report and an exit interview will be conducted."

The district then has 30 days to respond to the report after which the comptroller’s staff has the right to issue a written rebuttal.

The final report will be issued in the fall and may be released to the press before it is sent to the district, Weisz said;

— Heard from Cathy Barber, who chairs the board’s communications committee, that coffee klatches, where residents can chat with board members, have been scheduled for April 18, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at the Guilderland Public Library and for April 21, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., at the Altamont Free Library;

— Adopted the 2007-08 school calendar, which has 185 days;

— Approved one slot to enable a ninth-grade student to enroll next September in the new Tech Valley High School.

The tuition is $18,000 and, Aidala said that, subtracting BOCES aid of $11,646, it would come to $6,354 for Guilderland.

Board member Peter Golden had raised questions about the costs.

Board member Colleen O’Connell objected to the board having to vote on the motion, calling it "micro-managing at its worst." Warning against a "slippery slope," she said, "We trust our guidance counselors and administrators" to find cost-effective and appropriate programs for students.

Golden responded, "This is a new program and the board should know what it costs."

Board Vice President John Dornbush, a supporter of the BOCES initiative, said that technology education was one of the Guilderland board’s priorities.

In the end, the board voted 8 to 0 in favor of the motion.

A lottery was conducted Feb. 28, the day after the board’s meeting, to select the first class of 40 students for Tech Valley High School; there were 136 applicants from 38 school districts within the Questar III BOCES and the Capital Region BOCES areas;

— Approved a sabbatical leave for middle-school science teacher Alan Fiero to do work on the Karner blue butterfly at the Albany Pine Bush Center; and

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that the Farnsworth Math Counts team came in second at the regional competition and was set to advance to the state finals on March 10.

Matt Walsh came in seventh out of 124 students and Kyungduk Rho came in 12th. Team members Beatrice Malsky and Abhishek Paul each scored in the top 30.

Chen Gong, Asif Mehdi, and Matt Seita were on the alternate team.

Higgins, PI, photographer and raconteur, dies at 82

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Joe Higgins was a gumshoe and proud of it. He had a wiry build, a gravelly voice, and a discerning eye.

As the longest practicing private investigator in the state, he had many tales to tell, laced with crime and intrigue.

He died on Monday, March 19, 2007, at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady after a brief illness. He was 82.

A former detective with the Cohoes Police Department, he lived in Guilderland and developed a close relationship with the Guilderland Police over the years.

"We’re all saddened by his death," said Guilderland’s acting police chief, Carol Lawlor, yesterday. "He was a good friend, a colleague."

She went on, "He had been involved in police work all his life. He was very enthusiastic about it".He’d hear something on the scanner and call us at home. Even since he was sick, he’d call to tell us something was going on and offer his advice."

Higgins did forensic photography for the Guilderland Police Department, Lawlor said. "His skills as a photographer were second to none," she said.

He had jobs as a staff photographer at the Times Union, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Rockefeller Administration.

He was particularly proud of a canoe trip he took, as a Times Union photographer, following the Hudson River from its start in the Adirondacks all the way to its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean. He saved a scrapbook, its pages now yellowed with age, that documented the trip.

Higgins never made the switch to digital photography. He took great pride in the clarity of the shots he got with his 35 millimeter film camera.

He worked as a photographer for The Enterprise late in his life. His photographs livened the newspaper’s pages just as his presence livened its newsroom.

The paper received many requests for his photo "Pilgrims Progress," of a pair of Christ The King students dressed in paper Pilgrim bonnets, ready for their Thanksgiving feast.

He produced a stunning page of pictures documenting the lowering of the copper dome, made by WeatherGuard roofing, onto the new train station in Rensselaer.

His front-page shot, "Here Comes the Judge," showed a beaming Victoria Graffeo, an Altamont native, in 2001 moments after she was sworn in as a member of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

But Higgins’s forté was covering crime. Week after week, he captured criminals on film along with the police who brought them to justice. From murder to misdemeanor charges, Higgins shot them all. He even featured Nikko, the Guilderland Police Department’s German shepherd, among the crime fighters in a front-page spread: "Suspected ‘Booze Burglar’ busted.

Often, Higgins’s inquisitiveness led The Enterprise to cover stories it wouldn’t have otherwise. Once, for example, he brought in a picture of a man mired in mud up to his waist on the edge of the Watervliet Reservoir. He was fishing when a misstep left him stuck and he had to be rescued.

Higgins added that one to his repertoire of other stranger-than-fiction tales. He loved to regale friends with stories based on a rich and varied life — serving in the Army during World War II, raising championship beagles and hunting with friends, competing at archery and winning Senior Olympic championships nine times, singing and playing guitar with his band, Country Joe Review.

"We enjoyed all aspects of Joe," concluded Acting Chief Lawlor, emphasizing his humor. "His stories were always amusing. He was quite a character."


Joseph P. Higgins was born in Cohoes, the son of the late William and Mary Frances Smith Higgins.

His wife, Karen E. Keefer Higgins, died before him as did his brothers, William and Leo Higgins.

He is survived by his daughters, Emilie Mary Caroline Higgins of Guilderland and Marsha Livecchi and her husband, Patrick, of Willow Spring, N.C.; his grandchildren Tara Bennett and Brian Livecchi; his great-grandchildren Michael, Jake, and Josh Livecchi, and Abigail Bennett; and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be today (Thursday) at 9 a.m. at St. Boniface Episcopal Church in Guilderland. Arrangements are by NewComer-Cannon Family Funeral Home in Colonie. Expressions of sympathy may be made to Newcomerfamily.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Boniface Episcopal Church of Guilderland, 5148 Western Ave., Guilderland, NY 12084.

Village hung up over banner purchase

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Beginning in June, the village has been welcoming visitors with burgundy banners that cost roughly $2,800. Village officials are at odds about whether the board gave proper approval for their purchase.

The banners were part of an effort towards "village beautification," trustee Kerry Dineen said this week in a written statement to The Enterprise, she declined to comment over the phone. The idea for them came up in discussions with business owners in the village, she said.

Trustee Harvey Vlahos, who just gave up his seat on the village board, brought up the issue at his last board meeting earlier this month in a list of complaints that he had with the board.

"Banner expenditures of $2,800 were not authorized by the board. There were some issues," Vlahos said at the March 6 meeting, to which no board members replied. "There was some discussion beforehand and I thought that, actually, it wasn’t going to be done and then they were going up."

Vlahos said after the meeting, in a phone interview, that there had been some discussion of buying the banners between board members via e-mail, but he thought the money should have been spent on something else. He was surprised when the banners showed up, and he said the money was spent illegally, since the board had not authorized the purchase.

"At the time, it really wasn’t worth making that much of a big deal about," Vlahos said when asked why he made no mention of the issue in June. "It’s just that it ought to be voted on and brought up in a public discussion," he said of why he decided to include it in the list of complaints he went through at his last board meeting.

Mayor James Gaughan, who declined to answer questions over the phone this week, said in a written statement to The Enterprise, "I recall that the discussions were positive and supportive among trustees." He went on to say that the banner purchase was legal because a transfer of funds in the budget was approved at a June board meeting. According to Village Clerk Jean LaCrosse, that meeting was held on June 6. Trustee Kerry Dineen had already placed the order for the banners on June 1, according to the company that produced them.

The banners were hung in the village by the end of June and the voucher to approve payment for them was initialed by three trustees in July. The board approved that voucher as part of an abstract – a group of bills that the village needed to pay – at the August village board meeting.

"You have to get approval," said Eamon Moynihan of New York’s Department of State when asked if it was legal for one trustee to spend municipal funds without board approval. However, since the board later approved the vouchers that allowed for the payment for the banners, it may have become legal retroactively, he said. But he asked, by way of example: If you steal your neighbor’s television, is it still illegal if he gives it to you later"

Although the state comptroller’s office would not comment on a specific case, spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman referred to the office’s fourth opinion of 2003, regarding a fire district in Syosset, which bought Christmas decorations, since it was a similar situation. The opinion says, in part, "A board of fire commissioners of a fire district may ratify a purchase authorized by a single fire commissioner without the prior approval of the board, and audit and approve a claim for such a purchase, but only if the board could have authorized the purchase in the first instance."

Vlahos initialed the voucher for the banners, along with Dineen and Trustee Bill Aylward, in July. The purpose of a voucher is to approve payment from the village to its vendors, Village Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck said. The banners were hanging from utility poles around the village before the three trustees signed their initials.

Vlahos said that he initialed the voucher at that point because the banners had already been made, delivered, and hung.

If the village hadn’t approved the payment, it would have likely faced a lawsuit from Rileighs Outdoor Décor, the Bethlehem, Pa. company that created the banners. It’s a small operation, said company representative Rick Snyder, so the company doesn’t accept returns on custom-made items like the banners it made for Altamont and it would sue to recover payment, "especially with a municipality," he said.

"We do it all in good faith," said Snyder of the many verbal orders the company handles, like the one he said Dineen placed on June 1 for Altamont’s banners. "We assume the funds have been approved. We expect to collect for the work we’ve done."

In Altamont elections

Aylward, Marshall as trustee, Hout as judge

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Voters elected two trustees and a judge in Tuesday’s uncontested village election, and there were a handful of write-in votes for a seat on the village board.

All three candidates were pleased with the voter turnout – 176 people cast ballots.

Trustee William Aylward, an incumbent, got 158 votes, newcomer Chris Marshall pulled in 159 votes for a seat on the board, and Rebecca Hout, who has served as a village judge for 13 years, garnered 142 votes.

Fourteen voters wrote in for Trustee Harvey Vlahos, who decided not to seek re-election, but only nine of those votes could be counted because of technicalities in where they were written, said Village Clerk Jean Lacrosse.

"I thought it was a real fine outcome for an uncontested," said Aylward a veteran politician. He has served as Altamont’s mayor, Guilderland’s supervisor, and is currently an Albany County legislator.

When asked how he thought the new board would behave as opposed to the old, he said, "It will differ in that I think we will have a more homogeneous approach."

His running mate, Marshall, echoed that answer when she said, "I personally think that we will work very cooperatively."

Both expressed gratitude to voters who supported them and said that they looked forward to the four years to come.

"It was very heartening," said Judge Hout of the election. Hout, a lawyer, said she enjoys serving as a judge for the village because it gives her an opportunity to use skills that she wouldn’t be able to use otherwise and she likes to feel like she’s giving back to the community.

The biggest change she sees for her coming term is that all proceedings will soon be recorded. The village, which has two part-time judges, has gotten a grant to pay for the equipment, she said.

For Aylward’s coming term, senior housing is tops his to-do list, he said. Prior to the election, he said that implementing the village’s new comprehensive plan was most important.

Marshall’s first month will likely be dominated by budget discussion, she said. Before the election, she, too, listed the comprehensive plan as the most important thing for the village in the coming years.

[Return to Home Page]