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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 12, 2007

Paying his due
McCartney gives V’ville $40K

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – After more than a year of litigation between retired Superintendent Alan McCartney and the Voorheesville School District, a settlement has been reached, and McCartney has paid the district $40,000.

The settlement was reached on December 18 and was agreed upon between the two parties, but was not official until a stipulation of discontinuance was filed; it was received by the Albany County Clerk on March 22.

The school board, at its April 2 meeting, announced that a settlement that was "not to be disclosed in public" had been reached with McCartney. The Enterprise received a copy of the document after filing a Freedom of Information Law request last week.

"The board felt it was in the best interest of the taxpayers to accept a settlement," said school-board President David Gibson this week.

In January of 2006 the state comptroller’s office announced that an audit of the Voorheesville School District found that McCartney and former Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano had inappropriately paid themselves $216,000. The school district filed civil suits against the two men to try and recoup the money. The case against Marturano is still pending.

Marturano told The Enterprise this week that he is "fighting it."

That was an "incompetent piece of work by the comptroller’s office," said Stephen Coffey, McCartney’s attorney. "He didn’t steal anything," Coffey said this week of his client.

An investigation by Albany County District Attorney David Soares’s office found no basis for criminal charges. Soares cited the school district’s "weak internal controls" were to blame.

A second audit was released by the office of the state comptroller in November and said that McCartney had charged nearly $12,000 in personal expenses to the district. Marturano was not implicated of any wrongdoing in the second audit.

In a memorandum from Superintendent Linda Langevin to the school board in August, she outlined the legal fees the district had accrued to that point – the figure was nearly $102,000. Langevin said last week that it seemed unlikely the school district’s legal fees will be covered by insurance.

Langevin said this week that, "the legal fees were well invested.

"We needed to do what we did in order to handle the matter as best we could," Langevin said.

Following the second audit, the District Attorney’s office said it was reviewing the case. Coffey said Wednesday that, "The matter is not under review by the District Attorney’s office, no criminal charges are being contemplated, and as far as prosecutorial authorities are concerned, this case is now over."

That is entirely true for the findings of the first audit, said Heather Orth, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office. But, in regards to the second audit, "no determination has been made either way," she said. The case, Orth said, "could be considered open."

"That is absurd," Coffey said of the District Attorney’s assertion that the case is still open. "The fact of the matter is, there is no criminal conduct."

Coffey also told The Enterprise on Wednesday that Gibson’s declaration at last week’s meeting that McCartney had counter-sued the district was "incorrect."

McCartney "interposed a defense to the complaint and that was the extent of his involvement."

Gibson told The Enterprise that he had misspoken. "I made a mistake. His attorney is correct."

Coffey said that it was "particularly irresponsible" for Gibson to have "commented incorrectly."

"Past is the past"

"I’m satisfied with the settlement," said school-board Vice President C. James Coffin. "A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this."

The agreement states that both parties "knowingly and voluntarily release and forever discharge each other, of and from any and all actions or causes of action, suits, claims, charges, complaints, and promises whatsoever, in law or equity, which they may now have or hereafter can, shall or may have against each other from the beginning of time until the date of this release."

"Any time you reach a settlement, everyone is giving a little bit," Coffey told The Enterprise. "It’s a settlement, he’s content with it," he added on McCartney’s behalf.

McCartney told The Enterprise last week that he "really would rather just get past it."

"He’s been horribly affected," Coffey said of McCartney. "He was extremely upset of the allegations of criminal conduct."

McCartney did not return multiple calls from The Enterprise this week.

The $40,000 settlement, Langevin said, is "a fair estimate" I feel satisfied."

Coffin said that he is glad the whole thing can be put behind them. "It’s closure" We can move on."

The board did "everything humanly possible," Coffin said.

"It’s important that the board handled this in a manner that respected all of us" And I think they did a great job," Langevin said.

Gibson told The Enterprise that although it is good to move on, "We don’t intend to forget it. We don’t want to forget the learning."

The issue is not about feelings, Gibson said, "It’s not about whether we are angry or upset" It’s about the best interest of the people we serve – the students and the community."

"The past is the past," Langevin said. The process was "very painful" for the community and the district, she said. "I feel saddened it happened at all."

"The parties have settled their differences and, you move on," said Coffey.

Moving forward

The district’s internal controls needed to be updated, Langevin told The Enterprise this week. "We’ve tightened up everything in this office very much."

She explained that she signs off on all expenditures, and anything that she may have questions on she gives to the district’s internal auditor to review. The position was one that was created in light of the comptroller’s audit.

"We’re tracked constantly on what we’re doing," Langevin went on. "That’s a good feeling" It’s very beneficial to the district, it’s a sense of security.

"We have done everything that needed to be done to ensure that this will never again happen in Voorheesville," she told The Enterprise.

Gibson agreed that the internal controls within the district "were not what they should have been." Substantial changes have been made, he said.

Coffin, who has served on the board for many years, said that he thought the internal controls were good before the audit; now, he said, "they are the best of the best."

Even the best-laid plans are sometimes not adequate, he said. "The internal controls we’ve put in place are as long as my arm."

"I believe we are a very trustworthy entity at this point," Langevin said.

Gibson said that the comptroller’s office "has given guidance to us all" I think we’re better off than we were before."

Langevin said that one thing she has learned is that people really care about the district. "The community and the employees really believe in Voorheesville."

School drafts new tobacco policy

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Addiction is difficult. Nearly everyone has been affected in some way by nicotine addiction, or its side effects, in their personal lives or the lives of someone they love, said Voorheesville Superintendent Linda Langevin.

The first reading of an updated tobacco-use policy was approved at last Monday’s school board meeting. The policy, drafted by the district’s planning and governance committee, took into consideration feedback provided by students and community members, said Langevin.

A draft of the policy was posted on the district’s website in December with a feedback survey attached to it, allowing for comments and suggestions. Langevin said she received responses from 75 students, ranging in age from fifth-graders to 11th-graders.

"I read everything myself and took notes," Langevin said, regarding the feedback.

The students who responded were concerned about their siblings and families, and wanted to be sure they didn’t pick up the habit, she said. They wanted to have strong enforcement of the policy, Langevin said, adding that she was surprised that some students thought that anti-tobacco programs should start in kindergarten.

The percentage of smoking teens at Clayton A. Bouton High School is "probably miniscule right now," Principal Mark Diefendorf told The Enterprise. "I think the message has gotten through to the kids" and they’re choosing not to smoke," he said.

According to the American Lung Association, in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 22 percent of high-school students were current smokers and 11.7 percent of middle-school students smoked.

The draft policy prohibits the "possession or use of tobacco or related items" at any time on school property. Included in the policy’s definition of tobacco is "any lighted or unlighted cigarette, cigar, cigarillo, pipe, bidi, clove cigarette, spit tobacco (smokeless, dip, chew and/or snuff) and any other tobacco product in any form." It also includes smoking paraphernalia such as lighters and rolling papers.

The policy applies to students, staff, and members of the community.

"All administrators, faculty, and staff will be encouraged to enforce the tobacco policy. Students will be encouraged to inform school employees if they encounter tobacco use on the premises but are not expected to confront violators," the policy states.

Board members were divided on the issue of enforcement at the April 2 meeting.

"Discretion with the tobacco policy holds the same problems as the dress code," said board member Paige Pierce. Pierce, along with board members Kevin Kroencke and Richard Brackett, were not in favor of the stricter dress code passed in July.

"I’ve heard from several students that the dress code is not working," Pierce added, stressing that smoking cigarettes is an addiction, and the administration needs to handle it seriously.

Repeatedly suspending the smokers makes it increasingly more difficult for them to graduate, and is not a favorable resolution, she said. The disciplinary measures for students who are found to be using or in possession of tobacco products "will be defined by the school’s Code of Conduct," the policy says.

The district’s code of conduct states that, "disciplinary action, when necessary, will be firm, fair, and consistent so as to be the most effective in changing student behavior."

"A Tobacco Education Program may be offered as an alternative to suspension at the discretion of the administration," the tobacco-use policy says. "Students who are disciplined for any tobacco-related offense will be offered intervention service such as voluntary cessation and counseling programs."

The cessation program will be funded through grant money, Langevin said. Four trained staff members will volunteer to work the program, she told the board last Monday.

"I’d like to give the discretion to the administrators," said board member Thomas McKenna.

"If we can’t trust our administrators to be fair, then we need to get rid of those administrators and get new ones," said school-board President David Gibson.

Diefendorf said he would love to see the number of students and staff members who smoke to be reduced to zero, but, he said, "It is a small number already."

The high school will be hosting a Cold Turkey Day and a Kick Butts Day, to encourage smokers to quit, Diefendorf said.

Though the numbers of students who are caught smoking on school grounds has decreased, "Smoking is still a sign of one’s independence," he said.

The few students that Diefendorf knows who "are involved with ingesting cigarettes" aren’t interested in participating in the school-sponsored events to encourage quitting, he said.

A copy of the draft policy is available on the district’s website, and feedback is still being accepted, Langevin told The Enterprise this week.

Last year’s federally-required wellness policy received a widespread positive reaction, she said, and she anticipates a similar reaction to the tobacco policy, which will be voted on at the May 7 school-board meeting.

Langevin is hoping the policy will "ensure that people will make healthy choices," she said.

Other business

In other business, at recent meetings, the school board:

– Accepted the resignations of Thomas Kurkjian, a social studies teacher for 36 years; Estelle Sullivan, a science teacher for 22 years; and Susanne Hudacs, a social studies teacher for 21 years;

– Approved the 2007-08 Kids’ Club Building Agreement. The annual rental fee for the after-school program is $7,000. New York State requires a minimum of 35 square feet per child, and, because of space restrictions with an additional fourth-grade class and construction set to begin this summer, the program may have to be scaled back. The program now serves from 120 to 130 students and would possibly need to be cut back to 100;

– Approved an out-of-town field trip for the International Club to Boston on May 2 at a cost of $12 per student plus transportation costs;

– Accepted in-kind and gift donations to the district totaling $11,908.68 for the 2007-08 budget. The elementary school will receive $1,914.34; the secondary school will receive $1,694.34; and humanities programs will receive $8,300;

– Approved the attendance of four staff members at the 15th annual Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. from June 30 through July 3, at a cost of $765 per person plus lodging. The four members of the steering committee will join 13 staff members who were previously approved. The trip will mark the "last of the trips to D.C. for a while," Diefendorf told the board. Richard Brackett was the only board member who opposed the expenditure;

– Announced that petitions for candidates interested in running for the school board are due on April 13 at 4 p.m. Candidates must be at least 18 years old, live in the district, and cannot be employed by the district;

– Announced that a Parent-Teacher Association meeting will be held on April 19 at 7 p.m. in the elementary-school cafeteria. Board members and the architect for the construction project will be present to answer questions;

– Approved the amortization of the $4.8 million bond at a declining debt schedule;

– Approved early dismissal for elementary-school students on June 21 to help teachers with the final packing and moving prior to the start of construction. School will let out at 11:50 a.m.;

– Announced that a special board meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. to approve bids for the capital project;

– Created an ad-hoc standard-of-teaching-quality committee to establish criteria to serve as the standard for the educational system. The committee will be made up of board members Gibson and Kroencke; high-school Principal Diefendorf; elementary-school Principal Ken Lein; teachers Tony Thanopoulos, Kathy Fiero, and Sheila Lobel; and Superintendent Langevin; and

– Entered into executive session to discuss current litigation and the employment history of particular individuals. No actions were made following the session.

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