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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 23, 2007

‘Not over’
Marturano fighting to get full pension

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE– Although a settlement has been reached between the Voorheesville School District and the retired assistant superintendent for business, Dr. Anthony Marturano, he says, "It’s not over for me."

Marturano is now fighting for his pension with the Teachers’ Retirement System. His income was reduced as a result of the January, 2006 audit released by the office of the former state comptroller, Alan Hevesi. The report accused Marturano and former Superintendent Alan McCartney of "inappropriately" paying themselves $216,000 for unused leave and other employment benefits.

Marturano went two months without his pension, he said, and has since been living on a reduced amount.

"There was no celebration in my house because we reached an agreement," said Marturano from his home in Florida last week.

"It’s like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: You’re glad when it stops, but the damage is still there," he said.

Marturano has spent more than $50,000 on legal fees, which does not include medical bills, he said. "We’re looking at $70,000 more in losses for the TRS fight," he said, referring to the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The current superintendent, Linda Langevin, termed the settlement "neutral" as neither side paid. Marturano, accused by Hevesi’s office of collecting $89,069 over 11 years, has consistently maintained his innocence. Board members took no responsibility for approving most of the payments.

Contracts between the school district and the administrators obtained by The Enterprise through Freedom of Information Law requests showed multiple versions for the same time periods, some with stipulations that were not allowed by law.

"They seemed to have little interest as to whether it was true," Marturano told The Enterprise. "Those charges were baseless," he said of the audit findings.

He gave an example of the difference between the presentation to the press and his reality.

"Calls were made from Marturano’s district-issued cell phone from Chicago and Nashville on one day, but he did not charge time nor was he approved to travel for school business," said a release from Hevesi’s office in January of 2006.

The "real story," said Marturano, is that his wife, who, at the time, was in between operations for breast cancer, traveled to Nashville to visit their daughter. "I gave her my phone with the blessing of the school district," he said. "This is the nature of these charges."

Albany County District Attorney David Soares’s office found that there was no basis to prosecute the two retired administrators. Soares said the school district’s "weak internal controls" are what likely led to the problems.

The school board initially felt differently. At the press conference in January of 2006 where Hevesi made his accusations, Joseph Pofit, the school board president at the time who later lost his re-election bid, said the board was "outraged" the former officials would purposely manipulate people and internal controls to enrich themselves.

The district filed civil suits on the day of the press conference to recoup the funds and claimed that McCartney and Marturano were deceitful and the board was misled by its trust in them. (For further background, consult www.altamontenterprise.com; look under "Archives" for Jan. 26 and Nov. 23 in 2006 and April 12 and Aug. 9 in 2007, under "New Scotland.")

The district has spent over $120,000 on legal costs, internal auditing, and a temporary replacement for the current superintendent for business, Sarita Winchell. In all, the district recovered $40,000 from a settlement with McCartney. He was accused in a later comptroller’s audit to have spent nearly $12,000 on personal needs while Marturano was not implicated of any wrongdoing.

Marturano paid the school district nothing. "I agreed to drop my lawsuit against the board and pay nothing. They agreed to drop their lawsuit and help me in my fight against TRS," he said.

"We’re already working with him and his attorney to rectify the situation," said John Cardillo, a spokesman with the Teachers’ Retirement System. At this point, he said, "It’s a matter of confirming with the district that the information provided to us is accurate, and recalculate the benefits."

Board response

Robert Baron served on the school board from 1995 to 2005, during the period that both former administrators were accused of inappropriate payments to themselves. He told The Enterprise last week that he believes the school district "got used" by Hevesi’s office. "I think they got pushed to go public," Baron said.

The district "moved too quickly," he said. "They didn’t take the time to gather all the facts they should have" I was surprised they took action so early on. They cut down all the lines of communication."

The district had to respond in some way, Baron said. "If they had approached it differently, they may have come out with a different outcome.

"There is no question in my mind that he was a hard-working, dedicated administrator for the district," Baron said of Marturano. "I’m glad that the school board closed the door on this matter so we can move on and get back to the business of education."

"The $120,000 we spent is the cost of doing business," said school board Vice President C. James Coffin. Coffin has served multiple five-year terms on the school board. "On occasion, you’ve got to dig into your pocket," he said. "There are things you simply can’t walk away from" so you face them, and you get the debts cleared.

"We’re past it. The issue is resolved," Coffin said. "It’s another page in a long story" We’ve covered all the bases and life goes on," he said. "My job was to move the district forward and that’s what I did," Coffin said.

Pofit, who was ousted in the 2006 school-board election, told The Enterprise last week that, because he wasn’t involved in any negotiations with either of the retired administrators, he didn’t think it was "proper" to say anything regarding the settlements.

As a taxpayer of the district, he said, "I am pleased with the fact that this is now behind us." The district can now focus on providing the "highest caliber education" to its students, he said. "It’s time to move on and forge ahead," said Pofit.

"My life is literally over"

Marturano said that he has always wanted to teach. "I can’t remember ever not wanting that," he said, recalling how he tutored classmates when he was in the sixth grade.

"I loved Voorheesville — the town, the kids," Marturano said. "I devoted myself to making it the best place it could be for the kids," he said.

"Al McCartney and I made sure it was safe," said Marturano. "We, many times, would be at school functions while our own children were doing things we couldn’t see," he said. "That job is not a 40-hour-per-week job," he added.

"Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished," Marturano said.

He retired from his position at Voorheesville in 2002, and moved with his wife, Leslie, to Florida, where the couple still lives.
They have been married for nearly 39 years, Mrs. Marturano told The Enterprise.

"It’s been hell," she said bluntly of the past 18 months since the audit was released.

Her husband "devoted his life to education and was a wonderful administrator," she said. It has been a horrible monetary, emotional, and physical experience, she said.

"This has just been awful," said Mrs. Marturano. "I find it hard to forgive the people who did this to him.

"It’s the guilty-until-proven-innocent thing that hurts the most," said Mrs. Marturano.

Dr. Marturano has done his best to not burden his wife, she said. "Fighting this together has made us stronger," she said. "I think it has strengthened our relationship," she said, adding, "There is never any peace of mind."

The wounds inflicted by this, said Dr. Marturano, extend deeper than a tarnished reputation and thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees. "All of this has irreparably affected our health," he said.

"We’re just not the same people — physically or psychologically," Marturano said. "One doesn’t eat, one doesn’t sleep," he said. He has lost a significant amount of weight, suffers from headaches, and, he added, "the recurrence of cancer is an issue.

"The list goes on and on," he said. "My life is literally over."

No winners

"In the end, everybody spent a great deal of money, and reputations were ruined," Baron said. "If we took the money that was spent on everybody’s legal fees and what the state spent on the audit, and put it into education, imagine where we’d be," he said.

McCartney treated people with respect, Marturano said of his former colleague. "I think he was treated as badly as a person can be treated," he said.

"There are no winners here," Marturano said. "There’s no moving on."

Though Marturano was teaching at a college in Florida when the audit came out, he considers himself now to be unemployable. "Who wants someone who is tainted"" he asked.

The settlement states that, if the district is contacted for a reference regarding Marturano, it will respond, "Dr. Marturano served as assistant superintendent and chief fiscal officer of the district from January 1991 to August 2002, but there is no one still on staff able to provide any particulars." The district may also suggest, that any prospective employer "contact whatever references [are] given them by Dr. Marturano," the settlement says.

"There’s no public exoneration here," Marturano said. "The state is not coming out and saying they made any mistakes," he said.

"We’ll stand by our audit findings," Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson with the comptroller’s office, told The Enterprise last week.

"Sometimes it’s lost that they did not find a penny not properly spent under my watch," Marturano said. "Thirty-five years of dedication to kids is irretrievably gone," he said.

"I just hope people understand that I always conduct myself with honor and integrity," he said. "That’s what I taught my students — that it was never worth it to do something like that."

Marturano is "grateful" that the board was finally willing to settle, but, he concluded, "My nightmare continues."

Parmenter takes home prize

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Elemental Landscapes, Inc., a Voorheesville business owned by Jerry Parmenter, won an award for Garden Structures and Pavements, costing between $10,000 and $25,000, from the New York State Nursery and Landscape Association.

The association’s Environmental Beautification Award program is meant to educate members as well as the public on new trends in landscaping.

The winning designs, including Parmenter’s irregular natural stone patio, built in Delmar, are featured in the association’s publications and on its website. A formal presentation was made on Arbor Day in Albany and the winners will be recognized again next week at the state fair in Syracuse.

The president of the association praised Parmenter’s creativity and attention to detail.

Parmenter is president of the Northeastern New York Nursery and Landscape Association and is in his seventh year of business. He received the same award last year for a landscape he constructed in Slingerlands.

Parmenter received a bachelor of science degree in horticulture, with honors, from Cornell University before apprenticing as a stone mason in Great Britain for two years.

He specializes in landscape design, primarily hardscape construction.

Mentors help new teachers, and learn themselves

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – For new teachers, the transition from years of studying and being the recipient of knowledge and new ideas, to becoming the teacher who must find a way to inspire a room full of students to learn, can be challenging.

Having a mentor can ease the burden.

Last week, Voorheesville’s school board approved a teacher-mentor program "to improve new teacher performance, increase retention of promising teachers, and to meet state requirements for certification," the document says.

Voorheesville is a "challenging district," Superintendent Linda Langevin told The Enterprise this week. "We understood these new teachers need support."

The district has had a mentor policy for about seven years, said Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association. The new program is "a bit more formalized," she said.

Fiero, a remedial math teacher at the elementary school, has been teaching in the district for 16 years.

The mentor program is "valuable" to the district, said Fiero. "It helps the new teacher become a part of the culture very quickly," she said. Mentors help to orient the new teachers to all the "housekeeping things," she said, such as codes for copy machines.

They also guide new teachers through things such as report cards, open houses, and classroom management, said Fiero.

The mentor provides the new teacher with "someone they can go to for pretty much anything they would need," Fiero said.

Voorheesville prides itself on having teachers that are "very high caliber," said Langevin. New teachers, she said, "have a challenge ahead of them."

The program "gives them a chance to excel right from the beginning at a pace they can feel good about," said Langevin of new teachers.

"I think it’s very comprehensive," Langevin said of the program. It is beneficial to the district, she said, not only in the support it provides to the new teachers, but also, she said, "Teachers will feel more confident in their preparation."

The program applies to teachers who are new to the district at all grade levels, said Langevin.

At last Monday night’s meeting, board member Timothy Blow expressed his concern that the experienced teacher acting as the mentor might try to "squash" fresh ideas that the new teacher brings to the district.

The mentorship program is designed to facilitate a "teaching atmosphere," Langevin explained. "It’s not meant to box teachers in at all," she said.

A veteran teacher in the audience spoke up to say that she learned from the new teacher she mentored, as much as she taught. "I think it’s a two-way street," she said.

Elementary school Principal Kenneth Lein reinforced her comment by saying, "There is a nice sharing of ideas."

Mentor vs. mentee roles

The roles of the mentor, according to the policy, are to be an "instructional, professional and personal supporter; liaison with administration and other teachers; confidential colleague providing feedback; resource in the areas of school policy, procedures and routines," and, lastly, it says, a friend.

The new teacher’s role, the policy says, is to "be a team player and offer critical reflections on his or her own practice," and to be "a person who seeks feedback, who accepts criticism, who initiates questions and is candid in communicating classroom issues."

The mentors will be compensated for their time at the rate of $25 per hour, with a maximum of $2,000 or 80 hours per mentee in a year.

"Training and any professional development associated with the enhancement of mentoring skills will be loggable hours and will be compensated," the policy states.

Principal Lein and a group of teachers will be attending a New York State United Teachers mentor training program this fall, said Langevin.

All new teachers are assigned a mentor, Fiero explained. Mentors are assigned based upon a "mutual agreement" between the school’s principal and the prospective mentor, the policy states. The goal is to provide the new teacher with a mentor who has experience at the same grade level or in the same subject, Fiero explained.

It’s optional on the part of the mentor, she said. "Usually, people are willing to do it because we want new teachers to succeed."

A lot of districts have mentor programs, said Fiero. "I think it’s great."

Other business

In other business at last Monday’s meeting, the board:

– Approved a tax-warrant adjustment, bringing the tax levy increase down from 5.59 percent to 3.95 percent;

– Approved the appointment of Mariel Chu as the district’s first social worker, with a probationary term of three years, and a salary of $45,500;

– Approved Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) as the provider for website services for the district one day per week, at a cost that will not exceed $17,842 for the year. The board appointed Gregory Coffey as the district’s communications specialist one day a week;

– Approved substitute teacher appointments for the 2006-07 school year that were presented by the Capital Region BOCES substitute registry;

– Approved the attendance of six school-board members and Superintendent Langevin at the annual convention of the New York State School Boards Association in New York City from Oct. 25 through the 28. The registration fee is $385 per person, and lodging is $199 per night;

– Appointed board member Kevin Kroencke as the voting delegate at the annual business meeting of the New York State School Boards Association on Oct. 27 in New York City. Board member Thomas McKenna was selected as the alternate;
– Approved a number of out-of-town student field trips: The senior class, using class funds, will have a luncheon at Thacher Park on Sept 17; The Ninth-Grade Academy will also have lunch at Thacher Park on Sept. 14, at a cost to the district; Advanced Placement history and English 11 honors students will take a trip to Salem, Mass. on Oct. 5, at a cost of around $50 per student; eighth-grade students will travel to New York City on Oct. 12, at a cost of $45 per student; and students in the Model United Nations will travel to Brown University in Providence, R.I., at a cost of $150 to $200 per student;

– Declared a 1989 Chevrolet salt truck as "surplus/obsolete" and delegated a business official to dispose of it in "a manner consistent with current laws and regulations";

– Approved the 2007-08 BOCES classroom rental and ancillary services agreement;

– Approved the 2007-08 preliminary contracts between the district and Capital Region BOCES for services provided by BOCES during the 2007-08 school year. The board also approved an amended 2006-07 final contract;

– Renewed the agreement with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna for legal services through June 30, 2008, at a retainer cost of $24,000 and a non-retainer cost of $185 per hour;

– Approved membership in the Capital District School Boards Association for the 2007-08 school year at a cost of $100;

– Renewed the merger between the Voorheesville Central School District and the Guilderland Central School District boys’ and girls’ varsity swim teams for the 2007-08 school year;

– Appointed Dr. Cheryl Dozier as a volunteer consultant for the 2007-08 school year. Dozier will facilitate a study group investigation of student achievement needs; her focus for this coming year will be eighth- and ninth-grade programs;

– Announced that the middle-school locker night will be held on Sept. 5 from 4 to 7 p.m.;

– Appointed Linda Hladun to assist in preparing 5,500 continuing-education brochures for mailing, at a cost of $10.50 per hour for 10 hours;

– Announced that the first day of school will be Monday, Sept. 10. In previous years, school has started on the Thursday following Labor Day, but the date was pushed back this year to ensure that construction work is complete;

– Approved the first reading of amendments to school-board policies on school-district records, public participation at board meetings, and capital assets;

– Heard from a parent requesting that the district install racks for safe storage of bicycles; she said her son had a $600 bicycle that was run over and destroyed by a lawnmower on school grounds;

– Approved the school lunch budget for the 2007-08 school year, and increased the price for type A lunches at the elementary school from $1.75 to $2.00, and at the middle and high schools from $2.00 to $2.25.

Type A lunches are meals that have three of five components required by the federal government, in order to generate some reimbursement.

The board also canceled the federal and state breakfast program at the elementary school, beginning in September. The school lunch manager will make provisions available for students who are eligible for free and reduced breakfast on an "as-need basis." Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said that last year, there were only about two or three students per day taking advantage of the program.

– Adjusted the hours of food-service helper, Tasha Deyo, for "reasons of economy": from five to four hours per day; and

– Following an executive session discussion, the board voted to increase Superintendent Langevin’s salary by 3.5 percent, or $4,528, for the 2007-08 school year, effective July 1, 2007, making her salary $133,903.

The board will consider a contract extension for Langevin at its Sept. 10 meeting.

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