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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 22, 2007

Planning board approves cluster development on Grant Hill Road

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Developers for a project on Grant Hill Road received planning-board approval last week after a year-long wait.

The proposed clustered subdivision caused neighbors and board members to worry about wetlands on the property, and to worry about odors from both a nearby farm and a wastewater treatment plant.

Pat and Frank Marotta want to create 14 lots on 41.4 acres with 3-acre agriculture zoning. Kay Kambe-Stone, of Charles H. Sells, Inc. engineering, said that 30.5 acres would be conserved.

Kambe-Stone said that an eight-inch sanitary line will run from Grant Hill Road and through the development. Access to the line will be from a walking trail open to the public, she said.

Board member Lindsay Childs noted that the proposed path is on top of wetlands, and board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that the plan shows a creek there. Charles H. Sells engineer Mark Jacobsen said that his office will check on how to provide access.

Kambe-Stone said that most house sites will need to be back-filled, and that the house basements will be at ground-water level.

Jacobsen said that a structural wall will be erected along one property edge. Feeney said that the final plan submitted to the town must show the details of the wall proposed.

"I was hoping for some landscaping in there," Feeney said.

Jacobsen said that climbing ivy will be the only type of landscaping possible.

"It simply wouldn’t be an option. It’s too steep to hold trees or shrubs," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen said that the plan called for a wooden guide rail, but that a less maintenance-intensive choice of material would be chosen with the town highway superintendent.

Feeney noted that there is no drainage easement with the town, but Jacobsen said that there probably needs to be.

"I’m trying not to be too picky, but it’s picky time, right" Preliminary"" Feeney said. "I just worry about these easements between lots that become problematic down the line."

The plan must be approved by the town-designated engineer, the town highway superintendent, and the town water superintendent. Future deeds must note the presence of agricultural activity, the waste-water treatment plant, and a nearby shooting range. Culvert and trail designs will need town approval, the board said.

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — It’s not too late to get a tax break for 2007.

The state’s acting commissioner of taxation and finance, Barbara Billet, announced earlier this month that the deadline for New York’s School Tax Relief (STAR) program would be extended by a month, until Dec. 31.

Of Guilderland’s 10,059 residential properties, about 88 percent of them take advantage of the tax relief, according to the town assessor, Carol Wysomski. Some properties, however, aren’t eligible, she added.

"The key is, they have to reside on the premises to get the exemption," she said of eligibility for the program. Some houses in town are rentals, and are therefore ineligible for STAR.

Residents over the age of 65 can use the Enhanced STAR program if their income does not exceed $70,650, Wysomski said. And any homeowner who lives on his property is eligible for Basic STAR, she said, with proof of residency, which can be shown with a phone bill or driver’s license.

Those who would like to apply for STAR can do so online by going to www.nystax.gov.

GHS music program hits a high note

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The 100 public high schools with the best music programs in the country are recognized each year as Grammy Signature School finalists. For 2008, Guilderland High School is among the finalists.

"I did a massive essay application," said Lori Hershenhart, the district’s music supervisor. "We have one month to finish our submission with recorded copies of performances."

The top 15 schools then receive grants, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000, she said, and the top several finalists have Grammy Award-winning performers come to their schools.

The screening is done by leading music educators and industry professionals. The winners are announced in January.

Hershenhart said she entered the competition last year, with no results; the year before that, Guilderland made it to the top 100 but no further.

"It’s nice to be recognized in any way," Hershenhart said. "You go against powerhouse schools."

She went on, "We’re just very excited to have the recognition for the work we do. We feel we have a top-notch program."

Music instruction in Guilderland’s five elementary schools starts in the first grade. "We have a very strong sequential curriculum," said Hershenhart, which focuses on the tonal and rhythmic qualities of music.

Beginning in fourth and fifth grades, students can take lessons on an instrument and join a choir.

The program builds through middle school and high school. Guilderland High School has 13 different performing groups, including bands, choruses, and orchestras — ranging from a jazz band to a chamber string group.

All the school concerts are free and open to the public. Hershenhart is particularly excited about an upcoming "master works concert." On Dec. 20 at 7:30 in the high-school auditorium, the concert choir and symphony orchestra will perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.

The high school has recently added courses in Advanced Placement music theory, which is taught at a college level, and on music technology.

The course on music technology is so popular that students are admitted by lottery, said Hershenhart. It is taught in a computer lab, she said, with students using keyboards that look like a piano but smaller, on which they can manipulate sound.

Hershenhart credited an "exemplary staff" for the success Guilderland music students have had in a wide range of competitions. Nancy Casellini, Kathy Ehlinger, Jeff Herchenroder, Lee Russo, and Rae Jean Teeter compose the high school music faculty.

But success is not just measured by those students performing at the pinnacle, Hershenhart said. "You can have excellence in the classroom when a child is playing a basic piece with pride," she said.

"We have marvelous teachers who are exquisite musicians," concluded Hershenhart. "They share their love and craft with their students."

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A self-professed football fan and music booster took the school board to task last week for not giving the arts as much support as the athletes.

Patti Percoski, a cafeteria worker whose children have graduated from the high school, said, when singers were chosen to compete nationally, other finalist schools were more supportive than Guilderland. She also told the school board last Tuesday that Guilderland concerts are attended by the family and friends of performers while sports events attract many more spectators. She said principals, school board presidents, and superintendents attend concerts in other school districts.

The Enterprise has published lengthy pieces on Guilderland music programs written by Percoski, who complained that sports get more coverage.

Percoski said she chose Guilderland because of its strong arts program but now it is a "different district," focused "on competition and driven by technology fever."

She urged the board to give the performers and directors "the respect and support they deserve."

In a recent discussion of budget priorities for the upcoming year, three of the nine board members named the arts as a priority.

"The district is deeply committed to its music program," Superintendent Gregory Aidala told The Enterprise after last Tuesday’s meeting. In school budgets in recent years, he said, "We have allocated additional funds for equipment replacement."

On a more personal note, Aidala, who retired on Friday, went on, "I’m a strong supporter of the arts. I personally enjoy going to a concert. I’ve been averaging three nights a week," he said of evenings devoted to school functions. "I also relish time with my family...When my kids were performing, I was there as a parent first. I don’t think you have to apologize for that."

"The administration is very supportive of the music department and the arts in general," District Music Supervisor Lori Hershenhart told The Enterprise.

Asked about attendance at concerts, she said, "We always welcome large crowds...The more the merrier."

Proposed policy changes

Cathy Barber, who chairs the board’s policy committee, presented changes to three policies, on which the board will vote at its next meeting on Nov. 27.

The federally-required wellness policy, developed in 2006, is being updated.

The bulk of the discussion, which at times grew heated, centered on changes to policies on notice of meetings and on board committees, to be in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Law.

The board held a special morning meeting in September to appoint a new superintendent. Later, board member Hy Dubowsky, referring to Enterprise coverage of the session, said that the press should have been notified by the district about the special meeting. Dubowsky also said that board committees should comply with the Open Meetings Law.

The proposed policy change says that committee meetings should be held in public, with notice given in advance. For the policy on notice of meetings, the proposal says, when a special meeting is scheduled less than a week in advance, the board will provide public notice "to the extent practicable and post notice of such meetings as well as notify official school newspapers."

The official newspapers, which are designated each year at the re-organizational meeting, to post legal notices, are currently The Altamont Enterprise and The Daily Gazette.

"It seems we’re going out of our way not to inform the Times Union and the Spotlight," said board member Peter Golden. "You do better with the press if you make things easier for them, not harder."

He compared the way John Kennedy handled the press as opposed to Richard Nixon and said Guilderland’s approach "sounds like the Nixon option."

Golden made no mention of local television stations although they have sent reporters to Guilderland School Board meetings several times in the last 15 years, more than either of the local daily newspapers.

"The more open you are, the better you are," said board member Barbara Fraterrigo.

"The idea was to have reasonable notice," responded Barber. "There’s a lot of media out there."

"It comes off as petty...making journalists’ lives harder because you don’t like the coverage...You get back what you give," said Golden.

"The way it’s written is the minimum requirement...Once you start listing papers," said Vice President John Dornbush, "you’d have to go back in and change the policy."

"Last time, people thought we had given notice to the media," said President Richard Weisz, referring to the September session to appoint the new superintendent. "It’s much better to give them a checklist."

Convention reports

"We learned a lot," said Collen O’Connell. She along with sister board members Gloria Towle-Hilt and Fraterrigo, attended the annual New York State School Boards Association convention, held this year in New York City.

O’Connell was particularly impressed with a presentation on managing public controversy. A beloved, long-time high-school teacher in western New York underwent a gender change, she said; the school district spent $100,000 to educate the community in preparation for accepting the change.

Towle-Hilt said "one of the proudest moments of the weekend" was hearing the Guilderland High School Wind Ensemble, which had been selected to perform at the convention.

She also praised a workshop on "millenials," or 21st-Century students, in the classroom. "Many of us regard information as something to consume while millenials regard it as raw material from which to create," said Towle-Hilt. "Today’s master teachers are master learners first."

Fraterrigo enjoyed listening to actor Henry Winkler who won fame on a sitcom as "The Fonz." "He shared history of dyslexia," she said. "He never knew what the problem was until his son was identified."

Fraterrigo also liked a workshop on school environment, depicting success stories where students had taken ownership of their schools. For example, when students decorated their bathrooms, there was less vandalism, she said.

Successful schools have intellectual, not just athletic, halls of fame, she said.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the school board:

— Approved, without discussion, payment of $46,955 to Collette Mechanical, Inc., which had sued the district. Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise that Collette Mechanical had done the heating and ventilation work at the new bus facility. "We’re paying them just the contract amount and any additional change orders," he said, declining further comment on the suit;

— Heard from Golden, who chairs the board’s business practices committee, that the committee had discussed the status of the historic cobblestone schoolhouse in Guilderland Center. "As soon as we have a clear title...we can decide how to dispense with it," said Golden. Sanders told The Enterprise that a family had owned the land where the 19th-Century schoolhouse stands and the title is unclear. The school district, in recent years, had re-roofed the building with the thought of using it as a venue for school field trips. "The building still needs a tremendous amount of work," said Sanders, noting it has no heat or electrical systems, and, he said, grant money is hard to come by;

— Heard from Altamont Elementary School Principal Peter Brabant that he and fifth-grade teacher Yvette Terplak had just returned from Washington, D.C., where they were in "very elite company," accepting a Blue Ribbon award for the school. "I am so glad that I am in Guilderland," said Brabant. "We may not be perfect but we do so much for our students";

— Appointed the Omni Group as the district’s third-party administrator for tax-sheltered annuities. Sanders explained that employees are allowed to put away money for retirement without being taxed, and the school district has to comply with the Internal Revenue Service regulations. "We just don’t have the expertise on staff to make sure we are in full compliance," he said. The Omni Group provides the service for about a third of the school districts in the state, said Sanders. "This is a very inexpensive way to get this done," said Golden. "Omni’s not trying to sell us a product," said O’Connell;

— Accepted two donations. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Herkenham donated a violin and Bruce Weeden donated 55 tickets to various women’s basketball games at the University of Albany for members of the Guilderland girls’ basketball team;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that two choral groups — Kerry Dineen’s Pine Bush Elementary Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Chorus and Starr Norman’s Eighth-Grade Chorus — will participate in WMHT’s Music for the Holidays;

— Learned that seventh-grader Kara Carman will participate in the People to People World Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. in March with other students, studying leadership and exploring American history and monuments;

— Learned that Meg Seinberg-Hughes, Guilderland Elementary School’s library media specialist, will serve as co-president of the Children’s Literature Connection, which is committed to enriching learning through professional development on children’s literature;

— Heard that Michael Piscitelli, high-school math and science supervisor, and Tierney Provost, elementary math teacher leader, were praised by the State Education Department for their work in the state Mathematics Leadership Development project;

— Heard that Julie Long, eighth-grade science teacher, and Carol Kelly, middle-school enrichment teacher, were invited to present a workshop called "A Road Map to the Wonderful World of Co-Teaching" at the 2008 National Science Teachers’ Association annual conference next March;

— Learned that science teacher Jean Quattrochi and her seventh-grade science class were guests on WAMC’s "Science Forum" on Nov. 8, during which students asked questions of a panel of scientists; and

— Gave a standing ovation to Aidala on his last school-board meeting. "Thank you for giving of yourself for the past seven years," said Dornbush. "Your legacy...is you’ve helped us tighten up, be more efficient...We’re poised and ready to make the next leap."

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