January 24, 2008


Donations stave off looming library cuts

Common Council will consider restoring complete library funding at Feb. 5 meeting


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cheryl Shearer of Homer looks through the paperback section at Cortland Free Library Tuesday morning.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Cortland Free Library officials have worked out a short-term plan to deal with the 25 percent cut in funding from the city, but they are still hoping the Common Council will restore a portion of the cut.
“We are looking at a temporary solution so we won’t have to close on the next school holiday, which is President’s Day,” said Library Director Kay Zaharis. “We have gotten some donations to help us. It is a fraction of the shortfall but it will help us get through this temporarily.”
Zaharis said the library has received more than $15,000 in donations from local residents, $10,000 of which came from one donor who she would not name. The money will allow the library to continue to operate as usual for the time being.
During a closed-door meeting Tuesday night, the library’s finance committee discussed the deficit the library was left with after the city Common Council cut its support by $50,000.
“We need to find $1,000 a week,” Zaharis said. “We may not even need to put the changes into effect if we acquire enough money.”
This means that the changes that would have taken effect on Feb. 1 have now been postponed until the library runs out of money to operate at full capacity.
As a result of the funding cut, the library planned to cut its staff, its hours and _raise prices for overdue books, copying and printing.
In addition, the library would have been closed for 12 holidays instead of the standard six. However, with the donations, the library only had to close on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Zaharis said some complaints were received, but that they were not unusually busy the following day.
“The kids were back at school and it’s been busy since January and people have been coming in to get and print out tax forms,” she said.
In addition to its temporary solution, library staff met Wednesday with Superintendent of Cortland Schools Larry Spring to talk about the process of establishing a library district with the same boundaries as the school district. The school district could levy taxes to support the library’s general operating budget.
“It’s an informational meeting to find out what needs to be done. We’re looking at what the procedures are,” Zaharis said before the meeting. “Even if the library received funding from the school district, it wouldn’t be for 2008 since tax bills already went out. It’s really for the future.”
The cut in support for the library from its requested $208,000 to $150,000 is on the agenda for discussion at the Feb. 5 Common Council meeting. The city has given the library $200,000 annually in recent years.
At its Jan. 15 meeting, Alderwoman Susan Feiszli (D-6th Ward), requested the topic be put on the agenda after local residents came to voice their support and concern for the council’s decision.
Feiszli said there are three things she wants to discuss at the meeting. First, is the limited time frame the council gave the library to seek alternative funding sources before cutting its support. Secondly, Feiszli said she feels the city should continue funding the library at the same rate as 2007, which was $200,000. And finally, the council needs to begin to talk about 2009 funding for the library to allow the trustees to have time to seek additional and alternative support, if needed.
Alderman Clay Benedict (D-2nd Ward) said he supports the topic on the agenda for discussion but understands the city has financial troubles.
“I am aware of quite a few bills that have been piling up,” he said, referring to repairs that need to be made to the roofs at City Hall and the Court Street Fire Station. “I would like to make sure they (the library) get some more money and I hope we can look for other sources of revenue for them, but we also need to look at the (city) budget.”
The $50,000 cut from library funding was put into the city’s reserve fund to improve the city’s bond rating and allow the city to pay for emergency repairs.
Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) said he does not think revisiting the topic of the library funding is a good idea.
“We already set the tax rate. Any changes will impact spending of the city. We already have unplanned repairs that need to be fixed,” he said. “From my heart I really like the library; it’s a tremendous asset to the community … but they also have two plus million (dollars) in a reserve and the city has nothing.”
The library has an endowment fund of $2.3 million, which is used for specific purposes dictated by the donors of the monies. The endowment fund builds an interest of $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Library trustees urged residents to come to the Feb. 5 Common Council meeting or call their alderman or alderwoman to show their support for the library.
“Any restoration will help us,” Zaharis said.




Supporters lobby for River Trail

SUNY Cortland professor says 2003 study found strong interest in project

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Professors who helped conduct a 2003 study that found a majority of Cortland County residents favor construction of the Tioughnioga River Trail are reminding legislators who control the trail’s fate that more than money is at stake.
“The results of that (study) showed such wide support and enthusiasm for the trail,” said SUNY Cortland professor Lynn Anderson, chair of the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department.
A design report issued by the county’s engineering firm in December disclosed that over the better part of a decade, estimated trail construction costs have doubled to $2.8 million from $1.4 million.
County Highway Committee members decided last week they would simultaneously pursue further funding for the project and figure out how much it would cost to back out of the proposed 2.7-mile trail.
Anderson said she was surprised to hear the trail proposal could be in trouble.
Her students and those of Sharon Todd, another recreation and leisure studies professor, conducted a survey of 527 households. The students made phone calls to 358 households countywide. They also conducted door-to-door interviews of 169 residents within a half-mile of the proposed trail corridor, which would run from the canoe launch in Yaman Park to Albany Street in Homer.
They found that only 8 percent of households indicated they would never use the trail.
Thirty-eight percent indicated they would use the trail once a week or more. If special events were held along the trail, 64 percent said they would attend.
Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they would volunteer in connection with the trail once it was built.
The main activities respondents said they would use the trail for were — in order of frequency chosen — walking, fishing, biking, picnicking, dog walking, kayaking/canoeing, photography, nature study, jogging, and cross-country skiing/snowshoeing. Walking was by far the most chosen intended use of the trail.
Twenty-one percent indicated they would not be opposed to taxes being used to maintain the trail.
“There’s definitely public support for the trail,” Anderson said Wednesday afternoon.



Growing demand for substitute teachers straps supply

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Marathon native Karen Lottridge has been substitute teaching since September in the Marathon school district. Since she began, she said she’s been working almost full time.
“I absolutely love it,” she said.
Substitute teachers like Lottridge are proving tough to find for area school districts, which now need more substitutes to supervise classrooms left by teachers pulled away to fulfill state-mandated training and testing requirements.
Wednesday, Lottridge met with eight other substitutes and potential substitutes at Barry Elementary school for a substitute teachers’ “Survival Workshop” hosted by the Cortland County Teacher Center.
The annual Basic Survival course is presented by Pat Rice, director of the Cincinnatus Teacher Center, and Bonnie Calzolaio, director of the Cortland County Teacher Center.
Topics ranged from day-to-day safety concerns to the broader topic of “classroom management.”
“It doesn’t pay to yell and scream,” Rice said during her presentation on handling rowdy students.
Calzolaio said she decided to start holding the workshop six years ago to address the increasing demand for substitute teachers in Cortland and to provide potential subs with the basic skills they need to succeed.
“It’s a real overview for someone who’s just thinking about substitute teaching,” she said.
Herman Wallace, a Cortland resident who has worked as a geologist for more than three decades, said he is interested in substitute teaching as a “semi-retirement.” He attended Wednesday’s workshop to learn more about subbing.
A self-proclaimed history buff, Wallace said he has always wanted to teach.
“I just got sidetracked for 40 years,” he said.
Data released by the National Education Department indicated that nationwide, more schools are reporting that teachers are out of their classrooms for more days each year. In some areas, such as North Carolina, teachers are taking more leaves of absence and sick days.
City Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said he has not seen an increase in teacher absenteeism in Cortland.



Dryden students tell story of locks

Third-grade class hosts Press Day for students, teachers who donate hair

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Mallory Meira was 5-years-old when she saw someone on television donate their hair to create wigs for children who lost hair due to medical problems.
“After I saw it on TV I told my mom that I wanted to give my hair to someone,” said the 9-year-old, who at the time gave about 10-inches of her hair.
On Jan.1, Mallory donated another 11 inches.
“This time my hair was really long and I wanted to get it cut so I asked my mom if I could donate it to Locks of Love again,” the 9-year-old said.
The difference in Mallory’s appearance sparked an interest among her third-grade classmates at Dryden Elementary School. They came up with the idea to locate and interview those in the elementary school who have donated their hair and write articles to put in the school’s monthly newsletter.
“Mallory came in one day with her hair all cut off and she told us she donated it,” said Jennifer DePaull, Mallory’s third-grade teacher. “I put it in our (class) newsletter then I got to thinking there are so many kids that have donated their hair and we should put it the school’s monthly newsletter. The idea just snowballed from there.”
The class decided to hold a “Press Day.”
The 22 students in the DePaull’s class conducted 29 interviews Wednesday, five of them with teachers, while the rest of the subjects were first- to fifth-grade students.
They prepared for Press Day by having a guest speaker come in to talk about writing and interviewing, doing mock-interviews. They also researched the Locks of Love foundation, which is a Florida-based not-for-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children age 18 and younger with medical hair loss.
“We learned that people have to put their hair in braids or a pony tail to cut it and it has to be 10 inches or more,” 8-year-old Jacob Cowen said about the research the class did on the organization. “It helps people that need hair.”
The students all had the task of interviewing one to two people and then writing an article about that persons’ experience in donating their hair and typing up the article. Students also wrote a thank you letter to the person they interviewed.




Marathon school budget draft ups spending 8%

Superintendent warns declining student enrollment may lead to future staffing cuts

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — The superintendent released a tentative $16.2 million school budget Wednesday that would raise the tax rate 4.6 percent.
Spending would increase 7.8 percent under the 2008-09 budget. The budget does not take into account a 13.6 percent hike in state aid the district would receive under the governor’s proposed budget.
Cuts in the budget include one  high school special education teacher and one elementary school teacher. One of the teachers is being lost through retirement and the other through resignation, said Superintendent of Schools Tim Turecek.
The district is going to have to start taking a harder look at its staffing levels, Turecek told the Board of Education Wednesday. He presented the board with figures showing staffing has stayed   steady in recent years while student enrollment has dropped significantly.
Student enrollment is only projected to decrease, he said.
“Over the next five years we have a responsibility to make reductions in staff without cutting programs,” he said.
He noted the state’s proposal to give the district more state aid next year than this year is much appreciated, but that the district still must be prudent with its spending in the coming years.
It is impossible to know when the state money might dry up, he said.
The largest spending increases include a 13.9 percent increase in BOCES services for regular school programs, or $894,000 in total spending; a 47.2 percent increase in BOCES services for special education programs, or $890,000 in total spending; and a 97 percent increase in legal fees, or $15,000 in total spending.
Health insurance costs for teachers and nonadministrative staff would increase 9.5 percent to $1.9 million.
BOCES spending for regular school programs includes the use of two BOCES literacy specialists to help teach fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers how to teach writing in social studies classes and to help teach seventh- and eighth-grade teachers how to teach writing in their content classes.