April 27, 2007

Student treasure hunt gets technology boost

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Barry Elementary sixth-graders, from left, Eleni Stewart, Galina Kostiv and Jade Shingler, visited SUNY Cortland Thursday to learn about latitude and longitude by using a handheld Global Positioning System unit in conjunction with Google Earth.

Staff Reporter

Sixth-graders and the college students gathered around laptops in Van Hoesen Hall, watching as the satellite image of the earth zoomed in on the SUNY Cortland campus.
“How many of you have heard of Google Earth before?” asked Shannon Liberati, a junior from Binghamton who’s an elementary education major.
The group of Barry Elementary sixth-graders was technologically savvy, and many had.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” confirmed Parker Williamson, 12.
The two groups of students had come together for a treasure hunt, of sorts. But instead of a map and compass, they used computers and handheld Global Positioning System units to thread their way around the on-campus walking trails.
Kim Rombach, assistant professor of childhood and early childhood education, said the goal was to combine technological know-how while encouraging wellness.
“I really wanted to find ways to connect with the students, a way for our college students to work with elementary students — what we could do to get our students and the elementary students up and walking about,” Rombach said as the two groups worked on a quick activity to reinforce their temporary learning communities. “So we’re connecting the ideas of social studies, science and wellness, technology and mathematics.”
Four childhood and early childhood education professors, including Rombach, had come together to develop the program — Susan Stratton, an assistant professor who teaches science methods; Shufang Shi, an assistant professor who teaches a technology class; and Ellen Newman, a lecturer who teaches math methods.
Shi said that the college students in the class take her Teaching with Computer in Elementary and Middle School class.
“They have an immediate application to practice what they’ve learned,” Shi said. “They need to consider how using technology can help kids learn better.”
Shi said that the professors actually are creating a model for teaching using technology such as the GPS units.
The two Barry Elementary classes, taught by Samantha Beams and Stephanie Lochren, were broken up into two halves, and then further broken up into groups of four or five students. Two college students were assigned to shepherd each group around campus — lunch at Neubig Hall was a big hit with the younger students — and teach them the principles they would need to complete the activity.
The elementary students already had learned what the lines of latitude and longitude signified, and a quick computerized-quiz refresher at the beginning of the class helped reinforce this knowledge before the real fun began.
The computer program dissected the globe as it explained the principles behind lines of latitude, which run horizontally and parallel to each other around the earth, and lines of longitude, which vertically connect the poles to one another.
“Isn’t it meridian?” said Brandon Anderson, 12, in response to a question asking another word for a line of longitude.
Both Liberati and Kristi Perkins, also a junior from Binghamton, were pleasantly surprised by the student’s quick response.
The two then explained how a GPS locks onto a minimum of three satellites and then triangulates its position on the earth, and lists those coordinates using the lines of latitude and longitude.
The students untangled an alphabetic code that gave them clues about where certain things were hidden around campus, and then set out, yellow, walkie-talkie-shaped GPS in hand, to use waypoints to move from one spot to another while following the swiveling arrow on the small screen.
The college purchased the six GPS units with a Student Computer Access Program grant from SUNY Cortland, Rombach said. The grant was for approximately $600, she said, and came through the office of Information Resources.
After some quick counseling to make sure the students would not run with the equipment, the groups fanned out around campus to make their discoveries — containers with a plastic bead for each student — hidden behind trees, fire hydrants, metal garbage bins and bushes.
As they approached each clue, the GPS unit would beep to let them know that they were within 25 feet of the coordinates that had been punched in by the college students on a previous outing.
When Perkins asked how a GPS unit could be useful at the end of the activity, the Williamson did not hesitate.
“I’m definitely bringing one of these into the woods,” he said, but then he and his friends agreed that they would not mind taking a GPS unit with them just about everywhere.


South Main property deal is off

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — After four months of back and forth, the county Legislature officially laid to rest Thursday any plans to purchase property along south Main Street.
Now only a judicial ruling against the county can revive the deal.
A resolution to purchase the two commercial properties involved in the controversial land deal for a public health facility — the Moose Lodge property for $250,000 and the Robbins Vending property for $300,000 — failed to receive the required two-thirds majority vote, with 10 legislators voting for the purchase, and eight voting against it.
The bid to purchase the two commercial properties, excluding four residential properties originally involved in the $894,000 deal, had been touted as a way to both cut the county’s losses in a looming legal challenge regarding the aborted purchases, and to keep the county’s options open as it seeks to fill numerous space needs.
Thursday’s vote was a victory for legislators who felt that, at this point, the county should simply let a lawsuit regarding the Legislature’s decision to overturn its original purchase of the properties run its course, rather than purchase properties without a declared purpose.
“I’m satisfied because I just don’t think you purchase property without knowing what you’re going to do with it,” said Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville), who has been a critic of the proposal since it was first announced. “If we end up having to buy it (due to the lawsuit), we’ll have to take it from there, but right now I hope this is over and done with so we can move forward.”
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward), who chaired the ad hoc committee that has been looking at the land deal for the past three months, voted in favor of the purchases, but ultimately she agreed the county needed to move forward.
“I think the majority of people felt that the best thing to do is wait to see what happens with the court case and I can understand that,” Tytler said. “I hope we can take this time to regroup, take a close look at all of our space needs and work out a true plan for how we’re going to address them.”
A master plan for dealing with the county’s space needs — including new space for the Health and Mental Health departments, for which the property was originally intended, new space for a county jail and space for a motor vehicles office — has been a buzzword in recent weeks as a number of legislators have called for prioritizing the county’s space needs.
“I don’t think it necessarily has to be the jail first, but we have to look at all the possibilities available and really discuss how we want to do it all,” said Legislator Merwin Armstrong (Cuyler, Solon, Truxton). “This thing has been kind of an albatross hanging over this Legislature for too long now.”
With a lawsuit from the Moose Lodge and the potential for other lawsuits from other property owners looming, some legislators questioned how the county can move forward with addressing its needs before the suit is decided.
“It’s going to be hard to do anything until we know what it’s going to cost us,” said Legislator Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward).
Speaking during the meeting in favor of purchasing the properties, Tagliente suggested that the county could face significant costs from its pending legal battles, noting the county’s original two-third vote to purchase the properties had been overturned by a simple majority vote to reconsider those purchases.
“That’s the first thing a judge is going to look at,” Tagliente said.


Land deal opponent to seek Legislature seat

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — After defiantly thumbing her nose at the Legislature during Thursday’s session, one of the primary organizers of the vocal neighborhood opposition to the county’s south Main Street land deal announced she would seek to join the Legislature come November.
“After what happened tonight, I’m sure, I’m ready to run,” said Kathie Wilcox who, during the meeting, engaged in a heated verbal sparring match with Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward). “People have asked and asked and asked me to run, and I’ve decided I will do that.”
Wilcox, 55, of 62 Church St., who works as a real estate agent for Yaman Real Estate, will run as a Republican from the 5th Ward, a seat occupied by Democrat Ron Van Dee.
“This whole four-month process has triggered this — I need to be involved,” Wilcox said.
Van Dee after the meeting said it was too early to decide if he would run for re-election.
“It’s a free society and she should have that right,” Van Dee said of Wilcox’s announced candidacy. “I do feel though, that if she’s going to run for a position like this, she should try to respect the rules and laws of the Legislature.”
Van Dee was referring to a heated moment during the meeting when Wilcox, given privilege of the floor to speak about her opposition to the land deal, continued beyond the three minutes allotted for each speaker.
Brown first asked Wilcox cordially to stop her speech, but as Wilcox continued to speak over Brown’s requests, Brown grew increasingly impatient and ultimately asked Sheriff Lee Price to remove Wilcox from the podium.
As Price gently urged Wilcox to step down, and Wilcox finished the remaining minute and a half of her prepared speech, catcalls such as “is this a Democracy?” emerged from community members in attendance.
“I just feel that, regardless of who the speaker is, when you’re asked to be courteous and simply follow the rules everyone follows, and you repeatedly ignore the (Legislature) chair and the sheriff, that’s just unprofessional and discourteous to everyone,” Brown said after the meeting.
Wilcox who, in turn, accused Brown of being unprofessional, said she did not believe she had gone over the allotted three minutes, but that she continued to speak out of principle.
“That’s one of the main reasons I decided to run, because of all of the non-democratic processes I’ve seen over the past four months in those legislative chambers,” Wilcox said. “Things need to be done more in the open, the public needs to be heard.”


Cuyler group finds no help in Legislature

Staff Reporter

Around 15 members of the community action group Citizens of Cuyler left the Cortland County Legislature meeting disappointed Thursday after asking county officials to remove a Town Board member who the group says does not live in the town.
At the beginning of the meeting Cuyler Town Clerk Louanne Randall addressed the Legislature asking that it force the county Election Commission to remove Town Board member John Van Dee, a Democrat, from his position on the Town Board.
“We are asking for your help,” she said.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel spoke to Randall on behalf of the Legislature, telling her the county has no power to remove Van Dee from his position, even if he does not live in the town.
Randall’s group asked the Legislature to force county Election Commissioners Bob Howe and Bill Wood to take action on the issue. Van Donsel said the Legislature does not have that power, calling the elections commission an “autonomous commission.”
The Citizens of Cuyler contend Van Dee lives at 1760 White Bridge Circle Drive, Homer, and not at 6368 Van Dee Road, Cuyler, which is the address he has listed with the Board of Elections. The group says Van Dee has filed his STAR school property tax exemption at the Homer address, which is reserved for one’s legal residence.
The group says Van Dee was living at the Homer address when he was elected, and claims Howe and Wood failed to do their jobs at the time of the election by allowing him to run for office. Group members, along with several other citizens brought the issue to the attention of the Town Board at its last meeting on April 10, but Town Supervisor Steven Breed, a Democrat, refused to address the issue because it was “not on the agenda.”
Town Board members Nancy Corbin and Richard Keeney, Republicans, asked that the topic be put up for discussion at a future meeting, but Breed refused again.
Van Dee could not be reached for comment this morning.
Van Donsel told the group that to pursue its claim it must contact the state Attorney General’s Office, file a criminal complaint with the Sheriff’s Department or file a lawsuit against the Town Board.
Howe said this morning that it is not his responsibility to investigate the situation. Wood said the same thing on Tuesday. Howe said that even if Van Dee did not live in Cuyler during the election, no one filed a complaint so the Election Commission did not investigate it.
In a letter addressed to Howe from Todd Valentine of the state Board of Elections, Valentine says based on the Public Officers Law it is up to the attorney general to investigate anyone who is accused of holding a public office improperly, even if the person did not live in the town when elected.



Supervisor questions Virgil ethics code

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — The town supervisor is questioning a new code of ethics drafted by the town’s Board of Ethics that would give the panel the power to address inquiries from people outside of town government.
At Thursday’s regular Town Board meeting, Supervisor Jim Murphy said he thinks the proposed new code, which was drawn up over the last nine months by the newly formed board, gives the Board of Ethics too much power.
“Who’s running the town?” Murphy asked. “That’s my dilemma off the bat.”
Murphy said he prefers the current system in which only the Town Board or town employees can ask the Board of Ethics to look into something. That’s what elected officials are for, he said: to represent people’s concerns.
Dale Taylor, a Town Board member who is the liaison between the Board of Ethics and the Town Board, said restricting inquiries to Town Board members and employees could pose a major problem.
“Some folks might have a problem with you or me and they might not want to come to us,” he said.
Mary Beth Wright, a town board member, agreed.
“I don’t think complaints need to be funneled through the town board,” she said this morning. “That’s why we have an ethics board.”
Kathy Jensen, chair of the Board of Ethics, said she doesn’t know of any other town ethics board that doesn’t let residents approach the ethics board directly.
“We did a lot of research and I spoke to many town clerks about their powers for their board of ethics,” she said.
Other Board of Ethics members are Ron Johns, Gary Hoyt and Rick McMullin. They were appointed over the summer after the Town Board decided to formally set up the Board of Ethics.
The Board of Ethics has existed since the 1990s, when the state required all towns to form a code of ethics and ethics boards, but no one ever served on it.