May 22, 2007

Few changes as state takes over courthouse security


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
New York State Courts Officer Bill Bracken inspects objects at the metal detector in the basement of the Cortland County Courthouse Friday, with fellow officer Carl Lanpher in background. Bracken and Lanpher are former Cortland County Sheriff’s Department officers who now work for the state, which has taken over security duties in courthouses.

Staff Reporter

Although the personnel and procedures will remain the same, security responsibilities in the Cortland County Courthouse are now under state control.
Since 1978 the state has contracted out the responsibilities to the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, but starting last week the state Unified Court System took over the management of courthouse security, creating a new state operated police force to carry out the duties.
The change, which occurred locally Thursday, comes as part of a statewide initiative that will eventually create a unified state security personnel force in every county courthouse in the state.
“It was in the best interest of the state and the courts,” said Russ Oechsle, the district executive of the Sixth Judicial District in Binghamton.
The Unified Court System hired six sheriff’s officers — who have been contractually working as court security — to become full-time state employees. Oechsle said that the Unified Court System hired the officers because they are already familiar with the Courthouse, the procedures and regular court personnel.
“We are very pleased with the officers that we got,” he said. “We think this will be very successful.”
The only new officer in the building will be a sergeant who will be in charge of the officers on duty. Sgt. Dave Castner of Broome County has been undertaking the responsibilities since the change, but that responsibility may rotate to other sergeants from nearby counties depending on availability of personnel, said Security Coordinator Maxine Ripley.
Ripley said many of the former county officers received pay raises as a result of moving into the state system, and that all of their time toward retirement with the county will be accredited to the state.
“They are grandfathered in,” she said. “They are coming to us as if they are state employees.”
Ripley said each of the officers, who now wear blue state uniforms, will be paid $43,807 per year. Their usual duties include running the magnetometer, or metal detector, at the entrance of the courthouse, manning various security posts throughout the building and maintaining bailiff duties during court proceedings.
Officer Bill Bracken spent nearly 27 years with the Sheriff’s Department and was thinking of retiring before the transfer opportunity became available.
Bracken said as a veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, he was receiving the highest pay he could under the county system. Now as a state employee he will start at around the same pay as he was making with the county, but is able to look forward to a pay increase of around $2,300 each year.
“They told me I should consider looking into it,” he said of a few friends who already work for the Unified Court System. “It’s great. It has regular work hours which is unusual in law enforcement.”
Oechsle said Cortland County is one of several that have undergone the transfer over the past five years. Others counties that have the state personnel include, Erie, Albany, Onondaga and Broome counties as well as some counties in the Adirondack region, he said.
Oechsle said Tompkins, Schuyler and Chenango counties also expect to transfer the duties in the near future. The state also plans to take over security for the City Court but because none of the city police officers are willing to transfer into the state system that change will take a bit longer, he said.
The state will have to bring in new officers to fill the positions when it is ready to make the transfer, Oechsle said. Those duties include two officers at the magnetometer and one officer in the courtroom during court proceedings. Oechsle was unsure when that transfer will occur.
City Police Chief James Nicholas said the state fully funds the positions that the city officers currently hold. He said when the state replaces those officers with state officers he will petition the city Common Council to expand the police force in order to accommodate the transfer.
Ripley said that some time over the summer, the County Courthouse also will change the building’s security entrance, moving the metal detector to the north side entrance. That entrance is under construction.




County forms space needs panel

Staff Reporter

A special county committee will have essentially the same makeup as the ad hoc committee that was charged with re-evaluating the county’s aborted south Main Street land deal, Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) said Monday.
The committee will be charged with evaluating the county’s current space needs, discussing available real estate options and providing recommendations to the Legislature for proposed property arrangements.
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) will chair the committee, Brown said. Tytler will be joined by former ad hoc committee members John Daniels (D-Cortlandville), Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward), John Steger (R-Preble and Scott), Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet) and Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer).
“I think they really did a thorough job gathering information when there were a lot of questions about the acquisition of land on south Main,” Brown said of the basically reformed ad hoc committee.
The only change from the ad hoc committee will be Legislator Tom Williams (R-Homer), who had been added to the ad hoc committee midway through the committee’s work to fill a void left by absent members. He will not be a part of the new committee.
“I think it will help to have one committee look at all of the information and bring specific proposals forward to be looked at by the rest of the Legislature,” Brown said.
Brown said she has received a number of proposals from real estate agents interested in either selling or leasing property to the county and that she would give all of that information to Tytler.
Brown’s expectation was that the committee would focus on the needs for new space for the county jail and for the county motor vehicles office.
The needs of the Mental Health Department, for which the properties on south Main Street had been intended, could be delayed until after a lawsuit regarding the county’s decision to opt out of the deal is resolved.
Tytler said she had not yet scheduled an initial meeting with the new committee, and was not sure what direction the committee would take.


Five area schools see Regents graduation rate drop

Staff Reporter

The public can now access data online on how students at local schools performed during the 2005-06 school year, as well as other data about the schools.
One goal of the information being posted online is constructive conversation among schools and parents about how to improve education for children, according to the state Department of Education.
All of the data have previously been released, with the exception of Regents information, according to state Department of Education spokesman Tom Dunn, and it is the first time the data have been assembled together in one place. English Language Arts test results are being released today by the state.
The information is available at
The Regents data show that all local schools had a rate of students receiving a Regents diploma at or above the state average of 77 percent, though five of nine districts saw drops in their graduation rates from the 2004-05 school year to the 2005-06 school year.
DeRuyter Central Schools saw the biggest drop in its percentage of students receiving a Regents diploma, from 93 percent in 2004-05 to 77 percent in 2005-06.
DeRuyter Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe was not available this morning to comment.
Groton saw the next biggest drop, from 88 percent to 81 percent, followed by Dryden and Marathon by 5 percentage points, and then McGraw by 4 percentage points.
Mark Crawford, superintendent of schools for the Dryden school district, said he is disappointed the district saw a drop in its percentage of students obtaining a Regents diploma and is today meeting with the high school principal and assistant principal to talk about what can be done to boost the rate.
“We’re just about to sit down and have a conversation about the way to continue to strengthen our connection to students, and make them feel as important and significant and well known by staff as we can,” he said.
Crawford did point out, however, that the 81 percent figure doesn’t include students who graduate with Regents diploma from the school in August or in five years.
With Marathon’s percentage of students graduating with a Regents diploma dropping from 90 percent in 2004-05 to 85 percent in 2005-06, Marathon went from being the school with the highest percentage of students graduating with a Regents diploma to the school with the third highest graduation rate in the area.
Cortland and Homer school districts were the two districts with better percentages — 86 and 88 percent, respectively. Cortland’s was a 3 percent increase over 2004-05 while Homer’s was a 4 percent increase over 2004-05.
Homer Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said while he’s happy with the percent increase from 2004-05 to the next year, he still thinks 88 percent is too low for the district.
Before the state decided to “raise the bar” by requiring all students, with the exception of special education students, to graduate with a Regents diploma, more than 90 percent of students regularly graduated.
He said he would like to get the percentage of students graduating back over 90 percent with the new Regents requirement.
“We were always looking at our students being 90 percent successful,” he said.
Moravia saw its biggest increase in the percentage of students graduating with a Regents diploma from 2004-05 to the next year, with 74 percent graduating with a Regents diploma the first year and 85 percent the second year.
Moravia Superintendent of Schools William Tammaro was not available this morning to comment.
Cincinnatus saw neither an increase nor a decrease, with 83 percent of students obtaining Regents diplomas both in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.