May 23, 2007

State to install TCE filtration systems in C’ville


Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — An additional 31 homes in Cortlandville will receive mitigation systems as a precautionary measure to help combat the potentially toxic chemical trichloroethene, known as TCE.
On Tuesday, Project Manager Thomas Festa, of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told a small group of local residents at the Cortlandville Fire Hall on Route 13 that the state has almost concluded its testing for TCE vapor intrusion in some Cortlandville homes.
He said after a second round of testing that took place last winter, the state plans to put in the additional systems this summer.
The state plans to retest another 13 homes next winter that are not receiving systems this year to ensure that those homes are safe, he said.
The DEC has been conducting testing for TCE in areas northwest of the former Smith Corona typewriter factory on Route 13 since February 2006. The state already has installed 23 TCE removal systems in the same area.
TCE is a colorless, nonflammable liquid used primarily as a solvent for removing grease from metal parts and as an ingredient in other chemicals, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Long-term inhalation may cause nerve, kidney and liver damage. The substance was used at the Smith Corona plant, officials have said.
No local health problems have been reported as a result of the gas.
The systems that are being installed to filter the toxin use a fan to suck air out from underneath the foundation of the house and then discharge the air through a chimney-like pipe, keeping the gas from seeping through basements cracks.
Festa explained that tests showed that levels of TCE in homes in the area varied due to many factors, including the soil under the house and the construction of the building. He said because the chemical travels in the water table, the largest risk factor comes with how close the water level is below the foundation of house.
“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “I can’t stress enough that I think we are doing more than enough monitoring.”
Festa said every homeowner who lives west of the line the state created and has not already had a system installed, has received a letter informing them that they will be offered a system.
“If you did not get a letter offering you a mitigation system, then you don’t have to worry,” he said.
Festa said fewer than 50 percent of the homes in the mitigation area registered at levels high enough to warrant a system, but because those homes were scattered throughout the area, and because other homes that were close needed the systems, the state opted to “blanket” the area as a safety measure.
“This whole process is a bit scary,” said Henri Hamel of the state Health Department, who also spoke at the presentation. “In order to be harmed by something you need to be exposed to it.”
Hamel said that of the houses the state found to have high enough levels to warrant a system being put in, none were at levels high enough to draw concerns over adverse health conditions.
Festa said state officials are working with the property’s current owner, the South Cortland Manufacturing Association, which is pumping and filtering the ground water in an attempt to clean up the site.
In addition to combating against TCE, the mitigation systems installed will also lower radon levels in the homes, Festa said. There is no cost to the homeowners for the systems.
Audrey Lewis, director of the Cortland County Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health, was also on hand for the presentation and explained that Cortland County has some of the highest radon levels in the state.
Unlike TCE, radon is a naturally occurring gas, so the state will not issue everyone who has high radon levels a system, Festa said, but the gas can be toxic.
— Evan Geible contributed to his article.




State English test scores edge upward

Staff Reporter

Many area schools saw 2007 standardized English test scores improve modestly, though results varied between grade levels and class years, making a pattern hard to discern.
The English Language Arts exams are administered to students in grades three through eight. Students took the test in January.
Test results for each school and school district are available through each district’s school report cards and online from the state Education Department at
Cincinnatus Central Schools saw an increase in students who performed at the higher scoring levels, with more than 20 percent more students achieving a Level 3 in sixth and eighth grades than in the previous year, and more performed at that level this year in all the other grades.
The assessment is scored on one of four levels, with Level 1 and Level 2 falling below the learning standard and Level 3 and Level 4 meeting and exceeding the standard.
DeRuyter Central School students showed a significant jump in the fifth and eighth grades, with about 20 percent more students performing at Level 3 in fifth grade, and about 34 percent more students performing at that level in eighth grade.
Most of the other grades also trended toward the higher scoring levels.
DeRuyter Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe said the test allows the school to assess the students’ performance.
“We’re pleased with some of the scores, some others we need to work on,” Sharpe said this morning.
“We will be able to break down specifically which areas in the tests, where the weaknesses were,” he said.
Sharpe noted that the district’s 11th grade ELA scores for the English Regents are always very good, which he attributes to efforts to help students improve.
Cortland City Schools did not see much improvement in test scores outside of fifth and sixth grades, which gained more students performing at Level 3.
Cortland Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said this morning that he does not focus on the performance of grade levels as much as he does the “cohort groups,” which are the individual class years of students.
“The way I break the data out for the staff, I look at the kids who are going to graduate in 2011, and I look at how they’ve done over time,” Spring said. “I think the eighth grade is a significant increase, and if you look at that cohort, last year in seventh grade, it was a significant increase for them.”
The passing rate for eighth-grade students had been an issue in the past, and Spring said he was “pretty pleased” to see that this year _69 percent of eighth-graders received either a Level 3 or Level 4 score. Last year only about 52 percent of eighth-graders received passing scores.
“What we have to do with that data is see what’s inside of that data, what’s going on,” such as which specific skill areas need improvement, Spring said.
McGraw Central Schools students in third through fifth grades actually showed a tendency to score at Level 2, with about 20 percent more third-grade students performing at that level than in the previous school year.
However, seventh and eighth grades moved more toward the two highest scoring levels.
McGraw Superintendent of Schools Maria Fragnoli-Ryan said the school is also concentrating on its cohort groups in analyzing the data.
She said the district tracks students from year to year and this has shown that the students’ scores are improving.
Fragnoli-Ryan credits an increased focus on literacy in elementary school, guided reading and individual assessments, and ability grouping in elementary school, as well as keeping seventh- and eighth-grade students with the same English teacher for both of those grades, as the impetus for the improvements. Curriculum will be reviewed during the summer, she said.
The Marathon Central School District did not see much movement, although there was a nearly 6 percent increase in the number of third-grade students who scored at the very highest level.
Marathon Superintendent of Schools Tim Turecek said the school was pleased with the results in most areas, but still needed to get to work.
“We saw some good growth in most areas, there’s a couple of grade levels that we did not see growth in and we need to take a look at them and see why,” Turecek said this morning. “I haven’t had a chance to meet with my administrators to go over the results.”
In the Homer Central School District, scores for fourth-graders dropped a bit, but fifth grade saw a 20 percent increase in students attaining Level 3, and a 10 percent increase in students scoring a Level 4.
Eighth graders also scored nearly 20 percent more in Level 3 than in the year before.
Homer Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said the data will be analyzed and students who perform at Level 2 or lower would require academic intervention services.
“As this becomes more mainstream and students and parents and all teachers understand that we’re testing on an annual basis, it will stop being such a big deal,” he said.


City school board to vote on tuition rise

Staff Reporter

The city Board of Education plans to vote next month on whether to raise its tuition for students who live outside the district by $100 next year.
Between 60 and 70 students live outside the district, and about 15 of those students were required to pay tuition this year, said Steve Pearsall, director of business for the district.
The rest are children of staff members or have parents who have property in the Cortland city school district.
This year tuition was $700 for kindergarten through sixth-graders and $900 for seventh- through 12th-graders.
Pearsall said the district has out-of-district students from all over, including McGraw, Marathon, Groton and Homer.
Pearsall said two years ago the board planned to raise tuition by $100 each year for the next three years, and it raised the tuition the first two years.
If it approves raising the tuition by $100 this year — the third year — it will consider not raising the tuition for the next couple of years, he said.
He said it is getting increasingly difficult for the district to collect tuition from non-resident students who are required to pay tuition.
He said so far this year the district has been unable to collect any tuition for two students and has collected only partial tuition for four students.
Pearsall said he is not sure why the families didn’t pay.
He said normally when families don’t pay full tuition their kids aren’t allowed back into the district the next year.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting board member Lisa Hoeschle asked Pearsall if the district can collect unpaid tuition by billing the school districts in which students live, and Pearsall said the district does not have the authority to do that.