In Homer toy gun shootings —

School board upholds two teens’ suspensions

The boys may also face indictment on felony assault charges.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A Crosman Semi-Automatic Pulse P50 airsoft pistol is shown with two plastic BBs. Gary Walter of Homer used this gun to demonstrate how multiple shots at close range left minor red marks on his arm Tuesday at Homer High School.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Gary Walter held a battery-operated airsoft pistol at point blank range from his forearm and shot himself multiple times Tuesday night at Homer High School.
After firing several of the plastic BBs into his left hand and arm, Walter had only a few minor red marks.
The Board of Education on Tuesday upheld 14-week suspensions of Walter’s 17-year-old son, Zachary, and his son’s friend Terry Elwood, 16. The teenagers shot three other students May 25 in the school parking lot with what Gary Walter said is the same model as the gun he demonstrated.
“Even one of the girls that got shot in the leg said, ‘It’s crazy and it didn’t hurt,’” he said.
In addition to the school suspension, the boys are also facing hefty legal charges. State Police arrested the two May 26 on three counts of second-degree assault, a felony. Walter’s attorney’s, Randoph Van Kruman, said the case was presented to a county grand jury on Friday. A decision on any possible indictment had not been announced at press time.
According to a police report, a 16-year-old filed a complaint stating Walter, of 17 N. West Road, Homer, shot him in the face when he was riding in a truck in the school parking lot. During the incident, the boy said, his 19-year-old brother was also shot.
Police said Elwood, of 4047 Elwood Road, Taylor, admitted to shooting a 17-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl the same day.
Walter and his wife, Debra, feel the punishments the boys are facing from the school and the District Attorney’s Office are too harsh.
“My lawyer asked if we could drop this down to a misdemeanor and she (Assistant District Attorney Wendy Franklin) said, ‘I will drop this down to a D violent felony. Such a felony is punishable by 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. We will seek maximum punishment in state prison,’” Walter said, reading from a letter that he says Franklin sent to Van Kruman. “And it’s for a toy,” he added.
Walter also said the boys had brought the toy to school many times, and he believes the school administration knew that.
“It looks like a toy pistol, they shoot each other all the time. It’s been going on in school for probably a year or two now,” he said. “My son saw a couple of his friends and my son’s buddy saw a couple of his friends and as a prank they shot them. The kid got a little welt on his arm and the parents didn’t like it. The whole thing got overblown.”
Walter added he does not condone his son’s actions and believes his son deserves to be punished. Debra Walter said the family voluntarily sent Zachary to the Scared Straight program through Auburn Correctional Facility and that, in addition to the four-week suspension from school the boys have already served, should be enough.
The pistol Walter brought to the board meeting for his demonstration was a Semi-Automatic Pulse P50 made by Crosman. According to, such guns are commonly used in a combat simulation sport call airsoft, in which participants fire plastic BBs to “tag” each other while wearing various kinds of safety equipment, including goggles.
Walter also showed reporters pictures of what he said are students having a water gun fight in front of a Homer village police officer and a man he said is high school Principal Fred Farah. Walter said the water fight happened just two weeks after his son and Elwood were suspended.
“The school has water gun fights. I’ve got pictures with the principal standing there, letting them play with guns,” he said. “The first thing out of my son’s mouth was, ‘Dad we play with water guns all time, I would never want to hurt anybody. We were playing.’”
Superintendent of Schools Douglas Larison said after the meeting that he could not comment about the suspensions because it involves students. However, he did say the school does not condone the annual water fights and the two incidents are very different.
“We’ve confined it but that doesn’t mean we’ve condoned it,” he said of the water gun fights. “What they’re trying to make out, I think, is that a toy is a toy is a toy. It’s not the common norm. If it were the common norm that kids could take airsoft BB guns and shoot each other with it, the police would not have reacted the way that they did. That is not the acceptable norm … After all of the school shootings (elsewhere) how can we have possibly missed the issue that that kind of behavior is not acceptable?”
The District Attorney’s Office would not comment about the case.


County and municipalities close to sales tax contract


Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Negotiators for the county and its municipalities have agreed in principle to a contract that would significantly decrease the county’s share of sales tax revenues while increasing revenues for the city, towns and villages.
The only sticking point may be a larger proposed share for the town of Cortlandville, which some legislators said could come at the expense of smaller towns.
A negotiating session Tuesday concluded with legislators saying they would have to discuss with town boards in their constituencies the proposed split of the municipalities’ piece of the revenue.
No follow-up meeting was scheduled, but if legislators encounter dissent in their districts and have issues with the proposal, another session would need to be held early in September so a contract could go to the full Legislature by its Sept. 21 meeting, County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
The county and its municipalities have agreed on a contract that would, by 2009, reduce the county’s share of sales tax revenues from 56 percent to 52 percent.
Total sales tax revenue in 2005 was $21.9 million, meaning the 4 percent drop would equal about a greater than $800,000 loss for the county.
The contract would last until 2012, with an out clause available for any party, including any town or village, for the final two years.
Disagreement between the county and the city revolved around the municipalities proposed distribution of their share.
Under the proposal left on the table by lead negotiators for the municipalities Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance for the city, and Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper, the town of Cortlandville would, by 2009, be receiving 1 percent of the total sales tax revenue.
That revenue would come in addition to the usual split of the municipalities’ revenue, which is based on assessment values.
In 2005 Cortlandville’s assessments yielded it about 7 percent, or $1.8 million, of the total revenue, while it’s been accepted during the negotiations that 1 percent of the total revenue equals approximately $200,000.
This would leave 18.25 percent of the total revenue for the city, and 28.75 percent to be divided among the towns and villages, including Cortlandville.
Cortlandville is growing rapidly and generates a large portion of the tax revenue for the county, Tupper said, and to keep pace with that growth, the town deserves and needs a bigger piece of the revenue pie.
“The town is paying a huge portion of the county’s expenses, but we’re not getting our share back,” Tupper said. “All of the development going on in Cortlandville comes with significant infrastructure costs, and we’re just asking for a little bit more to help cover that.”
Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward), who spearheaded the negotiations for the county, expressed a concern that increasing Cortlandville’s revenue would take away from smaller towns and villages.
“I understand where they’re coming from, but 19 legislators are going to have to vote on this and if these smaller towns are getting less, that’s something we have to look at,” Van Dee said.
While Damiano and Tupper touted the new contract as an improvement for all towns and villages by virtue of the 4 percent increase in the municipality share, Van Dee and Schrader said municipalities would actually be getting less than they did prior to 2004, when both parties agreed to increase the county’s share by 4 percent to help deal with county financial difficulties.
“Our intent four years ago was to take the extra revenue and then give it back to the municipalities based on the same distribution methodology,” Schrader said after the meeting. “Obviously their distribution has changed, so now it’s just a question of, are the towns and villages agreeable to giving the town of Cortlandville a greater percentage?”




Board hires new principal for CHS


Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A local man who has seen three daughters make their way through Cortland schools has been tapped to take over as ninth- and 10th-grade principal at Cortland High School.
The Board of Education agreed Tuesday to hire Mac Knight, who has experience as both a teacher and an administrator, to the position vacated last week by Doug Van Etten, who took a job as assistant principal of Homer High School.
Knight, 52, said he had been looking for an administrative job closer to home than his current job as an assistant principal in Elmira, and found the Cortland position to be a perfect fit.
“Honestly, I think it’s every educator’s dream to work in the same school district their kids have attended,” Knight said, adding his daughter Margaret is a senior at Cortland this year, while his older daughters, Stephanie and Angela, have already graduated.
“I know parents. I know my kids’ friends. I know the people working here, and it’s just a great opportunity to come back and be a part of that.”
Beginning work so close to the start of the school year will be a challenge, Knight said, but he had met with other administrators and expected the transition to be seamless.
“I’m not going to come in and try to change the world here or anything,” he said. “I want to try to enhance what’s already working well here and build a good relationship with students, parents and teachers in order to figure out what we can do better.”
Knight will receive a salary of $82,000 per year. Van Etten’s salary was not immediately available this morning.
A North Carolina native and graduate of the University of North Carolina, Knight has a diverse and wide-ranging experience that includes nine years as an elementary school teacher in New York City, 16 years as a teacher and acting principle at the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, a year as an assistant principal in Elmira and brief stints as a recreational therapist and a probation officer.




Parents, residents want Homer coach fired

Staff Reporter

HOMER — About 12 Homer residents, several of whom were parents of Homer High School basketball players, attended the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, demanding removal of the varsity boy’s basketball coach.
“It is in the best interest of the school district and most of all the students at Homer,” said Mike May, a parent reading a letter from concerned parents to the board.
Kevin Crosley, another concerned parent, said the group detailed its concerns about Pat Dugan, the varsity basketball coach, in a February letter to the board. The letter went unanswered, he said.
The group hopes the board will respond soon, he said.
“We are very serious and we hope you take us very seriously,” Crosley said.
Current basketball players’ disappointment with the coach is a big reason why the school’s summer basketball activities had to be canceled, according to the group’s letter.
Dugan confirmed this morning students lacked interest in the school’s summer basketball programs. Of the 50-some kids who were asked to participate, only seven signed up. So the program was canceled, he said.
But it was not because students did not like him, he said. It was because interest in basketball goes up and down from year to year, he said.
“It runs in cycles in small schools,” he said.
Outside of the meeting and after their presentation, parents cited the fact that the varsity team lost its league status as additional proof the basketball program has suffered under Dugan’s watch. They also said Dugan favors certain players over others. The parents declined to provide more specific information or give their names.
Superintendent of Schools Douglas Larison said this morning that despite the group’s claims, the board responded to the group’s February letter through the athletic director.
“The board’s view is they did respond,” he said. “They responded at the appropriate place.”
May said the response from Michael Carboine, Homer’s athletic director, has not helped. After Crosley met with him over coffee toward the end of the school year, nothing had been solved, he said.
But Carboine said this morning the meeting made him aware of the group’s concerns. He took the concerns to Dugan and things should improve, he said.
“We’re working on things,” he said. He would not elaborate.