All Aboard

New superintendent starts the year riding bus with students


Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
(ABOVE)Cortland Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring greets parents and children getting on the bus Wednesday, the first day of school. (BELOW) Spring chats with kindergartener Cerena Woodward as she rides the bus for the first time. In all, Spring and driver Bud Marshall saw 115 students along the route Wednesday. bus2


Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — As rain started to fall and cars and buses streamed into the nearby Cortland Junior-Senior High School parking lot, Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring waited in the Kaufman Center administration building on Valley View Drive.
“I didn’t think it was allowed to rain on the first day of school,” Spring said as he looked out the window and waited for his ride — the Route 5 bus.
Transportation Supervisor Sheila Williams said it’s the first time in her nearly 30-year career she’s seen a superintendent ride a morning bus route.
Before Cortland hired him May 2, Spring had been the assistant superintendent for instruction at Wayne Central School District since 2001. He replaced John Lutz, who retired in December, after a first attempt to seat a superintendent failed. Carl Militello, superintendent of Dunkirk City Schools in Chautauqua County, resigned soon after being hired in November.
Since he started work July 1, Spring has been meeting with faculty, staff and members of the community and touring the district’s facilities. He said he would spend much of the rest of the first day of classes in the Cortland City School District stopping by each building, but for the time being he hopped on the 7:45 a.m. bus to Randall, Parker and Smith elementary schools, with many local stops.
Although the bus only seats 66 elementary students at a time, about 115 students rotated in and out of the bus on its route to the three schools.
“I just think it’s a nice way to get a sense of what the experience is like for the kids,” Spring said as he bounced along on a bench seat behind driver Bud Marshall. “Besides the fact, seeing kindergartners’ faces on their first day of school is my favorite part of the job.”
At each stop, Spring, 36, hopped off the bus and introduced himself to the students and the parents before the students climbed up that big first step. Of course, many received a helping hand over a puddle or through the door from their superintendent.
“Are you all excited for your first day of school?” Spring asked the first handful to get on the bus.
“Yes,” was the unison answer, with a few proclamations of drowsiness thrown in.
Five-year-old Kailee Burnham sat with Spring for much of her trip to Smith Elementary School. As he asked her what she was looking forward to, whether music or gym or art classes, Burnham said she was excited about all of it.
And as Burnham told him about an older friend who goes to Virgil Elementary School, Spring reassured her that they’ll get to attend school together once they hit junior high.
“I like to think of myself as a very student-centered superintendent,” Spring said. “If the superintendent can spend time with the kids every day, I think it sends the message that the kids really are important. … Schools are places that have a lot of employees, so I think you get wrapped up thinking about adult issues. If you let all that paperwork and things like that take up too much of your time, you can become dispassionate about the kids. And we can’t allow that to happen.”






John Faso courts Cortland conservatives

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Gubernatorial candidate John Faso stopped at the Cortland Country Club Wednesday to meet with local Republicans.
Touting a new Medicaid reform plan that he unveiled earlier Wednesday in Rochester and Syracuse, Faso preached classic conservative values such as lower taxes and fiscal conservatism as he mingled informally with more than 100 people at the event.
“We need to reduce income taxes in this state … and the only way to do that is to put the state budget on a diet,” Faso said. “We need to be more fiscally responsible.”
Faso, a former state Assembly minority leader from Columbia County, is the presumptive Republican nominee and likely will run against Democrat Eliot Spitzer in the general election.
One of the biggest strains on the state’s budget is Medicaid, which will cost the state $46 billion in 2006, Faso said.
“That amount is the highest overall cost in the nation, more than Texas and Florida combined,” Faso said. “We need to totally reconfigure the way New York state handles the Medicaid Program.”
Faso’s proposed reconfiguration includes cracking down on fraud and incorrect billings, expanding and promoting community health centers as opposed to major hospitals, and providing incentives for physicians to work with the Medicaid system.
Faso estimated his plan would save about $13 billion over four years.
Meanwhile, although he said there were differences between the concerns of residents downstate and those in this area, Faso said a common complaint was that New Yorkers are overtaxed.
“We lead the nation in out-migration and the reason is taxes,” he said.
If elected governor, Faso said he would impose a cap on school property taxes at 4 percent to ease the burden on taxpayers, and would reduce state spending in order to reduce income taxes.
Faso also talked about education, saying he would reduce government influence over public schools.
“Our schools need relief from the burdens of mandates on education,” he said.
Regarding jobs in upstate New York, Faso said the state needed to become more competitive in luring business to the area.
“The main thing is taxes, energy costs and workers’ comp,” Faso said. “Those are the things that weigh on the minds of businesses when they decide where to locate.”



Dryden man sentenced to 12 years for rape

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — A Dryden man was sentenced Wednesday in Tompkins County Court to 12 years in state prison for a rape and other crimes he was convicted of in early August.
Karel Westerling, 23, was sentenced to a fixed sentence of 12 years in state prison for the five Class B violent felonies — first-degree rape, second-degree kidnapping, criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of criminal sexual abuse — he was found guilty of on Aug 4.
Tompkins County Judge M. John Sherman said at the sentencing hearing that he feels Westerling is a threat to the community and he has not shown remorse for his crimes.
Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson called the sentencing just.
“I think the sentence was fair and balanced,” she said. “This is evidence that cases thought to be unprosecutable can be prosecuted.”
In addition to the violent felonies, Westerling also received sentences on four other convictions.
Sherman sentenced Westerling to one to three years for two counts of first-degree criminal contempt, a felony; two to six years for first-degree coercion, a felony; and one year for resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. Those sentences will run concurrently with the 12 years he was sentenced to for his other crimes.
Additionally, Westerling must register as a sex offender and an order of protection was issued and will remain in place for three years after Westerling is released from prison.
Prior to hearing arguments from the attorneys, Sherman warned that any outbursts during his ruling will be met with contempt charges.
In what was an emotional case for both Westerling’s family and the family of the victim, Westerling’s brother Peter angrily left the courtroom the night the jury announced its decision, slamming courtroom doors behind him.
“If that should happen today,” Sherman warned, “that person will be charged with contempt of court and go to jail.”
Westerling was convicted on the nine counts after a weeklong trail that ended with 19 hours of jury deliberation.
According to the 22-year-old victim’s testimony, Westerling came to her house on Dec. 5 and dragged her into his mother’s van.
The victim, Westerling’s ex-girlfriend, told the court Westerling threatened to kill her and then kill himself with the loaded 12-gauge shot gun he had in the vehicle. She said he drove her to the Ithaca airport where he raped her.




C’ville discusses zoning, flooding

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Changes to a law limiting locations of adult entertainment businesses and local flooding problems were among the chief concerns at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.
Provisions for any future adult entertainment businesses are included in the proposed zoning text and map amendments endorsed by the county Planning Department and town Planning Board.
Upon the county’s recommendation, the revisions to the current law would restrict adult entertainment establishments to the heavy-industrial, or I-2, zoning designation. However, such establishments would first have to meet separation distance requirements that are already in place under current statutes, and also pass muster with the town Planning Board.
Board member Ron Rocco said he had talked to several residents of Luker Road, portions of which are zoned I-2, after receiving inquiries regarding the proposal.
“I didn’t get much of a positive response,” Rocco said during the meeting. “I would just like to make sure that the area for adult entertainment goes elsewhere.”
Rocco added there didn’t appear to be many parcels available on Luker Road, but circumstances can and usually do change.
At the recent meeting of the town Planning Board, Chairwoman Kathy Wickwire had said that several years ago, this type of business had been proposed near the Plaza Theatre and had encountered resistance from the community.
Town Attorney John Folmer reassured the board and the residents who had attended the meeting that current law prohibits adult entertainment within 2,000 feet of any residential and agricultural zoning districts, as well as such public facilities as daycare centers, churches, parks, gymnastic centers, libraries, museums, etc.
The town Planning Board would also have to issue a conditional permit, a provision added at its Aug. 29 meeting.
“We are prohibited from absolutely barring the establishment of such a business within the boundaries of the town,” Folmer said.
A public hearing on the zoning text amendments will be held at the Town Board’s next meeting on Sept. 20, board member Ted Testa said this morning.


Logger in serious condition after tree falls on him in Groton

Staff Reporter

GROTON — A Cayuga County man was seriously injured Wednesday when a tree fell on him during a logging accident.
State Police said Seth E. Wellott, 23, of 1544 Rafferty Road, King Ferry, was attempting to cut down a cherry tree when it twisted and kicked back, striking the man and then falling on top of him, causing a serious head injury.
Police said Wellott and Francis F. Miller, 36, of 821 Clark St. Ext., Groton, were logging trees on a lot near 7475 Clark St. Ext. when Miller saw the tree fall from a distance but was unable to see Wellott.
State Police Sgt. Terry Sullivan said Miller became concerned when he could not see Wellott, and when he went to where the tree had fallen, he found Wellott underneath it.
“The tree kicked back, striking him to the ground,” Sullivan said. “A nearby logger (Miller) was able to get a chain around it and lift it off him with a skid steerer.”
Sullivan said after Miller removed the tree from Wellott he called 911 from his cell phone.
Police estimated the tree was approximately 50 feet tall and 24 inches in diameter.