October 17, 2007


Principals make grade with college

2 Cortland educators to be given College Council Appreciation Award


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Parker School Principal Kevin Yard, left, and Barry School Principal Fred Amante observe a science demonstration by SUNY Cortland student teacher Kevin Macauly in Diane Batzing’s first-grade class at Barry Elementary School Tuesday. Yard and Amante will receive SUNY Cortland’s annual College-Community Appreciation Award at a ceremony Thursday.

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland senior Kevin Macauly has already learned a lot from his student teaching experience at Barry Elementary. If you talk loudly, he said, the young students will match your level.
Macauly is among the student teachers Cortland elementary schools principals Fred Amante and Kevin Yard have helped to learn the trade.
The principals are being honored for the work they do with college students.
Amante, 60, and Yard, 46, said they were surprised to hear they were receiving the SUNY Cortland College Council College-Community Appreciation Award for their work with college students, mostly future educators.
“It’s just something we normally do,” said Amante, principal at Barry Elementary since 1985.
“I’m just doing what’s best for the kids,” said Yard, who has been the principal at Parker since 1999.
The award, given since 1985, will be presented Thursday evening during a banquet in the Corey Union Function Room.
Both principals have worked closely with the Field Placement Office at SUNY Cortland to place student teachers in their schools. Amante introduces the college students to the classroom in an orientation session that outlines professional expectations.
Both principals also conduct a seminar for college students on what to expect in the interviewing process. Yard said he is scheduled to speak to students Nov. 14. Amante said he speaks later in the semester.
“We are at an advantage, proximitywise,” said Amante, noting Barry and Parker are the closest elementary schools to the college. He said some of the other schools in the area want to do more with the college, also. “As you do more, it becomes easier to do,” he said.
Yard said when he started working at Parker Elementary he formed the SUNY-Parker Partnership in collaboration with the school’s Shared Decision Making Team, school administrators and the SUNY Cortland Career Services Office.
This partnership brought 53 college students into Parker classrooms the first semester. He said this semester there are 70 students participating in the program, most students fulfilling a requirement for 100 observation hours before they can student teach.
Amante adopted this program at Barry in 2000 and the two principals supported expanding the program into the remaining Cortland district elementary schools — Randall, Smith and Virgil — and into St. Mary’s School in Cortland, McGraw Elementary School and Homer Elementary and Intermediate schools.
Amante and Yard both incorporate SUNY students in special programs that run for a semester or year. Yard said right now all the students in a literacy class at the college spend 30 minutes a week with children. He said there have been other programs with drama students at the college and college students help with Math Fun Day.
“We try to tap into as many departments as possible,” Yard said.
Amante said Barry has done a pen pal program in which third-grade students were paired with about 70 college students in the Education Club and the Lunch Buddy Project paired students with a college student from the Men of Value and Excellence program. Unlike many of the programs, the MOVE students were not necessarily education majors; the program was to model values for the young children.
Neither Amante nor Yard had a program they were most proud of.
Amante said “the ability to have help here from the college on a regular basis,” was what was important to him and being able to count on the students.
Yard agreed. “Each initiative has motivation for us as well as the college. I don’t know that I could put one above the other.”
Amante said sometimes the elementary school students go to the college where college students test the lessons they have planned and developed on the young children. “Our kids love the college students,” he said.
“We’ve become dependent on them,” Diane Batzing, a first- grade teacher, said of the SUNY Cortland students.
Macauly, an early childhood/childhood education major, teaches in her classroom. Yard said he has three student teachers at Parker this semester.
On Tuesday, Macauly was finishing a science unit on air in which he showed the students how to make a parachute. Some of the other lessons on air he taught were how to use air to move objects and magic that uses air pressure.
“I love the fact that I can stay in Cortland,” said Macauly. He said he did not have a car until he did his practicum at Dryden Elementary School in a third-grade classroom.
“It gives you that sense of community,” he said. “I didn’t have that connection before.” Macauly said since working at Barry he has met with parents in conferences and chaperoned a birthday party for a student at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture.
“It’s prepared me more than 300-fold for being a teacher,” Macauly said. He said he would also be student teaching in Virgil, another elementary school in the district, for the second half of the semester.
One thing that has helped Macauly grow as a teacher is videotaping of lessons he gives. That’s how he learned he had to speak softer.
“I walked in here scared and nervous. Now I have more confidence in my abilities,” Macauly said.
“These principals are amazing,” said Caitie Sidebottom, the Cortland center coordinator and student teacher supervisor. “They welcome all levels of students — volunteers, practicum (pre-student teachers) and student teachers.”



Suits challenge judge over conflict attorney

Second judge drawn deeper into dispute over position

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Two more lawsuits relating to the contentious debate over the county’s conflict attorney position were filed late last week, both drawing a second county judge who opposes the position deeper into the fray.
County Conflict Attorney Tom Miller filed suit Friday in state Supreme Court against county Judge Julie Campbell, claiming Campbell was wrong in removing Miller from a Family Court case based on Campbell’s opposition to the conflict attorney position.
Meanwhile on Thursday the client in the same Family Court case, Charles Miller of Cortland, also filed suit against Campbell.
“I just felt that my rights were being overlooked,” Charles Miller said of his decision to file his own suit. “She tried to make me take a lawyer that would have a conflict of interest with me … Mr. Miller was assigned to me, and she’s trying to make me give him up, but I’m not going to do that.”
The two suits bring to four the number of lawsuits filed regarding the conflict attorney position.
Public Defender Keith Dayton in August filed a suit similar to Tom Miller’s against county Judge William Ames for creating a conflict in Dayton’s office by removing Miller from representing a client, while three members of the Cortland County Bar Association have sued Cortland County, claiming the conflict attorney position was created illegally.
The two latest lawsuits take issue with Campbell’s decision to nullify an appointment of Tom Miller to handle Charles Miller’s case.
Charles Miller, who was engaged in a custody case, was referred to the conflict attorney because the Public Defender’s Office had previously represented the mother against Charles Miller in a previous, “bitterly contested case,” according to Tom Miller’s suit.
The conflict attorney’s suit lays out an extensive narrative of Campbell’s rejection of his representation of Charles Miller and, like Dayton’s suit against Ames, questions the judge’s conduct. For instance, the conflict attorney details a court appearance from Sept. 18 before which he met with Charles Miller, who agreed he wanted the conflict attorney to represent him.
The case was scheduled for 1:45 p.m., but was bumped in favor of a number of cases scheduled for later in the day, and not called until 3:15 p.m., Miller’s suit claims.

Nearly 10% city tax increase proposed

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The proposed $16.8 million 2008 city budget, which would increase the tax rate  9.8 percent, was distributed to the Common Council at its meeting Tuesday night.
The tax rate would be about $17.99 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The current tax rate is $16.37 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The proposed $16.8 million in overall spending represents a          6.3 percent increase over this year’s $15.8 million budget.
The total tax levy, or amount to be raised by local property taxes, for 2008 would be $9.6 million, up from the $6.6 million 2007 tax levy.
In his budget report, Mayor Tom Gallagher recommended that the council adopt the budget as written — it includes no new programs to be funded and no capital equipment or vehicle purchases.
The spending increase is attributed to salary increases, which are up about 3 percent on average; escalating pension costs; increases in the cost of fuel and utilities; and a          13 percent increase in the cost of health insurance.
Gallagher said the city paid $258,000 for pension costs in 2003. In 2007, those costs had risen to about $1.2 million.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said that short of cutting personnel, there appears to be no feasible method of reducing the tax rate.
“This is, for all intents and purposes, just a sort of stagnant budget, other than costs that are entirely out of our control,” Damiano said this morning.
About 73 percent of each year’s budget is used for personnel expenses. Since the city is already operating at minimal staff levels, the mayor strongly discouraged the council from considering staff cuts.
“The only way to reduce manpower is for the city to reduce services. We have to find that fine balance, and I think we’re at it,” Damiano said.
The tax increase — the largest in recent memory — is due in part to the inability of the city to rely on surplus funds to offset the following year’s tax increase.


Bond balance

Over the last three years, the Common Council has been reducing its reliance on surplus funds to offset possible tax increases in response to a recommendation by the city’s bond rating service. Now, the city’s surplus has been drained and the council does not have a choice.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said he does not expect the rates at which the city pays back the debts it has incurred to skyrocket because of the lack of a surplus fund balance.
“On the one side, it’s not positive that we’ve pretty much wiped out the fund balance, but it is positive that we can demonstrate a reduced commitment to appropriating from the fund balance,” Damiano said this morning. “They might not be very happy about the one issue, but they would be happy with the other.”
And because the city has never operated at a deficit, the bond rating company, Moody’s, would likely look favorably upon sound management practices, Damiano said.
The bond rating is an important consideration since the city is considering major overhauls to the City Hall building, as well as the possible construction of a new multi-million dollar fire station, if not just an expensive overhaul of the Court Street fire station.
Damiano has said it is likely that any future bonding would be structured in a way that would not result in any tax increases — old debts would be paid off just as new debts were beginning to be incurred.
— Evan Geibel



Spending up 40% in Homer budget proposal

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The preliminary 2008 budget for the town raises spending by 40 percent, mainly due to $600,000 in upcoming improvements to the Town Hall.
The 2008 budget sets spending at $2.3 million, compared with this year’s $1.7 million budget.
The amount to be raised by taxes is $443,000, a 5.8-percent increase over this year.
The town will offset a larger tax levy increase by spending $965,000 from its $1.5 million fund balance.
The budget raises the tax rate from $1.91 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.02 per $1,000. A person owning a $100,000 house would pay $202 in property taxes in 2008, an increase of $11 over this year’s bill.
Assessed property values are projected to increase by more than $2 million from 2007 to 2008, to $261 million.
Revenues from sources other than property taxes, meanwhile, are expected to increase by 9.6 percent, to $955,000.
Town Supervisor Fred Forbes acknowledged the fund balance is extremely high relative to the current $1.7 million budget.
The state advises municipalities to maintain a fund balance that is between 10 and 20 percent of their budget, he said.
He said when he became town supervisor almost four years ago the fund balance was around $1.5 million.
“I inherited that when I took office,” Forbes said.
The town has budgeted $720,000 for its Town Hall project to upgrade the courtroom and install an elevator, which is set to begin any day.
Forbes said the town is still trying to figure out if it should pay the cost of courtroom renovations and elevator installation upfront, or bond for the project.
If it decides to bond for the project, it will put the $720,000 back in the town’s fund balance, he said.
Under the preliminary 2008 budget, the salary for Forbes stays the same at $6,000, and town board members’ salaries stay the same at $2,411.