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May 14, 2018 - 1:52pm
posted by Billie Owens in United Way, Day of Caring, volunteers, news.

Press release:

On Wednesday, May 16th, the United Way of Genesee County will be hosting the 11th Annual Day of Caring.

This year, 38 local businesses and service organizations will be volunteering at 37 project sites throughout Genesee County. In total, more than 375 volunteers will be working on service projects involving, painting, landscaping, spring cleanup and other small projects.

The event will kick-off at 8 a.m. at Dwyer Stadium, with donuts and coffee, complements of Batavia Dunkin Donuts. Following a brief ceremony that will include a presentation about the United Way Backpack program, the volunteers will head to their work sites.

The day will wrap up with a community celebration at Terry Hills Restaurant at 3 p.m. Stories will be told, volunteers will be fed and everyone can enjoy the slideshow of the day provided by Carlson’s Studios.

In total, more than 2,250 man hours will be spent making the Genesee County community a better place to live.

Some of the workplaces this year include:

Genesee County Fairgrounds – Exhibition building

ABCD Day Care on Brooklyn Avenue

Community Garden – Batavia Youth Center

Village of Elba Park

Peace Garden

Grandview Cemetery

Gillam Grant Community Center

Business Improvement District – Downtown Batavia

May 14, 2018 - 1:43pm
posted by Billie Owens in EverPresent Church, batavia, news, Announcements, religion.

Press release:

EverPresent Church invites you to visit our new location at 4 Batavia City Centre, Batavia. We are excited to announce our Grand Opening Weekend on May 18-20 at the former Homestead Center also former home to Roxy’s Music Store.

EverPresent Church was founded in 2013 in the local YMCA. Not long after its beginning the church found a new home at 8 City Centre, formerly Center Stage Dance Co. Although EverPresent Church embraced its new location, we still longed for a space we could call home.

The conversation started back in 2015 with the owner of The Homestead Center but a deal wasn’t stuck until the summer of 2017.

Since our move into our new location we have been very busy settling in and making it our own. We are excited to be holding services and If you are looking for a warm friendly environment with a caring community of believers this just might be the place for you.

We are a family oriented church with great vision for you and our community. We are excited to see what God has in store for our church and anticipate great things for the future of Batavia.

If you are looking for a church and it’s been difficult to find where you fit or feel comfortable, this is the place for you! We are Real People, living Real Lives, with a Real Hope! We invite you to check it out and celebrate together as we help one another on this journey called life.

Grand Opening Weekend

  • Friday, May 18th at 5:45 p.m. -- MOVIE NIGHT showing “THE GREATEST SHOWMAN." Free popcorn and water; pop available to purchase.
  • Saturday, May 19th -- OPEN HOUSE from 2 to 5 p.m. Come by and check out the place, get some info about the church, and meet the pastors. 
  • Sunday, May 20 -- SUNDAY SERVICE at 10:30 a.m. Join us for a time of worship and an encouraging message.

We guarantee that you will experience God and His love through the people at EverPresent Church. We look forward to meeting you!

"Real People. Real Life. Real Hope!"

May 14, 2018 - 1:31pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, Jackson School, Fine Arts Night, news.

This Tuesday, May 15th, is Fine Arts Night at Jackson Primary from 5 to 7 p.m. for Jackson Primary families as well as the community! Come see the childrens' artwork, listen to some singing, and enjoy refreshments.

Don't feel like cooking? Local food trucks, including Center Street Smokehouse, The Red Osier Landmark Restaurant, Stafford and Froyo that will be parked behind Jackson Primary from 4-8 p.m. Jackson Primary will receive a portion of all purchases. It is sure to be a fun night!

The school is located at 411 S. Jackson St. in the City of Batavia.

While you are out and about, don't forget to vote for the 2018-2019 BCSD Budget and also for three Board of Education positions.

Voting will take place on Tuesday, May 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Batavia High School, 260 State St., for residents living south of Route 5 (aka Main Street); and at the Robert Morris building, 80 Union St., for residents living north of Route 5.

May 14, 2018 - 1:21pm

Press release:

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced the U.S. Senate passed critical legislation that would, for the first time ever, establish a specialized national cancer registry to be managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Schumer said the registry would improve collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide monitoring of cancer incidence among all firefighters, both career, and volunteer. Now that U.S. Senate passed this critical legislation, Schumer is now urging the House of Representatives to pass the bill immediately.

“We owe it to our brave firefighters who are on the front lines, risking their lives to protect our communities the peace of mind of knowing that if they get sick they will be taken care of,” Senator Schumer said. “This critical legislation does just that by establishing a national firefighter cancer registry, so researchers can better track, treat – and one day – prevent the potential connections between firefighting and cancer.

"I’m glad the Senate finally passed this legislation and I strongly urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this life-saving bill immediately.”  

According to a five-year study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, there are twice as many firefighters in the U.S. with malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, when compared to the general population. The same study also found that firefighters also have an increased risk of death from lung cancer and leukemia as compared to the general population. 

Schumer explained that firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins when responding to emergency situations, often as a result of the noxious flame retardants and other chemicals that are used in everyday items, from furniture to clothing, and to even children’s toys.

Experts and scientists have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the danger of these toxic chemicals because they have been found to cause developmental delays in children from long-term exposure in addition to rare cancers in firefighters when these products burn and the toxins become airborne.

Schumer said research has indicated that there is a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers, including testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancers. However, there has never been a long-term registry put in place that could be used to track the potential connections between firefighting and incidences of cancer.

Schumer, therefore, said a national firefighter cancer registry is needed, so experts and researchers can more effectively monitor nationwide trends and incidences of cancer among firefighters – both career and volunteer. Schumer said such a registry would help medical professionals more effectively identify and treat cancer in firefighters over the long term.

Specifically, this national firefighter cancer registry would do the following:

First, this registry would compile in one place the epidemiological information submitted by healthcare professionals related to cancer incidence among firefighters.

Second, it would make anonymous data available to public health researchers so that they would have access to the comprehensive datasets that will allow them to expand this groundbreaking research.

Third, this registry would improve our understanding of cancer incidence as the registry grows, which could potentially lead to the development of advanced safety protocols and safeguards for the firefighters on the front lines each day.

Finally, this bill would allow for increased collaboration between the CDC and epidemiologists, public health experts, clinicians and firefighters through regular and consistent consultations to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of the registry.

May 14, 2018 - 12:55pm
posted by Billie Owens in community garden, batavia, news, Gardening, MacArthur Park.

Jacob Rosenbeck, age 7, (also in photo at bottom) and Carolyn Pratt are painting the boards that will replace a number of the beds at the community garden. Jacob has been helping at the Garden and growing vegetables there since age 2.

Submitted photos and press release:

Gardeners and volunteers will be busy this week preparing the Batavia Community Garden for Opening Day. Join us at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 19 at the garden, located in MacArthur Park in the City of Batavia (252B State St.).

There are plenty of beds and you could lease one on the spot. Not only that, there will be several Master Gardeners on hand to assist you with getting started growing your own vegetables. We use the squarefoot gardening method to plan out 4’ x 4’ ($15) and 4’x 8’ ($25) raised beds. The lease fee is for the season and the bed is filled and ready for planting on opening day.

If you want a sneak peek, take a stroll through MacArthur Park. Parking is available adjacent to the youth center. You will notice raspberries growing along the perimeter fence. Our garden shed, courtesy of Batavia Rotary houses all of our tools, books and all natural pest control remedies.

You will see a great deal of activity on Wednesday, May 16, as the garden is a United Way Day of Caring Work Site. Thirteeen of the raised beds will be replaced that day and filled with a quality, all natural growing mix. These new beds will be deeper and allow for more versatility in what can be planted. For example, carrots and beets should do nicely.

Throughout the season surplus produce is donated, in fact one or two beds will be designated exclusively for this purpose. Garden volunteers tend to donation beds and also cultivate cutting flowers for donation. Washington Towers and Crossroads House have been the primary beneficiaries, but this year the advisory board hopes to increase the reach of donations.

For more information contact the City of Batavia Youth Bureau, 12 MacArthur Drive; Phone: 345-6420.

May 14, 2018 - 11:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in muckdogs, batavia, sports, baseball.

Press release:

The Batavia Muckdogs (Class A Short Season Affiliate of the Miami Marlins) and Genesee County’s only professional sports franchise have announced nightly promotions that deliver value and respond to fan feedback.

The Home Opener is set for Monday, June 18th at 7:05 p.m. as the Muckdogs face the West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh Pirates).

The first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive a Muckdogs Magnet Schedule presented by Tompkins Bank of Castile.

Individual game tickets will go on sale Monday, May 21st, at 10 a.m. at the Dwyer Stadium ticket office and online at Muckdogs.com. Highlights of the 2018 nightly promotions include:

Saturday Night Fireworks
The Muckdogs are moving post-game fireworks shows to Saturday nights in 2018. The team has increased the number of post-game shows to seven (7) beginning June 23rd. The change to Saturday nights is reflective of fan feedback and surveying of season ticket members. Each show will be set to music consisting of a different theme and genre. Fireworks nights include: 6/23 Southern Rock Fireworks; 7/3 Salute to the USA Independence Eve Expanded Fireworks; 7/7 Country Hits Fireworks; 7/14 '80s Hair Band Fireworks; 7/21 Jimmy Buffet Night Fireworks; 8/4 Elvis Fireworks; 8/25 '90s Hits Fireworks.

Friday Buck-A-Beer Nights
Every Friday home game will feature $1.00 12oz domestic draft beers. New this season $1 drafts will be available from 6 p.m. until the 7th inning.The Muckdogs will also be instituting an ID check booth at a designated location within Dwyer Stadium in which all fans 21 and over must present ID and receive a wristband in order to purchase alcohol. The new wristband policy on Friday nights will also allow for improved speed of service at concessions.

NY’s 529 College Savings Program Sunday Family Fun Days
New York’s 529 College Savings Program presents Family Fun Sundays during the 2018 season. From noon-12:20 select Muckdogs players will sign autographs in the concourse for all fans in attendance. After the game, all kids can run the bases just like their favorite Muckdog players courtesy of Bob Evans restaurant. Sunday games will include face painters, contests and prizes for kids throughout the game. Sundays will also feature a special Family 4-pack offer that includes four general admission tickets, four hot dogs and four regular size sodas for only $35.

WON Buck Weiner Wednesdays
New this season are WON Buck Weiner Wednesdays featuring $1 hot dogs all game long (maximum eight hot dogs per transaction). Fans can also purchase small sodas for only $1. Each Wednesday is also a Winning Wednesday presented by WBTA 1490 AM. When the Muckdogs win – all fans in attendance receive a FREE ticket to any future Muckdogs game.

2018 Home Game Times
Game times for the 2018 season are as follows: Monday through Saturday 7:05 p.m. (except July 26th -- 11 a.m. Camp Day), Sundays 1:05 p.m. (except July 1st 4:05 p.m. and Aug. 26th 4:05 p.m.).

A complete list of Muckdogs promotions and giveaways will be announced at a later date. Fans are encouraged to stay up to date with team social media platforms.

Follow us on twitter @bataviamuckdogs, and like us on facebook.com/bataviamuckdogs. The official team website, muckdogs.com is currently under construction and will be refreshed and updated to provide the latest news, information and team content throughout the season. A relaunch date will be announced in the coming weeks.

May 14, 2018 - 11:24am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, business.

Press release:

Today, the United States Supreme Court decided to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law that limited gambling.

This Supreme Court decision paves the way to bring sports betting to New York State and to the customers of Central and Western New York. Western Regional Off-Track Betting and Batavia Downs Gaming are perfectly positioned with existing infrastructure to deliver a sports-betting platform to our customers in our 15 counties including the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

As the only municipally owned gaming facility in the state, Batavia Downs Gaming is not only a strong economic driver for Central and Western New York, but it provides critical funding for community development which creates jobs, keeps families safe and helps to offset tax increases for residents.

Since its inception, Batavia Downs Gaming has generated more than $226 million to 17 municipalities and bringing sports betting to our locations will significantly increase these important contributions.

 “Legislation to allow sports betting in New York State will help grow jobs in our brick and mortar locations through Western and Central New York, and will increase the significant community development contributions we provide to our municipalities,” said Henry F. Wojtaszek, president/CEO of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB. “We are looking forward to working with New York State officials to enable legislation that will allow this dynamic opportunity to become a reality.”

“We have been preparing for this sports betting decision and we are confident we can get the product up and running quickly, smoothly and professionally,” said Michael Nolan, chief operation officer of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB.

May 14, 2018 - 11:14am
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, east pembroke, batavia, notify, accident.

Robert A. Boyce, age 51 and a resident of East Pembroke, who was involved in an ATV accident at 8:16 p.m. yesterday has succumbed to his injuries at ECMC.

The investigation is ongoing but the Sheriff's Office states that both alcohol and speed are being considered contributing factors in the crash.

Boyce was riding his ATV on a trail near National Grid transmission lines about 200 yards off Hartshorn Road when he apparently failed to negotiate a turn.

Previously: East Pembroke resident seriously injured in ATV accident

May 14, 2018 - 10:14am

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Batavia High School Girls Varsity Softball Team went undefeated for both games to win the Pembroke tournament this past Saturday at Pembroke Town Park. Batavia High School defeated Akron 10-9 in game one, then beat Perry/Mount Morris in the championship game 16-1. 

Irelyn Curry was named MVP of the tournament by pitching two complete games. Irelyn and the defense only allowed one run in the championship game.  

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Against Akron, the Lady Devils were challenged by a deficit of six runs early on but battled back to win the game 10-9. Taylor and Ryann Stefaniak, Bri Janes, and Mackenzie Reigle each scored two runs, while Bri Janes, Alaina Bowman and Bryn Wormley all drove in two runs. Jenae Colkey doubled twice. 

In the championship game, Taylor Stefaniak scored five times, with three hits along with her sister Ryann Stefaniak who had three hits. Maiya Reinhart hit a three-run home run and 5 RBIs, and Bri Janes had three hits as Batavia collected 18 hits to win the game 16-1.

Batavia improves to 10-7 on the season and face a rematch of last year sectional finalists Pittsford Sutherland home today at Anderson Field. Game time 5 p.m.

Top two photos provided by Lori Reinhart. Bottom photos by Steve Ognibene.

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May 14, 2018 - 8:56am
posted by Billie Owens in Alabama, accident, news.

An accident with injuries is reported on 643 Alleghany Road (Route 77). Alabama Fire Department and Mercy medics are responding. Injuries are not believed to be serious. The accident is blocking traffic. The location is between Lockport and Casey roads.

UPDATE 8:57 a.m.: Minor injuries, no entrapment.

May 14, 2018 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, schools, education, notify.

Tomorrow voters throughout Genesee County will be asked to cast ballots for school board candidates in our area's eight school districts, although in many cases they will know little about the policy positions of those candidates because of school district restrictions on board member speech.

There are five school districts in Genesee County that bar school board members from publicly sharing their opinions on any school district issues -- Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Le Roy, Oakfield-Alabama, and Pavilion.

As The Batavian found over the past two weeks, these restrictions can even have a chilling effect on candidates who have not yet won a seat on a school board.

The first hint that these policies existed arose on April 23 when members of the Alexander Central School District Board declined to answer questions about policy issues in the district, citing a rule that required all statements to come from the district's superintendent, Catherine Huber, Ed.D.

That prompted an investigation by The Batavian into board member speech policies of all eight school districts in the county. We expected the Alexander policy to be an anomaly. But it isn't.

Five districts clearly prohibit school board members from making any public statements outside of a school board meeting.

School Board Candidate Questions
The Batavian sent five questions to each of the 17 school board candidates who are asking for your votes tomorrow. Only four returned responses.

Alexander Central School:

  • Sara Fernaays (Did not respond)

Batavia City Schools:

  • Pat Burk (Did not respond)
  • Zach Korzelius (Did not respond)
  • Shawna Murphy (Did not respond)

Byron-Bergen Central School:

Elba Central School:

  • Candy Bezon (Declined to respond)

Le Roy Central School

  • William MacKenzie (Did not respond)
  • Lloyd Miller (Did not respond)
  • Lawrence Bonacquisti (Did not respond)

Oakfield-Alabama Central School:

Pavilion

  • John Banister (Did not respond)
  • Christopher Jeffres (Did not respond)

Pembroke:

According to legal experts contacted by The Batavian, these policies likely violate the First Amendment rights of those school board members.

Robert Freedman, director of the state's Committee on Open Government, said he's run across these school district prohibitions before and he doesn't believe they would withstand a court challenge.

"Certainly, school board members should not be able to speak on behalf of the school board unless authorized," Freedman said. "But a school board member, like any other citizen of the United States, has the right, and should be encouraged, to speak on matters of public concern."

School board attorney defends speech restrictions
Jennifer Schwartzott, the attorney for the Alexander Central School District, defended her district's policy and said: "It has nothing to do with the First Amendment." She said state and federal law, along with regulations, commissioner’s decisions, and NYS case law support the position that only the superintendent can speak publicly.

NOTE:  Jennifer Schwartzott has left a comment on this story and communicated with us via email indicating she does not believe this story accurately represents her views. Please see her comment and our response below.

Schwartzott also represents Byron-Byron Central School District.

Asked for legal citations to support her claim, Schwartzott responded, "I am not going to provide you with free legal advice or do your research for you. The extensive statutory provisions of the Education Law and the corresponding regulations are available online if you wish to review them."

At her suggestion, we looked at articles 31, 35, and 37 of the state's Education Code and couldn't find a single sentence to quote that supports her assertion that state law prohibits school board members from expressing their personal opinions on matters of public interest.

Here's what Schwartzott said about the state law: "The Education Law dictates that boards of education must appoint Superintendents, and the Superintendents shall be 'the chief executive officer[s] of the school district[s],' and 'speak on all matters' on the districts’ behalves."

The question, however, isn't whether board members can individually speak on the district's behalf but whether they can publicly share their own point of view on issues of importance to the district.

New York's education law also says the "superintendent shall be under the direction of the board of education." 

At her suggestion, we also searched for case law that supports Schwartzott's assertion that board member speech can be restricted and could find none.

We did find a case that confirms elected officials enjoy First Amendment protection for speech related to their elected duties. 

Republican Party of Minn. v. White, for example, states, “The role that elected officials play in our society makes it all the more imperative that they be allowed freely to express themselves on matters of current public importance.” 

We also found reference to a case in Arizona where a school board VP was demoted after criticizing the superintendent. A court ruled that the board had a right to pick somebody with opinions better aligned with its own views on policy matters but the former VP was allowed to retain his seat on the board.

We also couldn't find regulations nor commissioner's decisions that support Schwartzott's assertion. We spent hours searching through commissioner's decisions using various search terms and could not find any decisions that indicated school districts could restrict board member speech.

David C. Bloomfield, professor of Education Law at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Grad Center, whom we contacted with the help the Education Law Association, said he knew of no law or case law that prohibited school board members from answering the questions of reporters, or any other member of the public, or otherwise publicly sharing their own personal views on matters of public interest related to his or her school district.

“That’s protected First Amendment speech," Bloomfield said. “Individual board members cannot be prohibited from expressing their opinions publicly on district policies. They are not required to express their opinions but they may express their opinions as a First Amendment matter."

School Taxes
School board members make many decisions each year that affect the lives of local residents, including determining how much we pay in taxes. Here is a sampling of what percentage school districts take in local taxes.

  • Alexander CSD in the Town of Alexander: 49 percent.
  • City Schools, in the City of Batavia: 47 percent
  • Byron-Bergen CSD in the Town of Bergen: 48 percent.
  • Byron-Bergen CSD in the Town of Byron: 53 percent.
  • Elba CSD in the Town of Elba: 50 percent.
  • Le Roy CSD in the Town of Le Roy: 58 percent.
  • Oakfield-Alabama CSD in the Town of Oakfield: 50 percent.
  • Oakfield-Alabama CSD in the Town of Alabama: 53 percent.
  • Pavilion CSD in the Town of Pavilion: 49 percent.
  • Pembroke CSD in the Town of Pembroke: 52 percent.

He added, “A school board member can speak about their understanding of school district policies but should be clear they don’t individually speak for the school district. That is properly the responsibility of the board president or superintendent.”

Batavia, Elba, and Pembroke all have more permissive policies than the five districts that have essentially placed a gag rule on school board members.

Candidate questions
To test school board member's understanding of their district's policies on board member speech, we sent five questions to each of the 17 candidates for school board seats in tomorrow's elections. We sent the questions last Monday with a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to respond.

We received responses from only five candidates.

Four of those candidates answered the questions (see sidebar).

One candidate, and a current school board member, from Elba, declined to answer the questions even though Elba's policy appears to allow school board members to express individual opinions.

"Thanks for reaching out," said Candy Bezon from Elba CSD. "I think it's great that you're doing that. Being a current Board member, I wish to decline to comment at this time as our current policy is that any media communication should be directed to our Superintendent, Keith Palmer or Board President, Mike Augello. Thank you and I hope you're having a great day."

Palmer shared the district's written policy, which says in part, "The Board President is designated as the spokesperson for the Board when the Board is making a statement on an issue. No other member of the Board individually will speak for, or in the name of, the Board unless by explicit direction of the Board. Board members should emphasize to the media when asked to speak as a board member that they can only speak as a private citizen."

For the 12 candidates who did not respond to the questionnaire, we sent a follow-up request for comment Friday morning (we also sent a reminder email Thursday morning, ahead of the deadline) and inquired as to why they did not respond to the candidate's questions. Not one of the dozen who ignored the candidate's questions acknowledged the follow-up questions.

We actually communicated with one candidate seeking votes, Sara Fernaays, who is unopposed for school board in Alexander, through Facebook messages. She also did not respond. The prior week, The Batavian attempted to interview her after a school board meeting and she declined an interview saying she feared trouble with the school district if she spoke with a reporter.

Policies in Batavia and Pembroke
In our research to uncover specific school board policies for all eight school districts in Genesee County, we first contacted Pat Burk, president of the board for city schools.

Burk said the way he understood New York law, school board members could share their personal opinions but should be clear they are not speaking for the board. They also must be careful not to discuss confidential information, such as information regarding specific students.

There are state and federal laws that protect certain student information (but not all student information) from disclosure.

"They (board members) are allowed to give their opinion but it is only a personal opinion, it is not reflective of the Board," Burk said in an email. "Most Board Members should, of course, say something on an individual issue to the extent of, 'While I feel___________, this is a matter for the entire Board and together we support _____________.  I stand by the Board's decision.'

"So with that in mind," he added, "many choose not to speak individually as it really doesn't carry any weight other than it is a personal opinion. I always tend to be pretty open about my personal opinions on school matters as long as they can be discussed, but I am very certain that the person I am speaking to realizes that it is a personal opinion and not the decision of the Board."

We were surprised, then, when Burk, as well as the other two school board candidates (Zach Korzelius and Shawna Murphy) in tomorrow's city schools election, did not respond to our questionnaire. Nor did any of the three acknowledge our follow-up email.

When they failed to respond, we followed up Superintendent Christopher Dailey, who also said school board members were free to express their own opinions on matters related to the school district so long as they protected confidentiality, though it is best to refer questions to a designated spokesperson.

"For District policies and issues that our BOE votes on, the Board practice is to have a spokesperson to share the result of the decision of the Board, if asked by the media," Dailey said.

The other school district in Genesee County that does not restrict board member speech is Pembroke.

Superintendent Matthew Caledron engaged in a transparent and lengthy email exchange with The Batavian about the issue.

Calderon said he believes board members in Pembroke would abide by the policy that questions from a reporter be funneled through the superintiendent; they are not prohibited from sharing their personal opinions on matters before the board.

"I am the official spokesperson, and at Board meetings, it is the Board President," Calderon said. "Individual Board members cannot speak on behalf of the Board or District, and if an individual board members wished to share their personal views with a reporter (or anybody else), while they have the constitutional right to do so, they would probably opt not to do so because most matters are best left to the superintendent or Board President to discuss."

In Calderon's first email response to The Batavian, he pointed us to policy guidelines from the New York School Boards Association that recommends school boards have a designated spokesperson and that individual board members only speak publicly when they make it clear they are expressing their own personal opinion.

From Calderon's email quoting NYSBA policy guidelines:

... when making statements to stakeholders, the public or the media, school board members have a duty to distinguish personal opinion from the established policy or articulated views of the board.  Only the board as a whole, or its designee, has authority to speak for the board.  Therefore, whenever communicating about issues related to the district, each board member should clearly state that he or she is communicating a personal opinion and is not speaking for the board.

One of the four candidates to answer our candidate's questions is John Cima, school board president, and the only candidate on Pembroke's ballot.

What's interesting about Pembroke's more permissive policy is the law firm Osborn, Reed & Burk LLP represents Pembroke, according to the district's minutes for its 2017-18 organizational meeting. Jennifer Schwartzott, the attorney for Alexander and Byron-Bergen, who has defended the speech restrictions in those districts, is a partner in that Rochester-based law firm.

School districts that restrict speech
Here is an overview of the responses we got when we surveyed school district's on their policies:

Alexander: Their policy was uncovered through prior coverage, which sparked this investigation.

Byron-Bergen: Superintendent Mickey Edwards said "I am the official spokesperson for the District per my contract and Board Policy. 'All statements of the Board will be released through the Office of the Superintendent...' An individual Board member should not make public comment on District matters."

Le Roy: Superintendent Merritt Holley said: "Our Board Policy states #3110, 'All statements of the Board will be released through the Office of the Superintendent and/or District Clerk.' For Le Roy CSD, this policy would direct all statements or questions from the Board to come through my office for publication."

Oakfield-Alabama: Board President Kimberly Staniszewski responded to our inquiry and stated: "All communication is delivered to the media by our school Superintendent or his/her designee. No board member is permitted to speak to the media unless authorized to do so by the Superintendent. I have attached Oakfield-Alabama media policy #3110." The attached copy of policy #3110 is about news releases and is moot on the question of whether board members are entitled to their own publicly shared opinions. Nor does it explicitly direct board members to refer questions to the superintendent. We requested clarification from Staniszewski and did not get a response.

Pavilion: Board President Marirose Ethington responded by quoting the district's policy manual: "As the official spokesperson, the Superintendent or his/her designee shall issue all news releases concerning the District. All statements of the Board will be released through the Office of the Superintendent and/or the District Clerk. Identifying a media spokesperson who will be briefed on all details. This spokesperson shall be the Superintendent or his/her designee. Only this spokesperson shall talk to and maintain a timely flow of information to the media."

Policies elsewhere
The Batavian performed a deep search of online resources to find any legal support for speech-restriction policies and could find none. Where we did find school boards and school board associations that address the issue, the common theme is: School boards should have an official spokesperson and emphasize that school board members are free to answer questions for public review but should emphasize they are speaking for themselves only.

In Ohio, for example, the Ohio School Board Association says: "Dealing with the news media can be intimidating, but responding to journalists is an important responsibility of school board members and administrators."

Stacy Bogard, a public relations specialist advising the Michigan School Boards Association wrote in a column, "you’ll want to do whatever you can to ensure that the media receives openness, honesty, accessibility and trustworthiness from every member of your board and administration."

Even the National School Board Association says that part of a school board member's job is talking with the media.

There have been a couple of attempts we found around the nation of school board members pushing to prohibit other school board members from talking with reporters and in those articles, attorneys and school board associations tend to agree such policies are unconstitutional, such as in New Jersey.

Janet Bamford, a spokesperson for the New Jersey School Boards Association, confirmed in a statement to the Herald on Friday that board members do indeed have that right and do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when serving on a school board.

"Typically boards, as a best practice matter, will designate someone to be the spokesperson for the district, usually the board president and the superintendent," Bamford wrote.

"However, school board members retain their First Amendment rights to comment on anything; however, they must make certain that it is known that they are only speaking for themselves, and not on behalf of the Board of Education."

In Houston, it was school board members who complained that district policies violated their free speech guarantees.

Local government reaction
Over the past two weeks, as we discussed these policies with elected officials in local government, they expressed surprise that such policies existed in local school districts, especially when school districts take such a large chunk of tax revenue from local property owners (see sidebar).

We asked Bob Bauch, chairman of the Genesee County Legislature about it, and he was just as shocked as everybody else and has a hard time believing it's actually true.

“I just can’t imagine a basis for that, if, in fact, it’s true -- that you could possibly tell an elected official they cannot talk to the press, particularly during an election campaign when they’re up for office,” Bausch said.

The way Jennifer Schwartzott, the attorney for Alexander and Byron-Bergen, sees it, school board members speaking at sparsely attended school board meetings should be sufficient for the public to understand their thinking on issues of public interest.

"The Education Law also confirms that in their individual capacities school board members do not have any greater power than other community members," Schwartzott said. "Their power to exercise their board duties arises when they are collectively assembled as a board, as is the case with most boards in municipal and even corporate settings. Community members who are interested in what the local board members have to say can attend board meetings when the members discuss issues, share their opinions, and make decisions."

NOTE:  Jennifer Schwartzott has left a comment on this story and communicated with us via email indicating she does not believe this story accurately represents her views. Please see her comment and our response below.

At school board meetings, members of the public, of course, are generally prohibited from entering into a dialogue with board members during board discussions to better probe each member's thinking on issues.

Bausch said he understands the need of reporters to ask questions after a meeting and thinks it is simply part of the process of informing the public.

“If you believe in a free press and public elections, I don’t see how you could possibly say you can’t talk to the press," Bausch said. "I mean, I could say something at Ways and Means that I’m going to vote a certain way and I and the other legislators could all agree and then vote.

"That doesn’t necessarily explain to you in any way what my thinking is on why I voted the way I did. It happens all the time, you could say, ‘I understand your vote but could you explain it to me?’ That’s your job if you’re going to represent yourself as a news person or a reporter or a member of the public.”

May 14, 2018 - 7:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in pembroke, Pembroke Central School District, news, schools, education.

The Batavian emailed candidate questions to all 17 candidates in Genesee County's eight school districts that are holding elections on Tuesday. Only four returned completed questionnaires.  

This is the response from John Cima, the candidate lone in the Pembroke Central School District.

1. What is your position on your school district’s proposed budget for 2018-19? What parts do you support? What parts would you change if you could?

The Board voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget and we collectively support every part of it. We have had many discussions during the school year where we analyze budget items as a corporate body and made decisions based on that data. All board members are heard and we talk through any sticking points and concerns to reach consensus as a group. The proposed budget being presented to voters is one that all board members support without reservation. 

2. Are teachers in your district compensated adequately?

Collectively, I believe if you ask our teachers, they will tell you that Pembroke is a special place to work! As long as I have been serving on the Board we have looked at the District as a school district of opportunity for both students and staff. Being a rural school district we sometimes find ourselves having to do more with fewer resources than wealthier districts. Our teachers have risen to the occasion with creativity and a strong resolve. Our Board, I believe has done the same. While our teachers are not compensated as much as our neighbors in Erie County, we have worked hard to offer competitive salaries, and we are extremely pleased with the academic and extra-curricular achievements they have accomplished with our students.

3. Parents are more nervous than ever about school safety. Is your district’s communication to parents about school safety policies and procedures adequate? Should parents and the community be informed when a student makes a threat of violence against the school?

Safety and security are paramount and communication to parents is ongoing. When threats of violence occur, our school officials work closely with local law enforcement to determine the best course of action, including communications to parents, on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances.

4. Are you satisfied that your district responds to parents’ complaints and concerns in a way that ensures the parents know they have been heard?

Yes. I hope that parents trust in the policies the Board has put in place to ensure open lines of communication when they have a complaint or concern. Sometimes parents are just looking for direction. I believe our Board has developed a policy that allows for open and honest dialog along with a proper chain of command. In most cases, this has led to the de-escalation of situations and rational solutions being agreed upon by all parties.

5. What two books published since The Enlightenment have influenced you the most?

I have read a lot of books and it would be too difficult to choose which two have influenced me the most. However, if you were to ask me why I wish to continue serving on the Pembroke Board of Education I will tell you that I have been influenced by a school district and community that is open to exploring OPPORTUNITY. Our students deserve the best that we can provide when it comes to their respective educations. Our role as a school board is to set policy that ensures that this happens in the most cost-effective, efficient, resourceful, and creative way as possible. 

May 14, 2018 - 7:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in byron-bergen, schools, education, news.

The Batavian emailed candidate questions to all 17 candidates in Genesee County's eight school districts that are holding elections on Tuesday. Only four returned completed questionnaires. 

This is the response from Amy Mathisen, a candidate in the Byron-Bergen Central School District. Neither of the other two candidates, Deb List or Bill Forsyth, responded.

1. What is your position on your school district’s proposed budget for 2018-19? What parts do you support? What parts would you change if you could?

I support Byron Bergen's budget. I would change the constant decrease in aid for schools. Unfortunately, there are some variables that can not be changed, such as retirement, and teaching salaries. I was not involved in determining the budget, as I did not attend the meetings they had, mostly because I did not know they were occurring.

2. Are teachers in your district compensated adequately?

That is a loaded question and I an split on this topic. I think there are some that are under-compensated and others that are over-compensated. In my opinion there needs to be a way to determine an effective teacher, through confidential peer reviews, student reviews, and teacher reviews. I always reviewd my kids teachers thru elementary school by sending a letter to the superintendent. I do encourage other parents to do the same, not just in the bad years, but on the good years as well.

3. Parents are more nervous than ever about school safety. Is your district’s communication to parents about school safety policies and procedures adequate? Should parents and the community be informed when a student makes a threat of violence against the school?

Yes, I feel our school is safe. As far violent threats by a student there is a fine line there. I would hope our board would be notified and they would handle the situation appropriately. 

4. Are you satisfied that your district responds to parents’ complaints and concerns in a way that ensures the parents know they have been heard?

Personally, yes I am satisfied with how complaints are handled at the district level. The superintendent is always very receptive to feedback and the board members I have brought issues to have taken steps to make changes, based on the complaints.

5. What two books published since The Enlightenment have influenced you the most?

I really am not a book reader. I am a here and now person; however, I am a quote girl and love Albert Einstein.

May 14, 2018 - 7:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in oakfield-alabama, schools, education, news.

The Batavian emailed candidate questions to all 17 candidates in Genesee County's eight school districts that are holding elections on Tuesday. Only four returned completed questionnaires. 

This is the response from Tim Edgerton, a candidate for the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District board. There are two other candidates in the race: Lorna Klotzbach, who also answered our questions, and Douglas Esten, who did not.

1. What is your position on your school district’s proposed budget for 2018-19? What parts do you support? What parts would you change if you could?

Upon my review of the Oakfield-Alabama 2018-19 proposed budget I believe that it represents a collaborative effort by school officials to present a fiscally responsible budget to the community. The budget allows the district to maintain academic programming as well as continue to offer a variety of extracurricular activities to engage our students. Resources appear to have been appropriately allocated where the needs of the district are indicated. As costs continue to rise, the district must adjust resources to cover operating costs. Preparing and enacting a budget is a constant juggling act that requires oversight by school officials and community members. From last year’s budget to this year’s budget there has only been a slight increase in overall spending and the tax levy. I concur with the budget that is proposed, and at this time I would not make any changes to it.

2. Are teachers in your district compensated adequately?

This is a complicated issue because it involves a budget process and reliance in large part on the school aid that we receive from Albany. It is without hesitation that I agree that entry-level salaries for teachers could be improved upon, (as well as pay increments throughout their tenure), not only here at OA but across the nation. Unfortunately, the demands of a responsible school budget along with a decreasing tax base hinders administrators and school boards and diminishes the flexibility in this area.

3. Parents are more nervous than ever about school safety. Is your district’s communication to parents about school safety policies and procedures adequate? Should parents and the community be informed when a student makes a threat of violence against the school?

Overall the school district does a good job keeping the community/parents informed about situations involving student safety. Practice drills involving school lockdown are conducted throughout the school year. Security enhancements continue to be implemented/upgraded accordingly; parents are notified and brought into the loop regarding student safety issues promptly and as necessary. As is always the case, there is always room to enhance current procedures and communication. This is an area that requires school officials and Board of Education members to be extremely proactive. They must continue to seek out best practices across the world, and where possible, implement them accordingly.

4. Are you satisfied that your district responds to parents’ complaints and concerns in a way that ensures the parents know they have been heard?

I feel that the school administration and teaching staff do a sufficient job in addressing parents concerns regarding their children and situations that develop within the school. However, there are always opportunities to improve the methods and processes that are utilized. School officials should be encouraged to continuously seek out best practices that are utilized by other school districts throughout the nation and explore implementing them.

5. What two books published since The Enlightenment have influenced you the most?

The two books that have influenced me the most are The Carrot Principle by Adrian Robert Gostick, and Chester Elton, and Pyramid for Success by John Wooden. From The Carrot Principle, I absorbed the importance of positive reinforcement and recognition. Everyone, be they teachers or students, need and should be given recognition for achievements and going above and beyond the call of duty. Pyramid of Success I believe is an excellent guide through, and preparation for life. It emphasizes the importance of an individual’s character, which I believe is all-important, especially an individual’s character when no one is looking. If the principles in this book were appropriately applied in a school setting, I believe that administration, faculty, and students, could all achieve maximum potential.

May 14, 2018 - 7:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in oakfield-alabama, schools, education, news.

The Batavian emailed candidate questions to all 17 candidates in Genesee County's eight school districts that are holding elections on Tuesday. Only four returned completed questionnaires. 

This is the response from Lorna Klotzbach, a candidate for the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District Board. There are two other candidates in the race: Tim Edgerton, who also answered our questions, and Douglas Esten, who did not.

1. What is your position on your school district’s proposed budget for 2018-19? What parts do you support? What parts would you change if you could?

I will vote “yes” on the budget for 2018-2019. There are allocations of funds in it that I would change. I would reduce administrative and other costs in favor of maintaining good academic programs that are now in place, but which are being cut in the new budget. I would change the way our computer technology monies are being spent because I have not seen benefits from several of the BOE’s 2017-2018 technology spending decisions, and doubt the wisdom of some of their new budget decisions as well. 

2. Are teachers in your district compensated adequately?

Teachers at OACS are compensated adequately for most things that we do. Of course, we all tend to want more than we have! We have difficulty finding competent substitute teachers so when we do find competent ones, those individuals should be paid more for their competence. My major disagreement with OA teacher compensation is that some non-athletic extra-curricular positions are not compensated at a rate equal to the athletic coaches. Many of these positions require as much time, creativity and student-teacher interaction as the athletic coaching positions do. Since many of these positions are, perhaps, more likely to prepare students for future successes in college, career, and character, they deserve as much compensation as the athletic positions.

3. Parents are more nervous than ever about school safety. Is your district’s communication to parents about school safety policies and procedures adequate? Should parents and the community be informed when a student makes a threat of violence against the school?

OACS administration keeps their public informed of threats to student safety. OA administration makes use of the “robo-calling” system and letters/emails to inform parents of problems as they become aware of such problems. If upon investigation, threats made by students seem to be credible, then the public should be informed. In our small community, many people are interested in, and affected by, the school’s schedule so our district’s notification system would be more effective if it was extended to residents who are not also parents or teachers.

4. Are you satisfied that your district responds to parents’ complaints and concerns in a way that ensures the parents know they have been heard?

There are many stakeholders in our district, including parents. There are also teachers and students who are most affected by BOE and administrators’ policy and daily decisions. Our district could improve its response to all stakeholders’ complaints, compliments, and concerns.

5. What two books published since The Enlightenment have influenced you the most?

The two books published since the Enlightenment that have influenced me the most have been modern translations of the Bible, and “Hawaii,” by James Michener. I followed my siblings’ example and read that big novel while still very young. It taught me to read more than just the dialogue pages. It opened up to me the influences of history, geography, cultural norms, and politics on regular people’s daily lives. I read books much differently after I grappled with all of the novel’s “other pages” of description and discovered the wealth they could deliver. The modern translations of the Bible challenged and deepened my Christian faith beyond a childlike conformity to my family’s norms. The modern language Bible showed me a living God.

May 14, 2018 - 12:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in east pembroke, batavia, news, accident.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating an ATV accident reported at 8:16 p.m. Sunday in the area of 8706 Hartshorn Road, Batavia; it seriously injured the rider.

Robert A. Boyce, 51, of East Pembroke, was transported via Mercy Flight to ECMC with unknown injuries.

The preliminary investigation indicates Boyce was traveling east on the trail along National Grid power lines about 200 yards from Hartshorn Road when he failed to negotiate a turn, rolling his ATV. 

Assisting at the scene were Mercy EMS and East Pembroke fire.

The investigation is being conducted by Sgt. Andrew Hale, Investigator Christopher Parker, and Deputy Travis Demuth.

(Initial Post)

May 14, 2018 - 12:01am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, news, crime.

jackcentralassualtmay142017.jpg

City fire and Mercy EMS have been dispatched to Central and Jackson to tend to the victim of an assault.

Local law enforcement went to the secure channel several minutes ago. We don't know if these dispatches are related.

UPDATE 12:30 a.m.: Police officers are still sorting out what happened. We also spoke to a witness. A group of Genesee Community College students was walking on Central, possibly back from their "party house" on Central, where there may have been a prior confrontation. There was a confrontation between the students and another group at Jackson and Central. The other group carried at least two baseball bats. A witness who identified himself and the approximately dozen other people in the area as GCC students said one member of the other group pulled out a gun and started hitting one of the students in the face with it. He said the victim's face "was messed up." Later, medical personnel were looking with flashlights for teeth in the area of the assault. If found, a medic said, they could be perhaps re-implanted. Four or five people were being treated for head wounds. A Mercy ambulance just transported three people to UMMC.

While this was going on, police received a report of an unresponsive woman in a vehicle at 113 Jackson. That was unrelated and she was conscious and alert when we left the scene.

The incident that State troopers went to LE secure earlier must be unrelated to the Jackson Street incident since there were no troopers at Jackson and Central.

The Sheriff's Office did assist with Jackson and Central.

jackcentralassualtmay142017-2.jpg

May 13, 2018 - 9:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, news, byron.

An accident is reported on North Byron Road, perhaps in the area of 5500 N. Byron Road, Byron.

One person has self-extricated. Another person is still in the car, possibly with broken ribs.

A utility pole is sheared off and wires are down.

UPDATE 9:41 p.m.: Both patients extricated.

UPDATE 9:53 p.m.: One patient being transported to Strong, the other to UMMC.

May 13, 2018 - 8:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, news, Alabama.

An accident is reported in the area of 1315 Ledge Road, Alabama.

The car hit a utility pole and injuries are reported.

The pole is standing but lines are down.

Alabama fire and Mercy EMS dispatched.

May 13, 2018 - 8:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, news, batavia, east pembroke.

An ATV accident with possible serious injuries is reported in the area of 8172 Hartshorn Road, Batavia.

Two subjects in and out of consciousness.

Mercy Flight #7 out of Batavia is on a ground standby

East Pembroke fire and Mercy EMS dispatched.

The location is about 200 yards from Hartshorn.

UPDATE 8:23 p.m.: The location is apparently behind the East Pembroke Fire Hall.

UPDATE 8:27 p.m.: Mercy Flight will not be required.

UPDATE 8:28 p.m.: Now there is only mention of one patient. East Pembroke will use its ATV to transport the patient to the ambulance at the road.

UPDATE 8:34 p.m.: Mercy Flight is now requested to the scene.

UPDATE 9:08 p.m.: East Pembroke is in process of clearing the scene.

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