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June 24, 2018 - 2:26am
posted by Howard B. Owens in alexander, alexander hs, schools, education, news.

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Brian West, Jr., who would have graduated Saturday from Alexander High School if not for an automobile accident in July 2017 that took his life, was not far from anybody's heart in the school's auditorium as the members of the Class of 2018 finished their high school careers.

Each speaker mentioned West. His jersey sat on a chair in the first row of graduating classmates, and his father, Brian West, Sr. (top photo), walked on stage to accept his diploma.

"The passing of Brian West was a tragedy that touched all of our hearts," said valedictorian Cassidy Graham. "Many of us had a hard time understanding how such a horrible thing can happen to our little town. None of us wanted to believe that we had seen Brian’s smiling face or heard his hearty laughter for the last time; however, in Brian’s absence, we found the best possible outcome from such a loss.  In mourning, we came together as a class, closer than ever before."

Principal Shannon Whitcome said, "Although Brian isn’t here with us physically, he is here with us. He is here with your memories of Brian and love we all have for him and his family. Those things will ensure he lives on long after we leave here today. His legacy is going to last through each one of you and your accomplishments in the future."

Steve Dodoszak, former assistant principal, selected by the class for the commencement speech, also recalled Brian as a special person.

"I believe Brian’s presence is with us today," Dodoszak said. "When I reflect on some of the memories of this class, know that Brian is part of it. There are no words to ease the pain but know that he and you are in our thoughts and prayers. We miss him and we will always love him."

Alexander celebrated the graduation of 68 seniors during the ceremony.

Graham noted the accomplishments and promise of her classmates.

"On this stage, we have football players who took our team to sectionals two years in a row," Graham said. "On this stage, we have record-setting swimmers and state champion wrestlers. We have talented artists, incredible singers, a great actor, a brilliant dancer. We have three future members of the military. We have individuals who maintained their grades while working part-time, not an easy task. What this tells me is that the Class of 2018 is a group of motivated individuals who are willing to work hard to get what they want in life. All I can say is never, ever, lose that drive that is within each of you."

Previously:

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Cassidy Graham

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Salutatorian Benjamin Slenker

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June 23, 2018 - 7:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, le roy hs, schools, education, news.

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Le Roy High School celebrated the graduation of 93 seniors today in a ceremony in the school's auditorium.

Gavin Luckey (top photo) was the valedictorian.  

He noted that now he and his classmates will have more freedom and the time they have in front of them will be filled with choices about how to spend that time. He said, make choices to fill it with memories.

"We are now able to do what we want with our time. By far one of the greatest resources we have is time. For this reason, I want to take this moment to talk about it, more specifically, to never take it for granted.

"Unfortunately, time does not work in our favor. Time is limited, unlike other resources, time can only be lost; it can never be gained, therefore, once time is past it can never again be attained. However, the one extraordinary thing about time is it can be stored within us as memories we can revisit again and again."

The salutatorian address was delivered by Lydia Borrelli, who marked the time of her class by recalling some of the cultural touchstones of the past four years, such as Michelle Obama's healthy lunch initiative, the Harlem Shake, the blue or gold dress, the break up of One Direction, and clowns.

“Clearly, we’ve overcome many obstacles during our time here at Le Roy," Borrelli said.

The class selected James Thompson, elementary principal for 20 years, to deliver the faculty/staff address. He recalled that he had known many of the students since kindergarten and advised them that what they learned in kindergarten will always serve them well in life.

"Share everything, play fair, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, wash your hands before you eat, flush, and when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together," Thompson said. "All good reminders, my friends, the Class of 2018, especially that last one. As we go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and please stick together."

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Lydia Borrelli

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James Thompson

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Donald Hobart, president of the Le Roy Board of Education

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June 23, 2018 - 1:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in pembroke, news, Roswell Cancer Institute.

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The folks in Pembroke today held "The Ride for Roswell" to help raise money for the cancer institute for research and treatment in Buffalo. The Pembroke Fire Department directed traffic conducting a boot drive at the same time.

The volunteers collected $1,614.20 for the cause.

Info and photos provided by Tera Reinhardt. 

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June 23, 2018 - 10:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in muckdogs, batavia, sports, baseball.

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The Batavia Muckdogs were down by six runs before their first hitter even stepped to the plate Friday night and over the course of nine innings the hometown team never could climb out of the hole.

The Muckdogs fell to 3-5 on the season with a 9-7 loss to Williamsport, now 5-3.

Starter Dakota Bennett, a 2017 11th round draft pick out of Somerville, Ala., lasted only two-thirds of an inning and took the loss in his first NYPL game.

Muckdogs Right fielder Jerar Encarnacion continued to tear apart NYPL pitching, raising his average to .514, second best in the league, with a 3-4 night. He scored two runs.

Big first baseman Sean Reynolds, who had the game-winning hit Thursday night, knocked one over the fence for the first time in the season in the seventh inning.

J.D. Osborne also had two hits and two RBI. He raised his average to .348.

The Muckdogs close out the homestand tonight against Williamsport. Game time is 7:05 p.m.

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Bryce Howe, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, took over for Bennett in the first and pitched 3 1/2 innings, giving up one unearned run and four hits.

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June 22, 2018 - 11:46pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, news, byron.

A car-into-pole accident is reported in the area of 6418 Warboys Road.

A first responder on scene says the driver is not in the vehicle but there's blood on the steering wheel.

Byron and South Byron fire departments dispatched.

There is debris in the roadway and wires are down.

Fire police requested to close the roadway.

UPDATE 11:47 p.m.: Responders are checking a nearby field for the driver. There is also a resident who thinks she may have heard somebody enter her house but isn't sure. She is waiting outside for police.

June 22, 2018 - 6:29pm

This past February, members of the Alexander Central School District Board of Directors traveled outside of the district, driving to East Aurora, for a retreat where, according to the school district's attorney, the board members learned about how to work together better.

If that's all the retreat was, it's perfectly legal.

However, in a May 15 interview with The Batavian, Superintendent Catherine Huber said that at the retreat the board developed a policy called the "Norms."

If that's true, and if you interpret the "Norms" as a work product unique to the Alexander CSD, the retreat may have violated the state's Open Meetings Law, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the NYS Committee on Open Government.

It would take a citizen filing a legal challenge to the meeting/retreat to determine if it really were a violation of the law. Freeman's statements to a reporter is not a legal determination.

"If they came back with a policy that is clear, then the purpose of the retreat was not general in nature," Freeman said. "Policy can only be established and discussed in a meeting in accordance with the Open Meetings Law. The facts, in this case, differ from the analysis offered by the school district attorney."

The "Norms" for the school board, as published in a district newsletter earlier this year, are:

  • We represent all students and District residents;
  • We speak with one voice;
  • We consider all matters brought to the Board as confidential;
  • We are active listeners;
  • We agree to the practice of tell one, tell all;
  • We are visible in our schools and at school functions;
  • We are respectful to all.

It is the "one voice" policy that brought the retreat and the "Norms" to the attention of The BatavianAs reported earlier, Huber, school members, and a school board candidate have used this policy as a reason that board members cannot answer questions from reporters.

After the May 15 interview, The Batavian filed a request under Freedom of Information Law for all documents, including emails, related to the retreat including an agenda, minutes, meeting notices, notes, memos, and emails created in the planning of the retreat, and any documents produced after the retreat.

The Batavian received back two documents, receipts from the Roycroft Inn for a meeting room rental and food totaling $496.80.

In response to receiving only the receipts, The Batavian emailed the school district's attorney, who responded to the FOIL request, and asked: "No agendas? Minutes? Meeting notices? Dr. Huber went into this meeting with no preparation? There was no prior planning? The board members didn't have hotel rooms? No travel expenses?"

Schwartzott responded, "Yes, that is correct – the District did not prepare agendas or take minutes. Additionally, there were no hotel expenses because no one stayed at a hotel. There were no travel expenses because there wasn’t any travel involved – the Roycroft Inn is in East Aurora."

She didn't address the question about missing meeting preparation documents.

In subsequent emails, Schwartzott denied the board held a meeting. We asked her to explain how the retreat didn't violate the OML.

Her response:

District policy was not discussed or created at the Board retreat. As Dr. Huber explained and your publication clearly states (“Recently we did a board retreat and the board established norms, which you also probably saw on our website, and one of the norms that the board established was that they would speak with one voice”), the discussion centered around communication strategies (i.e., “norms”), which the State’s Committee on Open Government (COOG) has determined is a permissible topic for Boards of Education to discuss privately in a retreat setting (see OML-AO-3709).

Moreover, COOG has also long held that a meeting of members of a Board of Education at which “public business” is not being discussed is not a Board meeting, and, therefore, is not a public event and does not follow the requirements in the Open Meetings Law (see Open Meetings Law Section 102(1); see also OML-AO-4762).

While Schwartzott did not explicitly quote from OML-AO-3709, which was written by Freeman, for example, does state:

... if there is no intent that a majority of public body will gather for purpose of conducting public business, but rather for the purpose of gaining education, training, to develop or improve team building or communication skills, or to consider interpersonal relations, I do not believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.

In that event, if the gathering is to be held solely for those purposes, and not to conduct or discuss matters of public business, and if the members in fact do not conduct or intend to conduct public business collectively as a body, the activities occurring during that event would not in my view constitute a meeting of a public body subject to the Open Meetings Law.

In other words, school boards can have retreats for the sole purpose of education and training without violating the Open Meetings Law.

However, the next paragraph states:

"...if indeed the retreat involved 'District goals' and consideration of the policies and procedures referenced earlier, I believe that it constituted a 'meeting' that fell within the requirements of the Open Meetings Law."

In The Batavian's discussion with Freeman about these official, written opinions, he expressed the opinion that a retreat that produces "Norms" would mean that discussions were held and decisions made that were unique to the district, sets policy for the board, and is not general in nature, then the gathering is covered by the Open Meeting Law.

"This clearly involves school district business that is unique to the school district and is not general in nature," Freeman said.

We provided these Freeman's quotes to Schwartzott and she called Freeman and then sent The Batavian an email that began, "It turns out he and I don’t disagree about these issues at all. Mr. Freeman said you didn’t provide him with all of the relevant information when you spoke."

She added, "To confirm, now for the third time, the District’s position remains that a discussion about how to develop strong communication skills at the Board retreat did not violate the Open Meetings Law. In closing, this is my last comment about this; I will not engage with you on this issue anymore."

We asked Schwartzott to provide the "relevant" information The Batavian did not provide to Freeman. She did not respond. When we spoke to Freeman today, he mentioned no missing relevant information and confirmed his prior opinion the "Norms" look like something that is unique to the district, sets policy, and should have been handled in a public meeting.

By this time, we had provided Freeman with the full May 15 quote from Huber and a copy of the "Norms."

"Again," Freeman said, "it seems to me what is described here would essentially be a policy of the board of education and the school district, which, again, should have been discussed in an open meeting."

See also: Analysis: It's still not clear what Alexander attorney and superintendent believe about free speech for board members

June 22, 2018 - 6:18pm

Since April, The Batavian has been trying to understand the Alexander Central School District's policy related to free speech for members of the Board of Education.

After all this time, the district's attorney, Jennifer Schwartzott, told Robert Freeman yesterday, that the "one voice" policy or "Norm" does not prohibit school board members from expressing their personal views on matters of public interest. He is the executive director of the NYS Committee on Open Government.

How a policy that says board members must speak with one voice doesn't inhibit free speech for board members still isn't clear to us. We do know the policy has been used to shut down board members from answering questions from a reporter (see April 25 story) and that is has had a speech-chilling effect on school board candidates (see May 4 story).

Whatever fuller statement Schwartzott made to Freeman, she has never been willing to articulate clearly to The Batavian what her position is and how it differs from how "one voice" is being interpreted by Huber, the board, board candidates, and reporters. She wouldn't even make such a clear statement after being asked to do so in light of what Freeman shared with The Batavian.

When asked about it, she said, "Mr. Freeman correctly conveyed to you my opinion and the District’s opinion regarding speaking with 'one voice.' As for why you didn’t know that before having a conversation with him, I can’t speak for you or your understanding of my or Dr. Huber’s previous statements."

Here is Huber's May 15 statement:

The board should speak with one voice for several different reasons. The board by policy designates a spokesperson for the school district. We have that policy for you and I know that you've gathered those policies from other school districts as well and the board by policy has designated the superintendent as the spokesperson.

Our board has also gone a step further. Recently we did a board retreat and the board established norms, which you also probably saw on our website, and one of the norms that the board established was that they would speak with one voice. They would speak with one voice on matters related to the school district. Board members individually don't have power on their own. They have power and they come together around the board table.

That is not the same as their inability to express an opinion. Anybody has the ability to express an opinion. But in terms of commenting on district business, the board members only can speak with that same one voice as a board and not as individuals and they've designated the superintendent, as they probably have in most school districts, as the spokesperson for the district.

So Huber states that district has a designated spokesperson but the board has "gone a step further," explaining the board agreed it would speak with "one voice." In fact, she states, "They would speak with one voice on matters related to the school district." Then she said that's not the same as the inability to express an opinion, but immediately walks back that statement by stating, "But in terms of commenting on district business, the board members only can speak with that same one voice as a board and not as individuals."

As with Schwartzott, we have repeatedly asked Huber to make a plain, clear statement about individual board speech. She hasn't even acknowledged the emails.

We started asking Schwartzott to make a clear, unambiguous statement after she objected to our May 14 story, "Five school districts in Genesee County restrict speech for board members," stating that The Batavian misrepresented her views. Even in the comment she left on the story, however, she doesn't state clearly what her views are on the topic.

In emails about that article, she said it wasn't clear to her that the story we were working on was about the rights of individual members to express their personal views, yet in the response to our initial set of questions, she said, "Community members who are interested in what the local board members have to say can attend board meetings where the members discuss issues, share their opinions, and make decisions."

In other words, the only place the public can count on to find out what board members think is at meetings.

So, we're still waiting for a clear statement from Huber and Schwartzott about the ability of school board members to not "speak with one voice" but to speak individually as they see fit.

June 22, 2018 - 1:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, fire services, news, NY-27.

Press release:

U.S. Representatives Chris Collins (R-NY-27) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ-09), the co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, celebrated the passage of H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

The legislation they sponsored together would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and maintain a registry to collect data regarding the incidence of certain cancers in firefighters. The registry will improve collection capabilities and activities to address an enormous gap in research on the health impacts of cancer incidence among all firefighters – career and volunteer.

Firefighters may experience detrimental health effects due to smoke inhalation and other harmful, toxic substances. The legislation takes a first step toward gathering this information to develop new protocols, safeguards, and equipment to protect these men and women. Senate legislation is sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“I am extremely humbled and proud of the work we have done to get this bill on President Trump’s desk,” Collins said. “We have to prioritize the health and safety of the brave men and women who selflessly protect our communities.

"It has been an honor to work with Congressman Pascrell, and we have seen an outpouring of support for this legislation from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, various firefighter organizations, health care groups, our colleagues in Congress, and of course the firefighters in our districts and across America that this is intended to serve.

"I look forward to President Trump signing this bill into law and to see all of the positive impacts this will have on the firefighting community.”

“Today is a big day. I can’t think of many priorities more important than protecting the health of America’s firefighters. The Firefighter Cancer Registry will bring together information on firefighters’ history to help doctors and researchers find any connections between firefighters’ work and increased risk for cancer,” Rep. Pascrell said.

"This will strengthen the safety of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every single day. This legislation has long enjoyed bipartisan support because having the backs of those protecting our families is a cause we all support.

"I want to thank Representatives Chris Collins and Frank Pallone, and Senators Robert Menendez and Lisa Murkowski for all their efforts to get this bill through Congress. After the legislation is signed, I look forward to working with the CDC and members of the firefighting community to see that the new registry is implemented to its fullest use.”

“Our firefighters are brave men and women, who put themselves in harm’s way day after day. This registry has the potential to improve the quality of life for these real-life heroes,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR-02) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX-26). “From a house fire to the wildfires that ravage the west, these men and women don’t think twice before heading into dangerous situations of fire and smoke to protect others. This national registry is one way we can help protect them.”

A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that firefighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths for certain types of cancer when compared to the general U.S. population, specifically digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers, and malignant mesothelioma.

The study confirmed that firefighters have an increased risk of cancer because of occupational exposure. To bolster the efforts led by researchers at NIOSH, the firefighter cancer registry will improve collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide monitoring of cancer incidence among all firefighters – career and volunteer.

Specifically, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act will authorize $2 million in federal funds to the CDC from FY2018 to FY2022. Additionally, the legislation will:

  • Develop a firefighter registry of available cancer incidence data collected by existing State Cancer Registries and a strategy to maximize participation;
  • Create a registry that will contain relevant histories, such as other occupational information, years of service, number of fire incidents responded to, and additional risk factors;
  • Make de-identified data available to public health researchers to provide them with robust and comprehensive datasets to expand groundbreaking research; and
  • Improve our understanding of cancer incidences by requiring administrators to consult regularly with public health experts, clinicians, and firefighters.

The legislation has support from several major fire organizations, including the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, New Jersey Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association and the International Fire Services Training Association.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Fire Fighter Steering Committee said “The AFGE, AFL-CIO supports the Fire Fighter Cancer Registry bill because it will help improve the health and safety of our federal firefighters and municipal and volunteer firefighters who protect and serve the American public at the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We look forward to collecting this important data in the federal registry and sharing it with our civilian counterparts.”

“I would like to thank Congress for passing this critical legislation, as well as Representative Collins for his leadership in introducing and championing it,” said National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Chair Kevin D. Quinn.

"Too many firefighters are contracting and dying from cancer caused by duty-related exposures. This registry will improve our understanding of why firefighter cancer is occurring at such a high rate, and will make it easier to prevent, detect, and treat.”

“Firefighters are routinely exposed to numerous carcinogens over the course of their careers and deserve the best protection and prevention tools available," said International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO General President Harold Schaitberger.

"The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act will provide yet another means to study the deadly relationship between cancer and firefighting. I thank Representative Collins for his leadership on this important issue and applaud the Congress for sending the bill to the President to be signed into law.”

June 22, 2018 - 1:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, batavia, news, notify, pembroke, corfu, Darien.
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      Donald Stahl

Donald W. Stahl Jr., 37, of North Street, Batavia, is charged with grand larceny, 3rd, grand larceny, 4th, petit larceny and three counts of conspiracy. Stahl was arrested by the Wyoming County Sheriff's Office and is being held in the Wyoming County Jail on $5,000 bail. Stahl is accused of participating with others to steal electronic and computer items from the Walmart in Warsaw. The investigation is ongoing and additional arrests are pending. The investigation was conducted by Sgt. Colin Reagan, Deputy Aaron Chase and with the cooperation of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, including Investigator Chris Parker, Deputy Erik Andre, and Sgt. Jason Saile, along with Walmart Asset Protection employees.

William G. Schultz Sr., 44, of Ross Street, Batavia, is charged with criminally using drug paraphernalia and unlawful possession of marijuana. Schultz was spotted by members of the Local Drug Task Force on Jackson Street on Wednesday evening. He was wanted on a family court warrant. While being taken into custody, he was allegedly found in possession of drug paraphernalia and marijuana. He was ordered held in jail on $1,000 bail.

Malik Austin Hambrick, 21, of Aswego Avenue, Fort Drum, is charged with criminal trespass. Hambrick allegedly entered the Darien Lake Theme Park at 12:20 a.m. Monday following previously being removed from the property by Darien Lake security.

Jeffrey P. Klyczek, 49, of Amherst, is charged with DWI and driving with a BAC of .08 or greater. Klyczek was stopped by State Police in the Village of Corfu at 11:39 p.m. Tuesday.

Joseph F. Chiodo, 35, of North Tonawanda, is charged with DWAI (combined drugs and alcohol), DWI with a child in the car, and endangering the welfare of a child. Chiodo was stopped by State Police on Route 33, Town of Pembroke, at 12:23 p.m. Wednesday.

June 22, 2018 - 12:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, education, byron-bergen, news, byron, bergen.

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Press release:

On June 19, the Byron-Bergen learning community and the community-at-large were treated to a special stage adaptation of “Sneaky Weasel,” a children’s book by author Hannah Shaw, performed by fourth-graders.

The show featured the talents of the entire class working together as actors, assistant directors, narrators, dancers, stage crew and scenery designers, sound effects artists, and costume designers. The story centered on an unhappy bully, Sneaky Weasel, who finally discovers how to be a friend.

“Our students have been working on the project for several weeks,” said fourth-grade teacher Alyson Tardy, who along with teachers Jenna Carney and Kelly Morriss, wrote the stage play and directed the performance. “They have each contributed their best efforts.

"It’s been really great seeing students find talents they didn’t know they had, kids stepping up to help each other, and quiet children coming out of their shells to get onstage in front of an audience. The arts are so important for development and this has been a wonderful opportunity for our students to really stretch themselves and shine.”

Top photo: “Sneaky Weasel” featured players (l-r) Grace DiQuattro, Joel Lamb, Simone Scharvogel (as Sneaky), Megan Jarkeiwicz, and Katherine Rogoyski.

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Mama Weasel (Gianna Graff) with all her weasel-y offspring (Madisyn Rodak, Logan Czachorowski, Madison Hutchings, Sidney Maher, and Connor Copani.)

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The cast included narrators plus singing and dancing hedgehogs, rabbits, sheep, rats, mice, shrews, dogs, and even a chicken.

June 22, 2018 - 11:58am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, woodward memorial library, education, news.

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Elementary schoolchildren in Le Roy at the Woodward Memorial Library were honored last night with the Mary Hadley Love of Reading Award.

The new award is presented in memory of Mary Hadley, who worked for the library for more than 30 years. A member of her family made the donation for the award after she passed away.

The winners were selected by a committee of library staff after receiving nominations from teachers and library staff.

"They are elementary students who just love reading and share that same enthusiasm that Mary had as a way to honor her memory," said Library Director Betsy Halvorsen.

Award winners, and their grades, were: MacKenzie McLaughlin (K), Meredith Ianni (second). Grant Northrup (third), Nathaniel Staley (fourth), Tate Hempel (fourth), Emma Offen (fourth), Evan McAllister (fourth). Marin Kemp (third). Anna Kent (third), and Noah Hurley (third).

The winners received a certificate, a $25 gift certificate for Bridge Books in Brockport, and a small gift bag of prizes.

Photo by Andrew Hempel.

June 22, 2018 - 10:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Nate McMurray, chris collins, NY-27.

Press release:

Representative Collins came out of hiding last week to tell diary framers he was going to help them. You know what he did? He wrote a letter.

His opponent in the Nov. 6th election, Nate McMurray, had more to say.
 
“Christopher wants to blame everybody else. But what has he done to get the farm bill passed? What has he done to help with visa reform for workers? What has he done to open foreign markets so that farmers can sell their products?”
 
The answer is nothing. In fact, Rep. Collins is only blaming Canada for interfering with free trade. Collins said, “Trump, rightfully, has called [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and Canada out for their long-standing, non-free-market protection of their dairy.”
 
McMurray countered “He’s confused. Canada has its issues. Why has it taken so long for Christopher to speak up? Beyond that, there are far more places for our farmers to sell milk than Canada. I know China. I did business there. We should have Western New York cheese and milk products stacked on every shelf in Shanghai. And we should have soybeans going out by the shipload. Instead, what do we have? More excuses.”
 
Elect a guy who can fight, who believes in WNY, and who won’t wait until an election year to act.

NOTE: The quote in the fourth paragraph comes from The Batavian's story: Collins visits Stein Farms to talk about what he's doing for the dairy industry

June 22, 2018 - 10:20am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Deal of the Day, advertisement.

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June 22, 2018 - 8:00am

The Alexander Central School District is planning on instituting a fee structure for use of school facilities by community groups and that has a number of parents, especially parents of children who participate in sports, upset, according to Lisa Lyons, president of the Tri-Town Youth Athletics Association.

Lyons raised those concerns with the Board of Education on Tuesday night. School board meetings are generally sparsely attended and Tuesday dozens of district residents were in the auditorium for the meeting, though there's no way to say how many were there because of the fee issue.

The fees, at least as announced, would cost the association about $8,000 for football and basketball, according to Lyons (CLARIFICATION: Lyons provided a revised calculation of anticipated association costs after publication of this story) and she asked a number of questions, none of which were answered by board members after she spoke.

"As residents, we pay taxes that are among the highest in the state for a community our size," Lyons said. "Adding in $6,000 in fees, how is this not double dipping? As a nonprofit organization, these fees will close programs for us. The district parents of these children have stated this is unacceptable."

Besides Lyons, there were two other parents who signed up to speak but with the intention of ceding their allotted three-minutes to Lyons, a request Board President Reed Pettys would not allow. One parent, Mary Shepard, tried to read from notes prepared by Lyons once her three minutes were up but Lyons said after the meeting she really didn't get to express all of the concerns that have been raised to her by the parents.

Before the public comments section on the agenda, during what the board calls "roundtable," where each board member can speak on any issue they care to raise, Superintendent Catherine Huber took a few minutes to explain her view on why and how the fees are being initiated.

She said in the fall, the board appointed a committee to review and potentially rewrite the school district's facilities use policy. She said the committee was comprised of board members and school staff who are past and present parents and coaches involved with Tri-Town.

The board minutes for Oct. 18 list board members Rich Guarino, Molly Grimes, Lisa Atkinson, Shannon Whitcombe, Matt Stroud, Tim Batzel, Rob Adam, and Ben Whitmore as members of the committee. The minutes also list Board Member Brian Paris as a member of the committee but he said he declined the appointment because of other business commitments and never attended a meeting.

The policy was adopted by the board in December.

Huber said the prior policy also allowed for a use fee but no fees were ever charged.

"We believed that it was time to start charging a nominal fee to outside organizations, to community organizations to use our facilities," she said.

Huber said she has tried to communicate clearly and work collaboratively with Tri-Town, inviting Lyons in for a meeting, not only to inform them on the need for the new fee but letting them know that the district could be flexible.

"Our goal is all the same," Huber said. "Our goal is to provide a great experience for all the children of Alexander."

She called the fee nominal and said that Lyons continued the conversation in emails back and forth.

"This is the first year for fee structure, so I suggested that if what we were suggesting is not something Tri-Town could bear, I asked Tri-Town to bring to me what could be a manageable solution in terms of a facilities fee."

One issue raised by Lyons is the district's projections for the Tri-Town fees are much lower than Tri-Town's estimation of the fees, based on the documentation they've received.

Huber presented slides showing the fee structure.

The association, she said, would be charged $25 an hour for football, for example, and with four games, that would come to about $300 per game day with an annual cost of $1,200.

The district's costs, she said, is $56 an hour or $650 per game day, with a total of about $2,700 annual. That would still leave the district short its expenses by $1,520.

The cost for basketball, by Huber's numbers, would be $1,920 annually with the district's annual cost at $3,523, for a two-sport charge to the sports association of $3,120, which is less than half of what Lyons estimates it would cost the association. The association uses school facilities only for football and basketball. (CLARIFICATION: This paragraph added after initial publication).

Those numbers, she said, don't include all of the district's costs.

"I think it’s really important that we have those numbers in front of us because as a community, we all want the experience for our students but we also have to understand that it is the responsibility of the board and the administration of the school district to make sure that there are facilities for people to use," Huber said.

"This community has come to expect a certain level of facility maintenance and certain expectations of around our facilities. It would be irresponsible of the board to not have a certain cost-recovery measure in place in order to maintain those facilities long-term."

Lyons said Tri-Town is a 40-year-old organization. She doesn't know how long the association has been using school facilities but it has been many, many years, so it doesn't make sense to her why now, all the sudden, the district needs fees to maintain the facilities.

While Huber is saying the fees are in that $1,500 range (they change some, depending on the sport and facility), Lyons said based on the use application she's been provided and the belief that the two chaperones required for each event, at $18 per hour each, increase the cost, the range is closer to $6,000 per sport annually.

If that is true, use fees for parents per sport will likely double, which will lower participation and mean the end to some sports. The disparity is so great, Lyons said a counteroffer, which Huber said is welcome, is hard to even formulate.

"I understand a nominal fee," Lyons said after the meeting. "I get it. But for us to even try to offer them something at this point, the fees are so astronomical I don’t even know where to start."

One thing that bewilders Lyons and other parents who joined a conversation outside the auditorium after the meeting is the requirement for two chaperones at each event.

"If something is broken, we’ve always paid for it," Lyons said during the hallway conversation. "If something happens, we try to take care of it. If they have a complaint, they’ve come to us and said there were kids running around the school, what can we do, OK we rope it off, we have volunteers wandering the school, making sure kids are in place, so again it’s not that we’re not trying to work with them, we are to the best of our ability."

In the parking lot after the conversation with parents, Huber said the chaperones were necessary because "we want to make sure our facilities are taken care of."

Asked if there were problems in the past that made chaperones necessary, Huber would only say, "We just want to make sure our facilities are taken care of.”

We relayed those comments to Lyons in an email and she said, "I would hope that if there were any issues that came up that I would’ve been informed. To my knowledge, I don’t recall there being anything that wasn't taken care of. Most issues that had come up were 'kid issues' and handled where both parties were satisfied. Issues with any property -- I only know of two and those were taken care of at the expense of Tri-Town and its insurance."

She said one property issue was recent and the other occurred many years ago.

The fees also don't make any sense, Lyons said, because Tri-Town volunteers take care of the facilities before, during and after events.

"The school puts on varsity games on Friday night," Lyons said. "When we get here on Saturday, that field is disgusting. It was lined but we set it up. We have to empty all the garbage cans. We have to get ready. We have our game. We clean up to the best of our ability. So you’re telling me as a school they have to ingest more fees when staff would have to do it on Monday?"

She added, "It’s not fair. When you really look at it, it’s not fair."

Students going through Tri-Town athletics makes the school district better, Lyons said. She said studies show that students who learn teamwork, discipline, and other life skills through sports do better academically.

The association also prepares young athletes to compete eventually at the varsity level -- a point Shepard also made during public comments after picking up the notes from Lyons.

"We have fed your school student-athletes for years," Shepard said. "We have helped put Alexander on the map with many individual wins, sectional wins, regional wins and many patches. How many athletic scholarships have been awarded compared to academic ones?"

Debbie Green said her daughter started with Tri-Town as a cheerleader when she was 5. After four years of cheer in high school, she earned a college scholarship. That is how Tri-Town benefits the school, the kids, and the parents, she said.

Green also noted that under the new fee structure, Girl Scouts, which she is involved with, will wind up paying $100 per meeting to continue meeting at the school.

The Batavian attempted to interview school board members after the meeting to get their indivdual takes on the association's feedback on the policy but we were only able to talk with two before the rest quickly left the building.

"When I’m outside the board and I’m not in session, I’m just an individual but I don’t give interviews," said Vice President Rich Guarino.

Asked if that was because of the district's "One Voice" policy, Guarino said, "Outside of the board, we’re just individuals and I don’t give interviews for anything. I don’t answer surveys on the telephone. I don’t give interviews."

Board Member Brian Paris did answer questions.

Paris said he believes the facilities policy is a work-in-progress, that it's really still in draft form and that the board is working on it.

"I’m not on the committee to develop it, so I don’t have tremendous insight but I do know that a lot of people put a lot of time behind it," Paris said. "I know this board. It’s a very reasonable board. Our goal is not to put any student in a position where they are not able to participate in any of these activities."

Lyons, Green, and Donna McArthur, who has been with Tri-Town for 42 years, said it's expensive enough being a parent of a student-athlete. Besides fees, there's equipment, training, travel, and other expenses that add up.

For the association, there are also expenses the district may not be considering, from insurance to recertifying football helmets every three years. And, McArthur said, the association has always made sure every kid who wants to play gets to play.

“We never have a child that does not play," McArthur said. "If they can’t pay as parents, we all kick in. We find them shoes, we find them a glove, no kid has ever been turned away.”

And community members help the school district in other ways. It was community members who did the fundraising in the 2000s for Chris Martin Memorial Field of Dreams, which is used by the district's football, softball, baseball and soccer teams.

For all these reasons, Lyons said, district parents aren't happy with what they see as astronomically high use fees.

"There has to come a point where, yes, there is that collaborative conversation," Lyons said. "But as a district, these parents are pushing back because they know that this organization cannot afford those fees. As parents, with that 99.6 percent of kids who are playing who are district kids, they’re already paying for this school. They don’t want to pay any more for it."

June 21, 2018 - 9:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in alexander, news.

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Photo by Sherry Walsh.

June 21, 2018 - 4:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in chis collins, NY-27, agriculture.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today voted for the 2018 Farm Bill that will strengthen and grow the Western New York dairy economy.

In recent years, the dairy industry has faced significant challenges, including an overall decline in milk consumption due to unfair trade practices with nations like Canada. Provisions in the Farm Bill make commonsense reforms to safety net programs put in place to help farmers during a downturn.

Collins has been a staunch advocate for expanding the current H-2A visa program that has not met the need of dairy farmers to find a legal, experienced workforce. Provisions to address issues with visas were not included, although Collins was assured by House Leadership that a separate bill to solve these problems will be considered in July.

“Our nation’s dairy farmers are struggling and we have to do everything we can to keep this industry alive in Western New York,” Collins said. “I’ve met with local farmers who have told me on numerous occasions that the Margin Protection Program was simply not working and was based on flawed logic.

"The reforms passed in today’s bill are going to help these farmers better utilize this program as we continue to make reforms that will boost this industry.”

This legislation would provide greater coverage to dairy farmers through the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and will allow a farmer to participate in both the livestock and dairy protection programs. Additionally, the program will be relabeled the Dairy Risk Management Program (DRMP).

The newly created DRMP eliminates the current 25-percent minimum coverage level and allows producers to elect levels in 5-percent increments. It will also add higher coverage levels of $8.50 and $9 per CWT, a provision Collins advocated for in a 2017 letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (TX-11).

The legislation will also require the United States Department of Agriculture to study the accuracy of milk and feed costs used to determine the margin. This was implemented in response to the large number of farmers that were unable to utilize the program because of ineffective calculations.

Collins added: “Since I have gotten elected to Congress, our region’s agriculture industry has been a main priority and I’m committed to continuing to do what is best for our farmers. While we still have work to do to turn this industry around, I’m pleased with the reforms we passed today.”

For more information on H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, click here.

June 21, 2018 - 3:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in John Kennedy School, batavia, schools, education, news.

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Teachers and aides at John Kennedy School yesterday made signs and gave students a celebratory send-off for the summer on the last day of school.

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June 21, 2018 - 10:48am
posted by Howard B. Owens in muckdogs, batavia, baseball, sports.

Press release:

The Muckdogs (2-4) dropped the third game in the series against West Virginia (2-4) on Wednesday night. The first two innings went as fast as the blink of an eye with neither team collecting a hit. In the third inning, however, that would change for the Black Bears.

West Virginia scored three runs in the third inning. The Black Bears loaded the bases in the top of the third with two outs, then Edison Lantigua ripped a two-run single to right field. Lantigua took a big turn at first base, and the ‘dogs tried to pick him off on it.

In doing so, the throw to first was wide and therefore scored the third run. After that bases-clearing single by Lantigua, it would take until the fifth inning for another run to cross the plate.

West Virginia manufactured a run in the fifth by bunting Michael De La Cruz to second. Afterward, he tagged up on a fly ball to right that almost got him thrown out by Jerar Encarnacion. Lantigua then ripped another single to the right side that scored De La Cruz and gave Lantigua his third RBI of the game.

The Batavia bats were held to minimal output through the first six innings, then the Muckdogs scored three in the seventh inning. Two runners found their way on by way of a walk (Sean Reynolds) and a single (JD Osborne). Then, in an attempt to break a skid that was 1-21, Gerardo Nunez made it a one-run game by sending a three-run shot over the left field wall to make the score 4-3.

Ryan McKay came in relief in the seventh inning and was excellent, striking out five in only three innings of work. He gave Batavia a chance at the comeback in the bottom of the ninth. A leadoff single from JD Osborne brought on Matt Brooks to pinch-run.

Unfortunately for Batavia, Harrison White hit a fielder’s choice to second that got Brooks out. After that, the early hero Gerardo Nunez grounded into a 6-3 double play to end the game.

Williamsport comes to Batavia for a three-game series from Thursday to Saturday, then Batavia travels to State College to play the Spikes for three games.

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