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Batavia High celebrates six seniors continuing academic and athletic pursuits after graduation

By Howard B. Owens
bhs signing day 2024
Photo by Howard Owens.

Batavia High School recognized six of its student-athlete seniors Wednesday who will continue both their academic and athletic careers at colleges and universities.

Cole Grazioplene is heading to Brockport State College, where he will play D-III baseball. His parents are Andrea and Jeffery Grazioplene.

Owen Halpin will attend St. John Fisher University and play D-III soccer. He is also receiving a presidential scholarship.  His parents are Graham and Jill Halpin.

Giana Mruczek will attend Keuka College where she will play D-III softball. She is also receiving a partial academic scholarship. Her parents are Brian and Erika Mruczek.

Casper Steward, a NYS champion in wrestling, is heading to West Point where he will wrestle in D-I. He is receiving a full athletic scholarship. His parents are Rick and Katie Stewart.

Anna Varland will attend Robers Wesleyan University, where she will play D-II soccer. She is receiving athletic and academic scholarships. Her parents are Nate and Julie Varland.

Noah Whitcombe is signing with Niagara University where he will play hockey. He is receiving an academic scholarship.  His parents are Jeff and Shannon Whitcombe.

bhs signing day 2024
Cole Grazioplene
Photo by Howard Owens.
bhs signing day 2024
Owen Halpin. 
Photo by Howard Owens.
bhs signing day 2024
Giana Mruczek
Photo by Howard Owens.
bhs signing day 2024
Casper Stewart
Photo by Howard Owens.
bhs signing day 2024
Anna Varland
Photo by Howard Owens.
bhs signing day 2024
Noah Whitcombe
Photo by Howard Owens.

Voters say yes to school budgets, capital reserves, everything on ballots

By Joanne Beck

All eight public school district budgets in Genesee County and their related propositions — from vehicle purchases and walking distances to establishing capital reserves — were approved by voters Tuesday,  although that may not have signaled the same message for everyone.

While Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith offered gratitude for a positive outcome and “your support, especially during a challenging budget season,” outspoken opponent Mark Potwora, who encouraged folks on social media to vote no, was disappointed in a poor turnout of less than 500 voters for the day.

"The actual amount of people that came out to vote was terrible. I voted at Robert Morris around 8:30 and was number 224. That is awful out of, I believe, 8,000 eligible voters. I called a few people to go vote and many weren’t even aware there was a vote going on," Potwora told The Batavian. "Such low numbers tell me that, as I said, many didn’t realize there was a vote and that those that knew didn’t go vote because they felt that even if the vote gets turned down, they would revert back to the contingency budget. Which doesn’t solve the problem of spending issues that will keep increasing at least from the few people I heard from.

“Sadly, the school board will see this as a major win and a sign that the tax-paying public supports their increased spending. Which is not true. Instead they should be looking at more ways to get more people involved in voting. Perhaps mail-in ballots might help," he said. "My No vote was to send a message that they must work harder at cutting expenses. Busing would be a big one along with what exactly is the role of a government run school system. It’s to educate and not play social worker.”

Full disclosure: Potwora is often disgruntled with government spending and generous with his opinions. He gives some food for thought about those going to the polls, though, given that the city’s population is just under 15,000 people, which means a percentage of that is still far more than the 460 who showed up to vote on Tuesday. Are people unaware of the vote, or do they not care? Or are they content enough to leave it up to others to decide?

The proposed 2024-2025 budget for the Batavia City School District, totaling $60,294,755, was approved by a vote of 305 to 155. The three incumbent board members were reelected with votes of 325 for Jennifer Lendvay and John Reigle and 322 for Korinne Anderson, followed by 235 for Mike Bromley.

"On behalf of the entire Batavia City School District, we are deeply grateful to the members of our community for their participation in this year's budget vote. Your support, especially during a challenging budget season, underscores the strength and commitment of our Batavia community,” Smith said. “I also want to extend congratulations to Jennifer, John, and Korinne on their reelection to the Board of Education. I am enthusiastic about the unique perspectives they bring and look forward to collaborating with them as we strive to further enhance the quality of education across BCSD. Together, we will continue to make our school district a place of excellence and opportunity for all our students.” 

Alexander Central School’s budget was approved by 89 to 39, and purchases of two 64-passenger school buses and a small school bus to cost a maximum of $450,000 was also given the green light by 84 to 44. The district also approved expenditures of $127,910 for computer hardware, Chromebooks and a floor scrubbing machine by 92 to 36. The district will be establishing a $500,000 equipment capital reserve fund now that voters have approved it with an initial deposit of $50,000 by a vote of 78 to 46.

A school bus reserve fund was also approved by a vote of 74 to 52 for an ultimate amount of $900,000 with a deposit of $50,000. School board member Brian Paris was given 101 votes, and write-ins were cast for David Dunbar, 1; Richard Guarino, 2; John Slenker, 1; Jadriene Baldruf, 1; Dusty Williams, 1; and John Meier, 1.

Byron-Bergen Central School's Proposition #1 was the 2024-25 budget, which passed 255 yes to 105 no; Proposition #2, a school vehicle replacement, 267 yes to 92 no; Proposition #3, new repair reserve, 269 yes to 91 no; and Proposition #4 change walking distance for students was approved by 288 yes to 73 no. The Board of Education election was close, with Deb List receiving 296 votes and Lynn Smith coming in with 292.

Elba Central School's Proposition #1 for the budget of $11,950,150 was approved 113 to 13; Proposition #2 to establish a general capital reserve fund was approved 109 to 15;  and Prop. #3 to withdraw from the existing capital bus and vehicle replacement reserve to purchase school passenger vehicles passed 115 to 9, and two Board of Education seats went to Ryan Hoh, with 112, and Michael Zuber, with 110 votes. 

Oakfield-Alabama Central School’s budget was approved with a closer vote than most, 266 yes to 217 no.

Board member Maria Thompson was reelected to the Board of Education with 367 votes, and Malorie Benjamin received 312 votes for the second open seat.

Pavilion Central School’s budget was approved 201 yes to 55 no. School board seats went to Kirsten Galliford with 133 votes and Roxanne Holthaus with 126 votes. Rick Smith received 109 and Jack Clapper 110 votes. The library tax levy vote also passed by 191 to 65; and library trustees Kristi Jeffres, with 227, Cara Kingsley, 221, and Sharon Fuerch, 208, were voted in as library trustees. 

Pembroke Central School’s budget passed by 271 to 79; and Prop. #2 for the purchase of school buses passed 261 to 87. Proposition #3 for Corfu Public Library passed 255 to 91, and the election of a five-year term for a school board member went to Arthur Ianni with 290 votes and  an unexpired one-year term to Jessica Edwards with 294 votes.  

Corfu Public Library Board members Patrick Weissent, with 280, and Jason Long, 279, were elected, with write-in winner Matthew Steinberg.

Photos: Mud Run at John Kennedy

By Howard B. Owens
john kennedy mud run

John Kennedy Intermediate School held its annual Mud Run on Wednesday.

City Fire supplied the water.

Photos by Howard Owens.

john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run
john kennedy mud run

Second annual Genesee County 'I Voted' sticker contest announced

By Press Release
Photo of winning entries displayed inside the Genesee County Board of Elections office.

Press Release:

The Genesee County Board of Elections is thrilled to announce the Second Annual "I Voted" sticker contest winners. The contest, coordinated by the Board of Elections, showcased the creative talent of local students and their involvement in the electoral process. 

The contest received many submissions, with over 300 outstanding entries from Genesee County schools.

'It was a tough decision to select our seven finalists,' said Lorie Longhany, Democratic Election Commissioner. 'We can't wait to see the students' graphic designs in print and used in our outreach efforts!'

The winning designs will be featured on the “I Voted” stickers distributed to voters as they cast their ballots in November. They will also be utilized for voter outreach and promoted across social media platforms.

The winners of the contest are as follows: 

  • Grand Prize: Tyler Caldwell, Alexander 
  • 1st Place: Riley Sharpe, Byron-Bergen
  • 2nd Place (Collaborative Design): Alexander Kuszlyk, Evan Bannister, and Zachary Gay, Byron-Bergen
  • 3rd Place: Ben Landers, Notre Dame
  • Honorable Mentions: Ava Smith, Byron-Bergen; Morgan Kidder, Alexander; Alarai Tomidy, Notre Dame

The Genesee County Board of Elections extends its heartfelt congratulations to all the winners and extends special thanks to every participant for their exceptional contributions.

Submitted photos

Grand Prize: Tyler Caldwell, Alexander
1st Place: Riley Sharpe, Byron-Bergen
2nd Place (Collaborative Design): Alexander Kuszlyk, Evan Bannister, and Zachary Gay, Byron-Bergen
3rd Place: Ben Landers, Notre Dame
Honorable Mention: Ava Smith, Byron-Bergen
Honorable Mention: Morgan Kidder, Alexander
Honorable Mention: Alarai Tomidy, Notre Dame

Alexander Schools proposes budget of $22.6 million

By Howard B. Owens

Alexander's school district board of trustees is asking voters on May 21 to approve a $22,758,728 budget.

That is an increase from the current academic year, which is $20,847,885.

The proposed budget increases the tax levy by 1.75 percent, or $109,709. The anticipated tax rate is $17.83, up 30 cents from the current rate.

The district is planning no cuts to staff or programs.

The district is not receiving an increase in state foundation aid.

There will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. on May 8.

Besides the budget, other propositions on the May 21 ballot:

Proposition #2: Bus Purchases

  • 2 – 64 Passenger Buses - $340,000
  • 1 – 24 Passenger Bus - $110,000

Proposition #3: Equipment Purchase

  • Computer Hardware - $43,200
  • Chromebooks - $68,710
  • Floor Scrubbing Machine - $16,000

Proposition #4: Establish Equipment Reserve,  $500,000

Proposition #5: Establish Bus Reserve, $900,000

Pavilion set to present $19 million school budget to district voters

By Howard B. Owens

Pavilion Central School District's board of education has approved a $19,178,078 budget with a 2.9% tax levy increase.

District residents will be asked to vote on the proposed plan on May 21 in the high school auditorium lobby.

The tax levy increase is under the 3.3 percent tax cap ceiling.

Superintended Mary Kate Hoffman said The budget reflects a 1.64% increase in spending from last year.

One teaching position, created with COVID relief funds, has been reduced from one full-time equivalent to a half-FTE position.

Hoffman said the district is creating at the elementary school a 12:1:1 classroom, which is a special education class with 12 students, one special ed teacher and one aide.

"We are using existing staff to better meet the needs of our students," Hoffman said. "This classroom will allow us to keep students with special needs in the district."

The budget includes funding for a $100,000 capital outlay exception project and the purchase of two buses.  

The public hearing for the budget will be at 7 p.m. on May 13 in the high school auditorium.

Byron-Bergen school budget expected to increase more than six percent

By Howard B. Owens

The Byron-Bergen Central School District is proposing a $27,563,772 spending plan for 2024-25, up 6.13 % from the current academic year.

The tax levy is expected to increase 1.75%, from $9,223,509 to $9,385,010.

School enrollment is expected to drop from 920 students to 904 students.

The public budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 9 at the high school auditorium.

The budget vote is from noon until 9 p.m. on May 21.

Pembroke Central Schools to present $27 million budget to voters

By Howard B. Owens

At Monday's board of education meeting, the Pembroke Central School District board approved a $27,289,194 spending plan for the district.

Pembroke Superintendent Matthew Calderon said the state provided the district with no increase in foundation aid.

He said the tax levy will stay within the tax cap limit, with an increase slightly below the cap for the 13th consecutive year.

"We needed to pair down our initial budget draft by $870,000 to get down to the final number," Calderon said. "Thankfully, no current full-time employees were cut."

The proposed budget will be presented at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on May 14 at Pembroke Central School.

The budget vote is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. noon to 8 p.m. on May 21 in the high school auditorium.

Le Roy Central School set to present $31M budget to voters

By Howard B. Owens

The Le Roy Central School District is planning to ask voters to approve a $31 million spending plan that won't increase the tax levy.

The total budget is 2.7 percent, or $821,312, more than the 2023/24 budget.

The plan to not increase the total tax levy is based on anticipated state aid for the fiscal year.

The budget will create 5.4 new full-time equivalent positions, including a part-time physical therapist (currently contracted at 0.6 FTE through BOCES), a new full-time speech therapist, and three new teacher assistants.

There is an anticipated 0.6 FTE reduction in a teacher for "language other than English." 

Other factors driving increased spending are higher health insurance premiums and an increase in state-mandated retirement and contractual obligations.

Last week, the school board approved the proposed budget on a 6-0 vote (with one member absent).

Total spending for 2024-25 is projected to be $31,048,820, an increase from the 2023/24 budget of $30,227,508.

There will be a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. on May 14 in the Memorial Auditorium.

The budget vote for district residents will be on May 21 from noon to 8 p.m. in the Wolcott Street School Library Media Center.

Zonta Club to accept applications for annual scholarship until April 12

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Zonta Club of Batavia - Genesee County is pleased to announce that they are now accepting applications for their annual Scholarship Awards. 

They encourage all high school seniors in Genesee County to apply. 

Applications can be obtained through your school's guidance office, career center office, or online by emailing

All applicants will be asked to schedule an in-person interview with our scholarship committee. Submission deadline for applications is April 12.

Students from GLOW region explore healthcare careers

By Joanne Beck
Students from GLOW region partake in 2nd annual healthcare career day  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Students from the GLOW region partake in the second annual healthcare career day on Friday.
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Of the 235 representatives from various areas in the healthcare field at a four-county event, student Rylee Serusa-Herndon connected with someone in particular during her visit with BOCES Health Dimensions classmates to Genesee Community College Friday.

“I came to the GLOW With Your Hands field trip to be a neurosurgeon, I’m interested in that, and I came to kind of understand, to know what I have to do to be able to be that,” she said. “I did go to a booth, and one of the girls was actually a neurosurgeon, and she told me it is very difficult; you have to do a lot of schooling. But she said ‘you know, there’s not many girl neurosurgeons,’ and that kind helped me out. I definitely want to do it.”

Rylee was one of more than 500 students in grades eight through 12 from 31 schools in Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties. The event was to help connect interested students to a couple hundred representatives from 57 companies, municipal agencies, nonprofits, and educational institutions and further excite, educate, and empower them to seek success in the healthcare field of study after high school.

Educational providers and employers were on hand to demonstrate in the fields of emergency medical services, healthy living, healthcare, nursing, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacy, and the various sciences.

There were mannequins stationed so that students could get some CPR lessons, a physical therapy demonstration, and a virtual reality program to offer more high-tech ways to explore careers, “which is cool,” said Chris Suozzi, Vice President of Workforce Development for Genesee County Economic Development Center. 

“The whole reason that we do these events and career exploration in high school is so kids can really expand their horizons. It's so difficult for someone to really know what they want to do for a career. It's taken me 30-some years to figure out what I wanted to do … but for kids, the more they see the, the better. So they're seeing careers that they would never see in a classroom and in a textbook,” Suozzi said. “And then there's careers that they may look at and say, ‘Oh, I definitely don't want to do that.' And I know it's a good thing. But when you look at the opportunities for what are possibilities, it's almost endless here. 

“So, you know, when you hear about healthcare, you think a doctor or nurse, but then when you look here, there's a lot more than doctors and nurses,” he said. “There's all these technicians and EMTs, physical therapy, and the list goes on and on. So that's the whole idea. Explore their mind, explore opportunities for a great career.”

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene

It's science! Batavia comes out on top at 15th annual Tech Wars

By Steve Ognibene
Skimmer Cars drew a big crowd at the 15th Annual G.L.O.W. Region Tech Wars Competition at Genesee Community College  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Skimmer Cars drew a big crowd at the 15th Annual G.L.O.W. Region Tech Wars Competition at Genesee Community College.  
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Skimmer cars, robotics, SUMO bots, battle soccer bots, and a dozen other events designed to stretch area school students' STEM skills were among the activities during the 15th annual Tech Wars on Thursday at Genesee Community College.

Local companies sponsored the event, hosted by GCC, including Liberty Pumps, Graham, Barilla, and Amanda, along with GCEDC.

When it was time to score the events, Batavia came out on top at both the high school and middle school levels.

Middle school standings:

  1. Batavia
  2. Dansville
  3. Warsaw


High School:

  1. Batavia
  2. Dansville
  3. Geneseo

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Tommy Condidorio from LeRoy and Justin Valyear (Alexander) Robotics  Photo by Steve Ognibene
From left, Genesee Valley BOCES Students Tommy Condidorio from LeRoy and Justin Valyear (Alexander) Robotics  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Wesley Fisher from Batavia Middle school at  Lumber Labyrinth  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Wesley Fisher from Batavia Middle School at  Lumber Labyrinth  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Mystery Challenge drop horizontal airplane,  1st place Myles Wahr, Cooper Konieczny  from Batavia High School  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Mystery Challenge drop horizontal airplane,  1st place Cooper Konieczny and Myles Wahr from Batavia High School  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
BOCES students LeRoy Kylie Paddock and Notre-Dame Matthew Rogers demostrate the ACDC system  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Genesee Valley BOCES students Kylie Paddock of Le Roy and Notre Dame's Matthew Rogers demonstrate the ACDC system  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Batavia High School Matthew Doeringer wins the opening round of the SUMO Bot competition  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Batavia High School Matthew Doeringer wins the opening round of the SUMO Bot competition  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Catapult competition launched to new heights  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Catapult competition launched to new heights  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Battlebot Soccer  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Battlebot Soccer  
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Genesee County Retired Educators’ Association announces scholarship opportunity

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Genesee County Retired Educators’ Association (GCREA) awards at least one $500 scholarship each year. 

This scholarship will be awarded either to a graduating Genesee County High School Senior who intends to enter, in some capacity, the field of education OR to an individual who is currently enrolled in an education program at an institution of higher learning.

Applications are available at Genesee County schools or from Applications are due on April 1. The announcement of the winner will be made in May.

Tenney announces submissions being accepted for 2024 Congressional Art Competition, due April 19

By Press Release

Press Release:

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24) today announced that her office is accepting submissions for the 2024 Congressional Art Competition from high school students in New York's 24th District.  

Since 1982, high school students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories have been invited by members of the U.S. House of Representatives to participate in this esteemed nationwide art competition. Over the years, this competition has provided a platform for over 10,000 works of art to be exhibited and celebrated.

The contest winner will have their artwork displayed in the prestigious halls of the United States Capitol for an entire year. Additionally, they will be given the exciting opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to witness their masterpiece showcased at the Capitol. Southwest Airlines is donating two round-trip tickets for the winner and a guest to attend this year’s celebration on June 27.

All submissions must be delivered to one of Tenney’s district offices by the close of business on Friday, April 19. Additional information about the competition, including guidelines and student release forms required to participate, can be found here or by calling Tenney’s District office at (716) 514-5130.

Hawley and colleagues urge a delay to assess electric school bus mandates

By Press Release

Press Release:

File photo of 
Steve Hawley.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C-Batavia) was joined by his colleagues in the state Senate and Assembly to unveil a proposal to delay the requirement for school districts to purchase all-electric school buses from 2027 to 2045.

 The group also called for a cost-benefit analysis to assess this policy's impact on schools and taxpayers. While the state has set aside roughly $500 million to help with this transition, the cost of these new school buses would come out far higher, with a nearly $20 billion price tag for school districts across the state. 

Rural schools have also raised concerns that these zero-emission buses would not be reliable enough to handle long commutes and challenging weather. Hawley believes this mandate must be pushed back so that school districts can properly address these concerns.

“The Majority in Albany is at it again,” said Hawley. “This zero-emission busing mandate for school districts is unworkable, unreasonable and unattainable. Not only are these new electric buses not reliable enough for rural areas but they also cost triple the price of a standard school bus. This is why the Majority refuses to do any kind of study on the effectiveness of the policy because they know this regulation will not work and come straight out of the pockets of local school property taxpayers. Our children should not be guinea pigs for these extreme climate policies. We need to slow this process down to assess the effectiveness of this policy so we keep our students safe and don’t deprive schools of their much-needed resources.”

GO ART! offers February break creative arts camp

By Press Release

Press Release:

GO ART! is hosting a Creative Arts Camp during February Break (Feb. 19 - 23). This camp is tailored to students in grades K-6. 

Grade school students will create and maintain positive connections while enjoying hands-on exploration of various disciplines including culinary arts, visual arts, performing arts, and literary arts. 

Participants will build upon problem-solving and critical thinking skills while increasing their knowledge about different mediums and forms of art in a safe, inclusive, and structured environment. 

In the past, we have done visual arts projects while learning about famous artists and art movements, created puppets and put on plays, played in the musical garden, learned about different styles of dance, as well as various arts and crafts projects.

Please drop off your camper between 8:45 and 9 a.m. and pick them up between 2:45 and 3 p.m. GO ART! will provide snacks and water but don’t forget to send your camper with lunch. Registration is required to attend Creative Arts Camp and spots are limited., call (585) 343-9313 or email Jodi at

Borrello joins call to curb electric school bus mandate, more research needed

By Press Release

Press Release:

Republican members of the New York Senate and Assembly were joined by officials from New York’s education community in calling on Governor Hochul and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities to pause the 2027 statewide implementation of the electric school bus mandate to allow for the completion of a pilot program, cost-benefit analysis, and other feasibility assessments.

The electric school bus mandate, enacted in 2022, requires new school bus purchases to be zero emission by 2027 and all school buses in operation to be electric by 2035. There is no provision made for the geographical disparities, diverse weather conditions, or unique travel demands of the state’s school districts. In addition, this is another mandate from Albany that burdens cash-strapped school districts and taxpayers.

“As the 2027 implementation date of New York’s electric bus mandate approaches, school officials in my district and around the state are becoming increasingly concerned about the tremendous financial and operational challenges associated with this one-size-fits-all requirement,” said Senator George Borrello, SD57.

“This mandated conversion will have a price tag in the billions, with New York State taxpayers simply expected to foot the bill. said Sen. Borrello. “Like so much of the state’s climate agenda, there is no cost-benefit analysis of this mandate or any realistic plan for how to pay for it.”

“Electric buses cost up to three times as much as conventional buses -- it’s a difference of $130,000 versus $400,000-$450,000.  Additionally, electrical infrastructure and distribution line upgrades can add hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. The conversion cost has been conservatively estimated at between $8 billion and $15.25 billion more than the cost of replacing them with new diesel buses. However, the multi-million dollar estimates utilities are now providing to some school districts just for the electrical upgrades suggests the total costs will be much higher than $15 billion,” said Sen. Borrello.

“The EV school bus mandate is the Mother of all unfunded state mandates. At a time when our state is bleeding billions of dollars because of the migrant crisis and school aid cuts are hitting rural and suburban districts, neither our schools nor our taxpayers can shoulder crushing new costs,” said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, AD 132.

He noted the state allocated just $500 million in the most recent Environmental Bond Act to assist schools with the conversion costs of the state’s 50,000 buses.

Assemblyman Palmesano and Senator Thomas O’Mara are sponsoring legislation that would, among other things, require the Commissioner of Education to complete a cost-benefit analysis for each school district that takes into account the costs necessary to comply with the zero-emission school bus mandate.

Legislators cited other problems associated with electric vehicles that are gaining increasing attention and adding to concerns about investing taxpayer funds in the conversion. Those problems include:

  • Inability to operate or charge in frigid temperatures, as a well-publicized incident in Chicago in mid-January underscored. Designed to operate best in 70-degree temperatures, electric vehicles lose up to 40 percent of their traveling range in extreme cold and the time required to charge them is much longer. A pilot program in Vermont found traveling range decreased by 80 percent in some instances;
  • Poor reliability. School districts engaged in pilot programs and agencies operating municipal buses have reported many electric buses are “gathering dust” in bus garages as a result of numerous mechanical problems and hard-to-access parts and technical support. A study by Consumer Reports found that electric vehicles have 80 percent more problems than conventional vehicles.

“While many states around the nation are wisely testing the feasibility of electric buses for their regions through pilot programs, New York Democrats rushed to enact a mandate without any firsthand data on whether it would meet the needs of our districts. This is a movie we’ve seen before in Albany and it never ends well,” said Senator Borrello.

He noted that he is proposing legislation, Senate Bill 8467, that would rescind the mandate and replace it with a state-funded pilot program that would allow schools to test how these buses perform. A condition of the pilot program is that buses be sited in all three types of settings, rural, urban, and suburban so that their performance can be evaluated. At the end of one year, a report on the program would be presented to the executive and legislature.

“The zero-emission bus mandate for schools is at present unworkable and fiscally catastrophic for rural schools.  While the goal is laudable, issues with the feasibility of the vehicles, capacity of the power grid, and fiscal commitment by the state all currently prevent compliance.  The proposed legislation is a common sense approach that will answer the needed questions prior to making promises neither the state nor the industry can keep,” said David Little, Executive Director of the Rural Schools Association.

“The goal of having several clean energy options is a good one, but it’s got to be done with common sense and in a realistic way that’s reasonable and affordable for taxpayers, our local governments, and school districts and not add to the high tax burden faced by New Yorkers.  We’re offering a reasonable proposal to rescind the electric school bus mandate that will cost school districts in New York State billions of dollars, and replace it with a state-funded pilot program that enables school districts to test and evaluate how these electric buses perform,” said Senator Jim Tedisco, Ranking Member on the Senate Education Committee.

“Rural, upstate schools need more funding to focus on educational services, not an expensive mandate that would raise taxes and divert resources away from students,” said Senator Dan Stec, Ranking Member on the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. “Green initiatives are laudable, but the electric bus mandate runs counter to the realities our schools face. I’ve heard repeatedly from school superintendents that it simply isn’t feasible. Instead of punishing our schools with an expensive mandate for buses that may prove unreliable, let’s take a step back and replace it with a pilot program that would evaluate the efficacy of electric buses statewide.”

“School districts across New York are already struggling under the weight of excessive state mandates, yet Albany Democrats always seem to find new ways to add to their burden.  In my rural senate district, where bus routes can take hours to complete, it is unreasonable to force schools to move forward with untested electric buses that may not be up to the demands.  Add on top of that the cost, at a time when many districts are struggling to stay afloat, and we are looking at an entirely unworkable proposal.  Senator Borrello’s legislation calling for a pilot program, rather than another Albany mandate, is the best solution,” said Senator Peter Oberacker, 51st Senate District.

“My local schools are raising the alarm about this mandate and we should listen to them. It’s unrealistic, uninformed, and irresponsible. Districts are planning now for how to implement and afford it, with little guidance or funding from the state. We’re talking upwards of $400,000 for just one bus, plus more for the needed infrastructure, not to mention whether our electric grid has the necessary capacity. I want to do everything we can to protect our environment, but this mandate is impractical. Let’s be smart about this and let’s protect our students, schools, and property taxpayers,” said Senator Pam Helming, 54th Senate District.

“These proposals are each common-sense alternatives that would determine if an electric school bus mandate is affordable, reliable, and, most importantly, feasible. Our school children should not be used as the test subjects for this costly and risky mandate,” said Senator Borrello.

New food composting program at BB Elementary being led by third-grade students

By Press Release
Social Emotional Learning Coordinator Megan Wahl assists the Compost Crew. 
Submitted Photo.

Press Release:

Byron-Bergen Elementary School doubled down on its commitment to reducing food waste in landfills and instead producing clean soil for gardening and farming. This was done through a partnership with an earthworm named Lloyd and 1.8 million of his friends. 

Lloyd lives in a compost facility operated by Impact Earth, a not-for-profit organization out of Rochester that works with the community to repurpose food waste and paper products into nutrient-rich soil. The composting program is a school-wide effort under the leadership of the third-grade students.

“Byron-Bergen Elementary is one of the first schools in the area to undertake this kind of project,” said Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney. “Instead of going to the landfill and doing nothing useful, this waste will compost into nutrient-rich soil to grow better food. It’s an investment in the future.”

Each day at lunch, students sort their uneaten food items and disposable paper products into blue buckets next to the garbage cans. 

At the end of all the lunch periods, a rotating group of third-grade students, the Compost Crew, assist Cleaner and Lunch Monitor Nancy Smith in loading the buckets onto a cart and emptying them into Impact Earth dumpster totes behind the cafeteria. 

Smith then washes the buckets, and the Compost Crew dries them and stacks them for the next day.

Every Friday, Impact Earth removes the waste from the dumpster totes to be mixed with wood chips and added to the piles for Lloyd and his friends. 

“It’s something we can do to try to help the environment,” said Smith. “The soil needs the nutrients, and (the students) are going to be the helpers.” 

Byron-Bergen's third-grade student Mackenzie Wilcox is looking forward to participating. “I think (composting) is great! I like it. The best part is that we get to feed our leftover food to the worms at the composting plant.”

The idea for the composting program began at the Earth Day 2023 assembly. Each grade level collected their trash from lunch and discovered that each class produced an average of 15 pounds of landfill waste per lunch. The discussion of how to reduce this amount led to a waste survey carried out by the student council in October of 2023.

Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney helped the students separate their lunch-time waste. According to Carney, 60% of the cafeteria waste assessed from one day of lunch, over 115 pounds, could be composted or eaten later. Carney noted that “anything that is unopened should be taken home or saved for a snack.”

“I’m really excited for kids to use the compost bins and put our waste to better use, especially being in a community affected by waste management,” said Elementary Principal Kristin Loftus. “I think it will be great for us to do our part to reduce what we are sending to the landfill.” 

Part of the Impact Earth partnership includes a soil give-back. Byron-Bergen will receive a delivery of composted soil in May to use in or around the schools or in the greenhouse.

“It’s a great opportunity for the adults and students to work together to have a positive impact on the earth,” said Byron-Bergen Facilities Director Roger Caldwell. 

“The students are very excited about this project. We will continue to reinforce that the priority is for them to eat their lunches,” said Loftus. “Lloyd and his friends will get plenty of food. Only after the students are full should we add their leftovers to the apple cores and napkins in the compost bins.”

The composting program serves as a leadership opportunity for the third grade as well as a chance for all students and staff to take a moment to look at what is in their lunch, how it is packaged, and the best choices for their food waste. The waste assessment and assembly were sponsored by the Byron-Bergen S.T.E.P. Booster Club.

Third-grade students act as the day’s Compost Crew. 
Submitted Photo.
Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney helps a student sort food waste. 
Submitted Photo.
Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney introduced Lloyd. 
Submitted Photo.

Local legislators and education leaders decry cuts to state aid for schools

By Press Release
Photo of Senator Borrello and (standing behind him, from left to right): Assemblyman Steve Hawley; Patrick Burk, Executive Director of the Genesee Valley School Boards Association; Assemblyman David DiPietro; Kevin MacDonald, Superintendent of Genesee Valley BOCES; Daryl McLaughlin, Superintendent of Perry Central School District; Dr. Kiel Illg, Superintendent of Attica Central Schools.
Submitted photo.

Press Release:

Senator George Borrello and assemblymen Stephen Hawley and David DiPietro were joined today by school officials from districts in Wyoming and Genesee counties to denounce the deep cuts in school aid proposed in the Executive Budget and emphasize the devastating impact they would have on educational programming, staffing, and services in their rural districts.

Joining the state legislators at the press conference were school officials from Genesee and Wyoming counties, including Dr. Kiel Illg, superintendent of Attica Central Schools; Daryl McLaughlin, superintendent of Perry Central School District and chairman of the Genesee Valley Chief School Officers Association; Kevin MacDonald, superintendent of Genesee Valley BOCES; and Patrick Burk, executive director of the Genesee Valley School Boards Association.

Senator Borrello thanked the school administrators for their advocacy on behalf of their district’s students, staff, and taxpayers, noting that these cuts would disproportionately impact rural schools.

“It is disappointing that just one year after touting her administration as the one that finally fully funded the foundation aid formula, Governor Hochul is seeking to unravel that progress by ending the longstanding ‘hold harmless’ protection. That provision has been a lifeline to rural and upstate schools by ensuring their funding would not decrease from one year to the next, even if they experienced drops in enrollment,” said Senator Borrello, 57th District.

“Compounding the loss of the ‘hold harmless ’ standard is a new, lower inflation adjustment that is far below the real costs that our schools are facing. These changes have produced painful funding cuts totaling approximately $11 million for schools across the 57th Senate District,” said Sen. Borrello. 

“For some schools, this could require hard choices about where to save money. It could mean cuts to student programming, extracurriculars, or even staffing. It is also likely to increase costs to our already overburdened property taxpayers,” he added. 

“While our rural and suburban schools are left to struggle to close the gaps left by cuts in aid, the Executive Budget diverts $2.4 billion in state funding to New York City for its self-created migrant crisis. That budget decision speaks volumes about the priorities that now drive decisions in Albany. We are here today to stand up for our rural schools, students and taxpayers,” said Sen. Borrello. 

“The governor's foundation aid budget proposal is an insult to our children and our educational system. By prioritizing funds for illegal immigrants over our schools, Gov. Hochul is sending a clear message about where her priorities lie. Slashing school foundation aid while increasing funding for the mess New York City has created for itself is disgraceful and unjust. Our children deserve better than to have their education sacrificed for political agendas. It's time for Gov. Hochul to reconsider her budget concerns and prioritize the future of our students,” said Assemblyman David DiPietro, 147th Assembly District.

"Governor Hochul seems to have forgotten her promise to ensure foundation aid for local school districts would not decrease from year to year. Our schools should not be forced to sit by while much-needed funding is taken away from them and they're buried in unnecessary regulations. Any state budget that does not put the education of our children first will not have my vote,” said Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, 139th Assembly District.

Senator Borrello noted that Attica Central School District was among those hit with a significant aid cut, with the district slated to lose a total of approximately $540,000 in aid. 

"The proposed cuts to state funding for education would have severe and far-reaching consequences for our students, teachers, and communities in which the Attica Central School District serves. The reduction of approximately $540,000 in aid for the 2024-2025 school year would force us to make difficult decisions, potentially leading to increased class sizes, reduced course offerings, and cuts to vital mental health services that we provide for our students,” said Kiel Illg, Superintendent of Attica Central Schools.

"My greatest concerns were the items excluded from the Executive Budget proposal. Whether by statute, regulation, or community expectations, the responsibilities placed on schools to educate, and raise students have increased dramatically. There must be a thorough study of what it costs to educate a child in today’s New York. Districts are offering community school services without community school funding. There must be recognition of these increased, awesome responsibilities in the form of additional funding. It is only after we have conducted this study that we may begin collaborating on a sensible solution for education funding with a common sense timeline for implementation,” said Daryl McLaughlin, Superintendent of Perry Central School District.

“As New York State sits on a surplus of approximately $8.7 billion dollars (Politico Feb. 1), the Governor says many school districts must severely diminish their reserves to address the "Hold Harmless" provision that was created by NYS. Amid significant outmigration and reduced student enrollment, New York needs to engage in the challenging work of developing a fair and equitable formula that not only takes into account the enrollment, but the needs of those enrolled. Injecting common sense into this conversation would avoid devastating cuts included in the Governor's budget that were announced only months prior to districts needing to finalize their budgets. My colleagues and I are prepared to engage in conversations that produce common sense solutions and allow for appropriate planning to implement sound fiscal policies that may come as a result of an updated formula, all while continuing to provide a robust and equitable program of study for the students of New York State,” said Kevin MacDonald, District Superintendent of Genesee Valley BOCES.

“It is imperative that our rural schools, these incredible schools in upstate New York, are not impacted by this significant loss of revenue. Each day our districts are required to continually provide much-needed services to our students, families, and rural communities. It is my hope that Albany will listen and fully fund those needs. A reduction in aid will only hurt upstate rural communities,” said Patrick Burk, Executive Director of the Genesee Valley School Boards Association.

Senator Borrello concluded: “Rural schools have been on the losing end of the foundation aid formula for many years, and a new, more equitable model is sorely needed. However, in eliminating the ‘hold harmless’ standard, the Executive Budget has unfairly targeted our rural schools. This inequity must be addressed and the funding restored. That will be our mission as the budget process moves forward.”

Charge against Batavia mother for emails sent to school officials raises First Amendment concerns

By Howard B. Owens
district office Batavia City School District
Batavia City School District, District Office.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Free speech and the right to petition your government over grievances: two rights clearly protected in the United States by the First Amendment.

But when does complaining to government officials cross the line into harassment?

That's a high bar to cross, and should be, according to Constitutional scholar Jared Carter.

Carter is counsel with the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic, based in Ithaca, and a professor of Law at Vermont Law and Graduate School. Carter specializes in First Amendment cases.

Wherever that line is between protected speech and harassment, a Batavia mother who became upset in November with how her son's Spanish class at the Middle School was being taught didn't cross it, Carter told The Batavian after reviewing available documents.

The Batavian provided him with documents received from Batavia City Schools, which included emails sent by Kate Long to Superintendent Jason Smith, School Board Vice President John Reigle, along with other district officials, and the charging documents obtained from Batavia City Court.

The Charge
Long, 39, mother of three children, was issued a summons in November and charged with a single count of harassment in the second degree, a violation of Penal Law 240.26(3), which reads:

He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

Carter said the language of the statute is too vague and overly broad to fairly apply to speech and is the same language that was once part of the state's aggravated harassment law, which was struck down by a federal court as unconstitutional in 2014.

The former aggravated harassment statute dealt specifically with spoken and written communication that was likely to "cause annoyance or alarm ... for no purpose of legitimate communication." 

In People v. Golb, the court ruled that the former statute violated both the state Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

A similar case, People v. Dietze, struck down Section 240.25 dealing with language that was abusive or obscene with "the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person."

In the Golb case, the court held that both cases examined state statutes and said both failed to provide necessary limitations on the scope of communications that were criminally prosecuted. 

"They're (prosecutors) skating on very thin constitutional ice, if any ice at all," Carter said of the arrest and prosecution of Long. "The First Amendment robustly protects Freedom of Speech, and the freedom to criticize government action. That would include criticizing the way that a school handles itself. Now, are some of her emails obnoxious? Perhaps. But the First Amendment very clearly, in my view, protects even obnoxious and, quite frankly, ugly speech, and unless speech fits into one of the very narrow few exemptions to the First Amendment, then it's going to be protected."

Carter said while we're talking about different statutes, they're essentially the same exact language that makes the harassment 2nd statute, when it involves prosecuting speech, is not likely to be found Constitutional if challenged.

Chain of Emails
The trail of events that led to Long's charge began in the middle of September when Batavia Middle School Principal Nate Korzelius informed parents that the teacher originally assigned to teach Spanish would be taking a long-term leave of absence.  He said the district conducted a comprehensive search to find a certified Spanish substitute but was unable to find a qualified teacher to take over the class. 

Instead, he said, "We will utilize an online program called AcceleratedU. This program has been thoroughly vetted and widely used by students nationwide, demonstrating its effectiveness in enhancing students' learning experience."

He invited parents to contact school officials with any problems or concerns.

A couple of weeks later, according to emails obtained from the district through a Freedom of Information Law request by The Batavian, Kate Long did express her concerns.

She said AcceleratedU was not a "long-term solution" for a sub.  

"I think by now, you know this based on the grades of students," she wrote in an email to school officials on Nov. 1.

"The school needs to start looking for a long-term sub and put some actual effort into it," she wrote. "I'm getting pretty sick of spending every single evening being my son's unpaid Spanish teacher. Oh yeah, and I don't get a break on my taxes, either."

Superintendent Jason Smith responded the next morning and wrote, "We fully understand that there have been concerns with this, and despite our efforts to find a sub, including speaking with three retired teachers, networking across several counties for candidates, we literally had no one apply or who was even interested. There is, in fact, a severe shortage of Spanish teachers."

He also said the district had contacted the software company several times with complaints about the program, and while the company responded, "We know issues remain."

Long was not satisfied with the response and began a series of emails, often snarky, accusing district officials of not caring, of not doing enough, and of her role as an "unpaid" teacher.

She sent 16 emails over eight days. (The charging documents say 12 emails over eight days,  but The Batavian counted 16 emails sent by Long in response to its FOIL request.)

Long, who studied Spanish in college and told district officials she lived for a year with a Spanish-speaking family, had specific complaints about grammatical errors she found in the program. 

On Nov. 3, the board's vice president, John Reigle, responded and again reiterated the efforts undertaken by the district to hire a Spanish sub and noted that Smith had replied to her email the day before and invited her to meet with school officials.

That night, she wrote district officials and board members and said, "Hope you all are sleeping very nicely every night. I'm not. Look forward to more messages every single day that you lack to get a Spanish teacher."

She wrote individually to Reigle and said, "What a very eloquent way to say,  'I don't care.' Thanks a lot. That was sarcasm.  Look forward to more emails until you DO SOMETHING."

In all, she sent 11 emails on Nov. 3 alone, concluding one that read, "I guess it would have been in my best interest to say, 'I don't care,' like all of you."

In his sworn complaint, Board President John Marucci quoted from Long's second-to-last email, sent on Nov. 8 at 9:37 p.m. 

"Fuck you all. You are all jokes. You call yourselves educators. You reap what you sow.”

Marucci wrote, in his statement, that Long was complaining about online learning of Spanish in her emails but also stated that she sent "these emails with no legitimate meaning or purpose to the point that we as the City of Batavia School Board of Education feel like we're are being harassed by Kate Long by her alarming and annoying emails. I would like to pursue any and all legal charges against Kate Long."

Political Speech
Carter said Long's emails are political in nature, seeking correction to what she believes is a wrong perpetrated by a government body and is, therefore, protected speech.

"I think it's fair to say that is some of the most protected speech that there is," Carter said. "I'm not saying at some point, you can't have emails becoming harassment. But I think 16 emails over the course of eight days? I don't see how we've crossed that line. And I think courts are going to look at it very skeptically if she were indeed to be prosecuted."

The Batavian emailed several questions to District Attorney Kevin Finnell.  We wanted to know if Batavia PD consulted with his office prior to the arrest of Long and if he had any Constitutional concerns about the case.

"Our office does not generally participate in the investigation of criminal matters," Finnell said. "While we remain available to consult with law enforcement during an investigation, my office did not offer any input or advice in this particular case.  Even in cases where we do offer advice during an investigation, the choice of what offense(s) to charge is ultimately determined by law enforcement."

As for the Constitutional issue, Finnell said he and all of his ADAs are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are mindful of that in prosecuting every case.

In 2015, former District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, in response to the Golb ruling, sent a memo to local law enforcement warning the departments to no longer arrest people under the portion of the aggravated harassment law that was struck down.  He did not raise concerns about the similar language contained in the harassment 2nd statute, and Finnell noted that there is, in fact, a difference between the statutes.

In the Dietz and Golb cases, Finnell said, the courts were reviewing statutes that dealt specifically with speech. 

"The statute charged here is different in that it does not target pure speech but rather proscribes behavior," Finnell said. "It is a violation of Penal Law 240.26(3) to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts which serve no legitimate purpose and which have the effect of alarming or seriously annoying the targeted individual.  While that conduct could include speech, it is the act or conduct itself that constitutes a violation of law."

Carter said that calling Long's emails "conduct" bypasses the fact that she was engaging in speech, and no matter what other word you apply to it, whether you describe hitting the send button an email as "conduct," it's still speech.

"I don't think that's going to carry a lot of water," Carter said. "These are emails, and there's plenty of case law out there that talks about expressive conduct, which I don't even think this is, I mean, these are emails, this is communication, plain and simple. And I just don't think they're going to be able to convince a court, and quite frankly, the material that you sent that the district attorney shared, to my mind -- I just don't see this being prosecuted. I don't know how you could possibly criminalize 16 emails, even one that used a cuss word and be consistent with the First Amendment under a harassment statute, the bulk of which I think has been essentially struck down."

Cases that involve the Supreme Court upholding conduct as speech:

Profane speech, in Cohen v. California (1971), is also protected.

District Response
The Batavian also asked Superintendent Jason Smith and Board President John Marucci questions regarding the Constitutional issues raised by the case. 

Both said they thought Long's emails crossed a line, and they turned to the police to help bring the communications to a halt. Smith said it is up to the justice system to decide whether Long's rights have been violated but that she was arrested within the scope of existing state law. 

Marucci said he and the board respect the legal process and Constitutional rights but that they were facing an escalating concern and needed the assistance of the legal system, which will decide how best to deal with the case.

"Our decision was not about seeking charges against a citizen," Marucci said. "Instead, it was a necessary response to escalating inappropriate emails despite our attempts at dialogue. We value and address all respectful and constructive conversations with parents and community members. In this specific instance, it was essential for us to take a firm stance to protect our administration and staff from unnecessary harassment; we could not stand idly by, and therefore, we made the decisive choice to speak up and act in defense of our school community's well-being."

Smith said there are proper ways for residents to raise issues with the administration and school board, and the district respects the right of residents to disagree with their decisions. He doesn't believe, he said, that administrators and elected officials should necessarily be protected from annoying and upsetting speech but that this was an exceptional case. He said it is important to maintain a respectful and safe environment for everyone in the school community.

"While we fully support the right of individuals to ask questions and hold our school leadership accountable, this does not extend to the point of harassment or the use of inappropriate and inflammatory language," Smith said. "In this particular case, our decision to involve legal action was not taken lightly. It was a response to a pattern of communication from the parent in question that had escalated beyond acceptable norms of civil discourse. Our actions are in no way intended to infringe upon civil rights or to discourage constructive feedback and engagement from our community. Instead, they are a necessary step in protecting the well-being and safety of our school board members and staff and upholding a standard of respect and civility in our communications."

To read the full Q&A with both Smith and Marucci, click here.

Prior Restraint
Among the documents obtained by The Batavian from the school district is a letter from Smith to Long. It is dated Nov. 10 and informs Long that the matter has been referred to Batavia PD. It's the first time, at least in the communications obtained by The Batavian, that anybody with the district notified Long that officials found her emails annoying. 

In it, Smith informs Long that her email address has been blocked, prohibiting her from communicating with any other district official except Smith, that she is not to contact any other district employee, and that she may not use the district's app, Parent Square, to contact staff members.

Carter said this letter is also Constitutionally problematic, though the case law on the matter is not settled.

"I could see a strong argument that blocking a member from the public from being able to send emails to government officials would have First Amendment implications," Carter said. 

A case against former President Donald Trump regarding his practice of blocking people on Twitter never made it to the Supreme Court because he left office before the matter was settled. A lower court had previously ruled against Trump, saying he couldn't block people from using a public forum to criticize him. 

There are two other cases pending before the Supreme Court regarding government officials and agencies blocking communication on social media platforms. 

We couldn't find any cases dealing specifically with individual emails to the government or elected officials or using a government-run platform such as Parent Square.

The letter could potentially constitute "prior restraint." Courts have consistently held that the government cannot restrict speech and publication, regardless of any concern about future communication, that has not yet occurred.

It's this block to communication, along with Long's three children still attending school, that may be why her attorney, Tom Trbovich, from Buffalo, seems hesitant to fight a First Amendment case.

He said he would love to have a case he could take to the Supreme Court and win. It would help his career.  But his first obligation is to his client and what is in the best interest of her and her family. He said while he's willing to do whatever his needed, it's also important to be realistic about the situation.

"As a secondary goal, I want to make sure that, you know, it'd be nice to make sure that relations and stuff like that with the families in the school workout, as well," Trbovich said after Long's initial court appearance, where she entered a not-guilty plea. "I want to make sure it's a win-win situation for everybody. And it's just going to take a little bit of time. I don't want to just do something quick in court. I want to do what's in the best interest of everybody."

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