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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.

Executive director of national institute, GCC alum announces retirement

By Press Release

Press Release:

Submitted photo of 
Dr. Edward J. Leach.

Having spent more than 35 years working in higher education, Dr. Edward J. Leach is stepping down as the executive director of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) when he retires in August 2024. 

Leach joined NISOD in September 2013. Leach came to NISOD after the 2012 retirement of Dr. John E. Roueche, the head of The University of Texas at Austin’s Community College Leadership Program, to which NISOD was closely linked for 41 years. Not only was Roueche stepping away, but the renowned doctoral program he built was being discontinued. 

Leach stabilized the situation, returning the focus to NISOD’s original mission — empowering and celebrating community and technical college educators. 

“My time leading NISOD has been the best professional experience of my life, and I’m very proud of what our outstanding staff has accomplished, including being recognized by the American Association of Community Colleges as ‘the country’s leading provider of professional development for community college faculty, staff, and administrators.’” said Leach. 

“My reason for making the announcement now is straightforward. I want to give the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin plenty of time to search for and select a new Executive Director.”

During his tenure, Leach led NISOD’s implementation of the Most Promising Places to Work in Community Colleges Award, which, in partnership with Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, recognizes community and technical colleges for their exceptional commitments to diversity; launched NISOD’s Student Essay Contest and Student Graphic Design Contest; the Suanne Davis Roueche Faculty Scholarship, in honor of the late Suanne Davis Roueche, who served as NISOD’s director from 1985 to 2000; and the offering of CEUs as evidence of professional development accomplishments. 

As NISOD’s executive director during the pandemic, Leach successfully led NISOD through its transition to remote operations and virtual learning experiences, including a fall virtual conference that continues to be offered.

Leach began his own college education as a first-generation college student and Pell Grant recipient at Genesee Community College (GCC), earning an associate degree in Liberal Arts/General Studies, before adding a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and, finally, a doctorate in Educational Administration from The University of Texas at Austin. Leach has dedicated his last 25 years to providing community and technical college educators access to high-quality professional development.

“I want to extend my sincere congratulations to Dr. Leach on his retirement as NISOD’s Executive Director” said Dr. Pedro Reyes, Chair of the Education Leadership and Policy Department at The University of Texas at Austin. 

“Dr. Leach’s visionary leadership and tireless dedication have been instrumental in advancing NISOD’s mission of empowering community and technical college educators. Under his guidance, NISOD has provided high-quality professional development opportunities and celebrated student and staff excellence in the field. We are grateful for Dr. Leach’s invaluable contributions and wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.”

Dr. Leach’s resignation will be effective August 15. The Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin will have more information to share about transition planning in the weeks to come.

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.

NYS Teacher of the Year and Batavia resident wants your vote for America's Favorite Teacher

By Joanne Beck
Zach Arenz with students
Batavia resident and Flower City music teacher Zach Arenz, with some of his ukulele band musicians, is competing for America's Favorite Teacher and a $25,000 prize.
Submitted Photo

In the days, weeks and months after the COVID pandemic protocols settled down and kids were able to return to school after all of that isolation, an odd phenomenon occurred, and many struggled with the desire to return.

For Batavia resident and Flower City School teacher Zach Arenz, he was able to spark student interest through the magic of music.

“I just think at the core of teaching, it's so important for kids to feel connected. And in a world where I think we're increasingly disconnected from one another, it's important to grow those relationships at the school, with their teachers, and get the kids excited to be at school each day,” Arenz says. You know, we're four years post the beginning of the pandemic … but attendance is still a big issue in schools; getting kids to want to come to school is a struggle for a lot of them. And I had one kid recently tell me that the reason he came to school that day was because he had band with me. And, I mean, in the days that I feel most stressed, and I just feel like am I doing it the right way? You hear something like that and you're like, wow, the teachers make such a huge difference in our kids’ lives.”

His work with students as a music teacher and efforts to establish a school-based Community Closet for donations at Flower City School in Rochester has earned Arenz a 2024 New York State Teacher of the Year Award and a Top Two spot so far in his group for a Readers Digest online contest that will award the final winner a $25,000 prize.

Not to boil down school absenteeism all to COVID, but a large reason was the aftermath of pandemic shutdowns and the resulting psychological and social effects, as noted by school experts, that online learning, removal of face-to-face friendships and classroom learning caused to kids. 

Add to that a school with demographics of pervasive poverty for students of color, and there are attendance obstacles, said Arenz, who has been a music teacher at Flower City since 2013. In the same way that he first became attached to an instrument — the clarinet in fourth grade and bassoon in college and now in the Genesee Valley Wind Ensemble — Arenz has been helping his students connect with music through general music and instrumental music, modern band, a garage band type model, and a ukulele band for students in grades kindergarten through six.

“Just a lot like my kids, there was a teacher who was brave enough and gave me a clarinet. And from that moment forward, my life has circled around music. I just I always find that it's the comforting spot for me to be, it's where I feel most connected,” Arenz said.  

There are certainly other needs, which Arenz has not let go unfilled. He first began to notice a student coming to school in the same white T-shirt, getting dingier day after day after day, he said. He then saw sweatshirts on clearance at a Big Box and thought, ‘I can buy one’ for this student.' Then he bought five. And then he put out a call for donations on his social media site. 

The Community Closet grew out of those simple and caring steps to fulfill students’ basic needs five years ago. The response was “more than I could have imagined,” he said.

“Because, if I could at least give them a clean shirt to feel comfortable in for the day, that's fine, I can do that. And then that has spawned into this community closet that I started at school, where I bring in donations from the community, and people will bring their trash bags and their spring cleaning. So there's all this stuff that we don't need anymore, and I have a whole closet and a portable closet rack that houses the clothes that the kids need," he said. "And the moment a kid sees me in the hallway, it may be, ‘I don't have any clean clothes at home anymore.’ But sometimes it's something just like, ‘Oh, I spilled my apple juice all over my pants. Can I have a new pair of pants?’ It's so easy now for me to just say yes, we have those things. And if it's something little like that, I can also run a load of laundry at school because there's a washer and dryer across the hallway from me. So it's doing stuff like that. It just makes the kids feel proud.”

An array of clothing filled the closet for students and their families. Then, several items were donated, including toiletries for personal hygiene. It became about more than just providing for someone in need, Arenz said; it was about providing for anyone in need at the moment. Most anyone could use a squirt of hand lotion at some point, right?

He said there hasn’t been an issue with kids being too proud to accept the goods because of the way the closet is set up. There can be, but he has instead seen “the gratefulness” that develops.

“It’s not something I hide; it’s not something I do in secret. The community closet is immediately when you walk into my door, it is to your right. So there are things that are out, and kids will get first,” he said. “And you know, I think by increasing visibility, you also increase accessibility. I will get interrupted in the middle of class (by a student asking for something). It’s not a big deal; I try to make it as shameless as possible. I also teach the difference between taking something because it’s there and it’s free or taking something because you need it.”

A transplant from Long Island, Arenz, 36, settled into Batavia as a comfy midway point between Buffalo and Rochester after Fredonia State College pulled him closer to Western New York. He first taught music for a middle school class in Sweden (the country) for a year before landing the Rochester job.

A believer in supporting local business, Arenz is no stranger to the Downtown Batavia and Genesee County trivia circuit and considers Eli Fish one of his home bases to hang out. He will proudly wear a Charles Men’s Shop tux to his New York State Teacher of the Year Award dinner at the White House on May 2.

The Board of Regents named Arenz for the 2024 honor based on his being “an exceptionally skilled and passionate educator.” He will also serve as an ambassador for the state teachers and become a nominee for the National Teacher of the Year program.

“Zachary Arenz is the embodiment of a dedicated and inspirational teacher. His ability to engage with students and inspire and ignite a passion for lifelong learning through music is exceptional,” Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said. “His determination to help all students achieve success by providing them with a safe and supportive environment is a model for all schools across the state.”

For Arenz, “It was the dream job I never knew I wanted,” he said. 

“I went in growing up in the suburbs, unsure what it was going to be like,” he said. “But my first school, I fell in love with my colleagues, I fell in love with my students. I’m very lucky to have the job that I have. It’s not a position that I take for granted ever.”

When he more recently came across an advertisement for the America’s Favorite Teacher contest and, more notably, the $25,000 prize, he thought, “I could effect some change with that money.” 

“I would love to be able to pour money into building up a sustainable classroom or not even just a classroom closet, but a true community space where it's not just in my classroom, it's not something that's mine, I think one for my school," he said. "I think what I would dream of is having a space that is more central, something that is more accessible, not just by the kids, but also a community space, a sort of, if I was dreaming, maybe it's a space that includes a food pantry, maybe it's a space that includes a shopping experience sort of thing, where we do have a variety of donations that are available to anybody. So when I do my spring cleaning, I would love to return my stuff to the school.”

Voting for this round ends at 7 p.m. Thursday before the next level goes on to compete. Arenz is hoping to continue with the support of everyone’s vote. To do that, and for more information, including about the Teach For America fund and boosting your votes even more, go to America's Favorite Teacher.

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.

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

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.

Batavia High's Rock Band class proves its chops and popularity with Thursday evening concert

By Howard B. Owens
Some members of first block rock band, jam out tunes for parents and families.  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Some members of First Block Rock Band perform for parents and families.  
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Music teacher Dan Grillo thinks maybe, as much as it pains him to say it, rock 'n' roll music is a dying art form.

That isn't apparent from the way students at Batavia High School have embraced his elective class, Rock Band.

In the nine years since he started the program, the course has grown from one class with a handful of boys who typically didn't own their own instruments to two packed classes with many students bringing in their guitars. 

"(That first year) we had three of the same exact guitars, three of the exact same basses, and we actually started with an electric drum set," Grillo said. "Now, as you know, we have our own nice acoustic drum set."

The program has encouraged many kids to get their own guitars, Grillo said, "which is really good."  Another sign of growth -- he doesn't have to sing all the songs any more.

"We started on one song and just kind of worked that song for a while, but none of the boys wanted to sing," Grillo said. "I had to sing it. I had to sing pretty much everything that year."

There are 25 members in three bands.

Rock band class in high school music departments is still kind of a rare thing in the area, Grillo said, so he isn't sure the program will ever grow to the point where -- like for other music genres at the high school level -- there are competitions and festivals.

"It's still kind of a niche thing," he said.

The most telling way things have changed is the engagement of the students.

"As I mentioned in our concert tonight, a lot of the students are suggesting and writing up songs for us," Grillo said. "This is not all just my contributions in terms of -- I thought of a good song, I thought it would be good for the kids, and I gave it to them. A lot of these were songs that the students championed. And that means a lot that they're that invested that they want a say in the music that we're playing and performing."

The students pitching their own favorite songs evolved out of, well, students pitching their own favorite songs and Grillo deciding to students owning their ideas.

"I would have students come to me every day, and they're like, 'You know what song we should do? You know what song we should do? You know what song we should do?' And I got sick of hearing it," Grillo said. "I finally said, 'Look, if you want to do a song, you write it up. I'm not going to write it up. I don't have that kind of time.' Okay, it takes a good half hour to write these songs up (as guitar tablature) because you got to make sure the lyrics and the chords and all that stuff is right, that they're in the right place, that they work. So it does take some work to write up those songs. So the fact that the students are doing some homework is also pretty telling."

The program is popular all over campus, Grillo said. The rock bands occasionally play lunchtime concerts in the auditorium and they're well attended.

"Everybody likes it," Grillo said. "It's not just students that come in. It's faculty and support staff. It's pretty popular with everybody in the building. So we get a lot of support. We're always being asked to do different gigs. We've been asked to perform at open houses; we've been asked to perform like we did the wrestling match this year and last year, we did a wrestling match. ... So it's very popular even though, like I said, rock is kind of a dying style. I used to do barber shop and that's even more so a dying style."

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Steve Ognibene conducted the interview for this story.

Addison Glynn and Faith Guiste on vocals.  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Addison Glynn and Faith Guiste on vocals.  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Ben Stone, guitar  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Ben Stone, guitar  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Left to right, Evan Kimball, Isaiah Benway-Snyder and Elijah Abdella on guitar  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Left to right, Evan Kimball, Isaiah Benway-Snyder and Elijah Abdella on guitar  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Ethan Bradley, guitar  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Ethan Bradley, guitar  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Gavynn Trippany, drums  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Gavynn Trippany, drums  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Tommy Gaylord, bass guitar  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Tommy Gaylord, bass guitar  
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Rock Band, music director, Mr. Daniel Grillo  Photo by Steve Ognibene
Rock Band music director, Mr. Daniel Grillo  
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Tenney introduces resolution condemning Gov. Hochuls school budget cuts

By Press Release

Press Release:

File photo of 
Claudia Tenney

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24) today joined Congressman Marc Molinaro (NY-19) and New York’s Republican Congressional Delegation in introducing a Congressional Resolution condemning New York Governor Kathy Hochul for defunding schools across New York State and prioritizing increased funding for migrants.

The Governor’s budget reduces funding for hundreds of schools across New York State while providing $2.4 billion to provide undocumented immigrants with legal assistance, housing, transportation, healthcare, and jobs. If Governor Hochul’s cuts to schools go through, schools could be forced to make up the difference by shuttering special education and disability services, cutting mental health resources, and more.

"Once again, Governor Kathy Hochul and Albany Democrats are putting illegal migrants and their progressive agenda ahead of New York’s children," said Congresswoman Tenney. "Hochul's misguided decision to cut critical funding from taxpayer-funded schools threatens students' learning, especially as they continue to recover from COVID-related learning loss and their access to valuable disability services and mental health resources. I stand with my New York Republican colleagues in demanding that she reevaluate her priorities and support our children over illegal migrants!"

"Governor Hochul is prioritizing undocumented immigrants over our children's education," said Congressman Molinaro. "Cutting funding for schools will inevitably jeopardize crucial disability services and mental health resources. We cannot let extreme left immigration policies ruin our children’s future. Governor Hochul: reverse course.”

"This self-inflicted New York City migrant crisis shouldn't be paid for on the backs of our children," said Congressman Garbarino. "Our children must come first. The needs of New Yorkers must be placed before those of illegal immigrants. I urge the Governor to change course and do what’s right for our kids and our state.”

“New York Democrats’ sanctuary policy that’s turning hotels, schools, federal parks, and senior living facilities into encampments for unvetted migrants from all over the world is unfair to surrounding communities and the taxpayers who are being forced to foot the bill," said Congresswoman Malliotakis. "Because of State and national Democrats’ reckless policies, the Governor is now slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from schools across the state, including over $130,000 from New York City. This crisis is unsustainable and unsafe for everyone involved, and the fact that our Mayor and Governor are cutting services from citizens to continue funding free giveaways to illegal immigrants is insane. Our children deserve better.”

“Governor Hochul’s misplaced priorities have placed the interests of migrants over Empire State students by slashing education funding while dedicating billions to those who crossed through our porous borders," said Congressman D’Esposito. "I am calling on Governor Hochul to immediately reverse course and stop punishing New York students for Joe Biden’s disastrous migrant crisis.”

“A politician’s budget proposal is indicative of that politician's values and it is clear from her budget that Governor Hochul values migrants over our kids," said Congressman LaLota. "As the husband of a teacher, father of three young girls, and a New York taxpayer, I’m appalled by the Governor’s heartlessness. Her decision to hurt our kids, especially in counties that voted against her, is Cuomo-esque bullying. The Governor is yet again putting politics before people and every New Yorker should be vocal against Hochul.”

GLOW with your hands healthcare event to be held at GCC March 22

By Press Release
Submitted photo of speakers during presentation.

Press Release:

GLOW With Your Hands: Healthcare plans to host its second annual career exploration event for local students interested in healthcare career pathways and opportunities. Approximately 600 students in grades 8-12 from 28 schools will gather at Genesee Community College on March 22 to connect with various healthcare businesses and organizations to learn about careers in healthcare and science-related fields throughout the GLOW region.


The success of GLOW with Your Hands in workforce recruitment in the manufacturing sector and the urgent workforce need in the healthcare sector has once again brought businesses, educational organizations, and economic development agencies from across the region to collaborate to provide an incredible opportunity for GLOW region students to learn about the careers in their own backyard.

“The healthcare sector is one of the GLOW region’s largest employers and contributors to the economy, offering ample career pathway opportunities to the next generation of workforce candidates,” said Angela Grouse, Education to Employment Director at the Livingston County Area Chamber and Co-Chair of GLOW With Your Hands: Healthcare. “As we have experienced from our manufacturing event, hands-on interactions with these professionals and organizations lead to sustained interest.”

GLOW With Your Hands: Healthcare will provide the healthcare sector with the opportunity to meet and recruit its future workforce. Participants include representatives from hospitals and health systems and those in nursing, mental health, social services and first responders.  Attendees also will be able to explore educational pathways in the healthcare sector through BOCES and local colleges and universities.

“Serving Wyoming County and the GLOW region for the past 110 years showcases our commitment to the community and why career exploration is so essential, especially in the healthcare sector,” said Wyoming County Community Health System CEO David Kobis. “Our local youth get a detailed understanding of the opportunities we have available, and we get to see what they are looking for in a career.”

“We are always trying to find new strategies and opportunities that help prepare our students to enter the workforce upon graduation,” said Karyn Winters, director of the Genesee County Business Education Alliance Director and Co-Chair of GLOW With Your Hands Healthcare. “Through collaboration with local stakeholders, we are building a workforce development model that is being replicated across the region.”

Various healthcare businesses and organizations have demonstrated their appreciation of the value of this event with generous support, including ESL Federal Credit Union, Wyoming County Community Health Services, Rochester Regional Health | United Memorial Medical Center, Genesee County Economic Development Center, and University of Rochester Medicine | Noyes Health.

“Our sponsors are one of the main reasons we have seen so much success and interest with GLOW With Your Hands events these past few years,” said Justin Dueppengiesser, Executive Director, of Wyoming County Business Education Council. “This is a unique opportunity for businesses across the region to tap into the pipeline of well-prepared and educated workforce candidates.”

There are still sponsorship opportunities for the March 22nd event at the Platinum ($5,000), Gold ($2,500), Silver ($1,000) and Bronze ($500) levels.

For more information about GLOW With Your Hands: Healthcare visit or contact Chris Suozzi at

Coach's Corner: STEM after school programs blossom in 3D

By Chris Suozzi
chris suozzi coaches corner

Changes in technology, from AI to computer-driven manufacturing, are at the forefront of all aspects of our everyday lives.

As we learn more about these tools, we must use them to our advantage and adapt. That’s what all great coaches, teachers, and learners do.

You wouldn’t catch me dead rooting for Bill Belichick, but now that he’s gone from the AFC East, I’m okay saying that he showed us how to do it right.

As coaches and parents, we have to adapt our strategy in our “off-seasons,” no matter how successful we were the previous year. Bring in new concepts, lift up new talents, and find every advantage we can.

And for parents with students in the third grade and higher, there is an advantage your kids can access right now!

Did you know kids are already learning Industry 4.0 concepts, troubleshooting, operational efficiency and creative thinking through 3-D printing - and doing it at Robert Morris?

The Batavia Tech Club offers short-session programs with instruction and application through hands-on interactions with emerging technologies.

I’ve seen Jim Dillon grow this idea, constantly making adjustments to equip more students with the skills that will make them the best learners and future leaders.

Jim leads classes in 3D printing, 3D design, micro-controller coding, cloud-based collaboration, CNC laser cutting, and other cutting-edge technology-related skills that are essential to today’s workplace.

His focus is on age-appropriate learning. This week’s programs were for 3rd through 8th graders, and next week’s are for 3rd through 5th graders.

On Tuesday, I joined Jim and his students as they toured a classroom filled with 3-D printers and Arduino controls. It buzzed with activity. To see the instant gratification of making something was great, but seeing students gain an understanding of how equipment works was even better.

Putting these types of technologies in their hands pushes young learners outside of their comfort zones.

This is how you grow and develop interests you may have never been aware of.

In workforce development, we make improvements every year. We tailor our programs to the economic demands and interests expressed by workforce candidates.  That’s how to do it right.

The good news is that our kids have already taken those steps. Even if they don’t realize it, each new challenge they take on gives them more flexibility in the future.

We have to show them the way and highlight what’s available. While our big events like GLOW With Your Hands are popular, a lot is happening just out of sight.

The Batavia Tech Club is a great example.

We need to continue to equip the next generation of skilled workers with youth workforce programs that are building the pipeline for the growing private sector across our region. Why not expand their minds with the latest technologies being taught by the Batavia Tech Club?

If you’re interested in getting involved with the Batavia Tech Club, please contact Jim Dillon at or (585) 297-7779.

Chris Suozzi is the Vice President of Business &Workforce Development at the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

Batavia City Schools to deal with reduced funding as COVID grants come to an end

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith

During his superintendent’s report, Jason Smith updated Batavia City Schools board members Monday about project decreases in revenue for this year’s budget, including several federal grants that will be winding down in September and state-issued Foundation aid recently laid out in Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget.

“With the Governor's current budget proposal, BCSD is slated to receive $24,177,919, which is a $13,936 reduction from last year's Foundation Aid. However, had the Governor not adjusted the current law, BCSD would be receiving, and I would argue is entitled to receive, an additional $277,141 in Foundation Aid,” Smith told The Batavian Wednesday. “It is especially frustrating that this was changed with very little notice to school districts, further hampering our ability to plan our budget and programs for students accordingly.”

Smith plans to review options for how to deal with a decrease in aid, and those expiring three-year grants that were given to the district during COVID to provide additional support to students. 

The COVID funds are that of the American Rescue Plan Act, which divvied up additional monies for municipalities, and for school districts to apply toward student-needed measures in the current post-pandemic era.

The district dedicated a large portion to the hiring of a second school resource officer and several new teaching positions and placed a focus on students’ mental health and social-emotional learning.

In October 2022, Thomas Ramming of Thomas Ramming Consulting, Inc., presented his study on the district that found “a lack of comprehensive and strategic staffing plan, increased teacher positions paid for with additional federal and state aid despite declining enrollment, and a large number of school counselors per federal recommendations,” based on at least some of those increased hirings.

When school board members raised the point that his study was conducted after the pandemic, Ramming admitted that the whole COVID scenario was not calculated in the overall findings. 

He did suggest, however, that the district continuously assess whether the extra personnel will be warranted in the future. And if that’s the case, the district needs a plan for how to pay for those salaries and benefits, Ramming had said.

It would seem that time is coming, for dealing with both reduced aid and grant funding.

"Recommendations will be provided to the board over the upcoming budget preparation season, slated to begin in February," Smith said.

In other district financial news, the board approved a four-year contract with the Batavia Administrator’s union that provides them with:

  • A four percent raise each year;
  • Increased starting salaries for assistant principals “to recruit exceptional talent,” Smith said;
  • The removal of an incentive that was related to the graduation rate; and
  • Increased health insurance rate premiums by 2 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent for current contribution rates of between 14 to 25 percent, depending on the selected plan.

“The Batavia Administrators Association last rolled over its agreement in 2021, so this is truly a new contract for them since 2018 when the last contract was negotiated,” Smith said.

The board also approved:

  • Payment of $42,400 to Mollenberg-Betz, Inc. for the emergency repair of sump pumps at John Kennedy Intermediate School. 
  • In early October 2023, the Buildings and Grounds staff discovered that the sump pumps located in the JK basement had failed, and the Board of Education approved an emergency project during its Dec. 19, 2023 meeting. 

    The state Education Department approved the emergency project designation, normal bidding procedures were suspended in order to proceed, and the necessary electrical and plumbing work was completed.

  • A compensation adjustment of $8,000 for Clark Patterson Lee as an amendment for the company’s professional services agreement of April 27, 2022.

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."

Pavilion schools seeking bids from firms to assist with next series of renovations and upgrades

By Howard B. Owens

Pavilion Central School District is in the early phase of planning its next significant building and renovation project.

It's seeking bids from architectural/engineering firms to help it map out updates and upgrades at its two main school buildings, D.B. Bunce Elementary School and Pavilion Junior-Senior High School, which totals 275,800 square feet of education space.

The estimated budget for the project is between $20 million and $24 million.

The project is expected to include at least:

  • Replacement of boiler plants in both buildings;
  • Renovation of media centers in both buildings;
  • Expansion and renovation of one wing of the junior-senior high;
  • An upgrade to the fire alarm and security system at the junior-senior high;
  • An upgrade to theatrical lighting, sound, and projection in the auditorium; and,
  • The replacement of playgrounds.

The selected firm will perform design and construction-related services, including architectural, and engineering for all elements of construction.

The district expects to hire the firm with the winning bid in January with board review and voter approval requested in the fall.  Planning documents will begin the regulatory planning process in the summer of 2025. If all that goes as planned, construction will begin in the summer of 2025, with completion in the winter of 2026.

Bids are due by 3 p.m. on Jan. 10.

The Request for Proposal, which is a document for companies being asked to bid on a project, does not contain financial data beyond the broad cost estimate. The financial plan for paying for the project will be developed by district staff and approved by the board before a public vote on the proposal. Typically, these projects are paid for primarily through state aid.

To read the complete RFP, click here.

Voters in Elba approve $14.8 million capital improvement project

By Staff Writer

Voters in Elba, by a 95-22 margin, approved a $14.8 million capital improvement project on Thursday.

The proposition read:

Authorize the Board of Education of the Elba Central School District be authorized to undertake certain capital improvements consisting of construction and reconstruction of the K-12 Main Campus school building and facilities, site improvements and the acquisition of certain original furnishings, equipment, and apparatus and other incidental improvements required in connection therewith for such construction and school use, all at an estimated maximum aggregate cost of $14,875,000; and to appropriate and expend from the existing capital reserve fund $900,000 for such costs, and that the balance of such cost, or so much thereof as may be necessary, shall be raised by the levy of a tax to be collected in annual installments, with such tax to be offset by state aid available therefor; and, in anticipation of such tax, debt obligations of the school district as may be necessary not to exceed $13,975,000 shall be issued.

Le Roy voters approve $12.5 million in capital spending on facilities repairs and new sports field

By Howard B. Owens

Le Roy voters on Tuesday approved a $12.5 million capital improvement project that will fund facilities repairs and a new multipurpose sports field.

There were 517 residents who turned out for the vote, passing the measure 323 to 194.

Superintendent Merritt Holly said, "Thank you to all district residents who came out to vote."

Previously: Le Roy Central Schools reviewing $12.5 million capital project for facilities repairs, multipurpose sports field

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