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O-A student artist wins voting competition for pumpkin patch artwork

By Joanne Beck
Kempton Benjamin artwork

Oakfield-Alabama Elementary School art teacher Leah Peca has uploaded what she estimates to be thousands of kids’ artworks over the years to a website that conducts a routine evaluation and selection process for an online contest. 

Out of all those entries, there have been many creative works, but never one chosen for Artsonia’s Artist of the Week voting competition, Peca said. That was until this year, when Artsonia’s panel selected Kempton Benjamin’s golden glowy moon over a pumpkin patch. Even better yet, the painting reaped 800 online votes and captured first place for an Artist of the Week spot in his age group.

“I was thrilled. I was jumping up and down, I thought I was crazy when I got the email,” Peca said during an interview Wednesday with The Batavian. “I was just so happy for him. It's very cool, because we're a very big sports community. Athletes are constantly always being recognized, which is great, but it's very nice to see some of these other kids get recognized for their own unique talents that are outside of sports."

The voting competition on is promoted to be part of the world's largest collection of student art portfolios, exhibiting more than 100 million pieces of student art.

Artsonia developed Artist of the Week 15 years ago to encourage teachers to submit student artwork and engage the school and community to vote on and recognize students for their creative achievements, its founders state. Every week, Artsonia selects 12 random submissions in each of four different age groups (PreK-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12) from artwork submitted the previous week. Voting is open to the public for several days before the winner is announced.

Peca is one of the thousands of art teachers who uses Artsonia to showcase her students' art, manage the art room, crowdsource lesson plans, and fundraise for her classroom. Artsonia lets family and friends of student artists create and purchase custom keepsakes from the student art and then gives back 20 percent of all revenue to the local art classroom.

“Artsonia is huge in my art room. I love having portfolios of art for my students and my own children that date back to their very first days of school,” Peca said. “The kids also love the nostalgia of scrolling through their online portfolios and remembering their experiences with each project.”

Kempton, who enjoys painting nature and especially animals, was happy when his mom Malorie shared the news that he had won.

“I was excited. I was surprised,” the eight-year-old said. “I used oil pastels. I remembered going to the pumpkin patch, there were three pumpkins; I was recreating that. The harvest moon, it was golden.”

His mom said that he loves to paint and do various crafts, including working with clay. She received the congratulatory email earlier this month. Kempton received a plaque and a gift card for art supplies. He went home and ordered supplies right away, she said.

His list of goodies included pompom puppies, two bags of clay, and a craft kit to make his own kaleidoscope. 

“I'm so proud of him. He really loves art,” she said. “Any time your child gets recognized for something they enjoy or are passionate about, that's an exciting thing. He was really proud, we’re really excited for him. That was a cool recognition and awesome that he got to have other people see his cool, great work that we're always talking about.”

The online site allows families to view their child’s artwork and order items with the piece incorporated. Kempton’s grandma has already ordered a moon over pumpkin patch mug, and other family members will be ordering other items, his mom said. 

Peca has been teaching art for more than 15 years and said that she loves being around kids who are excited to try new things and realize their potential. 

“Everybody is excited to come to art class, and that joy is contagious,” she said. “And Kempton has always had such an aptitude for art, but he works so hard at it too. Whenever he finishes something, he's always asking how he can improve it or what he can do to make it better.

“He never just finishes it in terms of it,” she said. “And he always just keeps working on it. And it's so awesome.”

He spent two 40-minute classes using bright green and orange oils, purples, lavender, shades of periwinkle and sky blues, and brilliant white and yellow for the moon that’s casting a bit of glow onto the round orange pumpkins on the grass below. 

To view works on the site, go to

Kempton with award
Kempton Benjamin, 8, with his plaque. 
Submitted Photo


Fire chief's suggestion of mediation may be the answer to ending stalemate between town, village boards

By Mike Pettinella

Leave it to a first responder to jump into the fray and attempt to put out the “fire” that has embroiled the Oakfield village and town boards over the financial payment plan for fire protection for their residents.

On Thursday night, Sean Downing, chief of the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, said that he is working toward a meeting of town, village and fire department officials, with OVFD attorney Mark Butler of Williamsville acting as a mediator.

“It’s time to get this thing resolved and move forward,” Downing said. “The fire department is stuck in the middle here.”

Downing said citizens are upset over the impasse and several of them voiced their displeasure at a recent town board meeting.

After that, the fire chief said he suggested having representatives of the village and town sit down with fire department personnel and Butler.

“I’m drafting a letter to send to our attorney for review and for the town (Supervisor Matt Martin) and the village (Mayor David Boyle) to sign (indicating) that they will come to the meeting,” Downing said. “The letter also reads that they will agree to what our attorney recommends.”

Downing said he is proposing a few dates for the meeting in an attempt to find one that accommodates everyone involved.

Martin, responding to an email from The Batavian, reported that “a tentative meeting is in the works.”

Boyle, speaking by telephone yesterday, also acknowledged that “a meeting is being set up by the fire chief.”

The dispute centers upon how much the town should pay for fire protection services offered by the village, which owns the fire department trucks and equipment. The building itself, on Albert Street, is owned by the fire department.

The village is threatening legal action against the town for failure to pay $78,644.71 owed for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Boyle said the village will shut off fire and emergency response to the town (including the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District) if the bill isn’t paid by Nov. 30 – action that Downing said could be supported by the OVFD.

Martin said the town wants to renegotiate the longstanding agreement, and sent the village a check for half of that amount in an attempt to sit down and come up with a new three-year pact that removes charges to the town for capital expenses, such as trucks and equipment.

“The town would like a three-year agreement and a service contract only,” Martin wrote. “When we say service contract, we mean that the capital portion not be included as that is owned by the village.”

When asked if the town considered paying the full amount owed prior to renegotiation, Martin responded, “We have done this in the past and have gotten nowhere.”

“Once the village gets their money, they do not contact us again until it is time to discuss the fire budget again the next year,” he said. “We have asked for five years to work this out and they continue to ignore our request.”

He said the town board favors a service agreement for fire protection, similar to the one it has with the village for snowplowing.

Boyle’s response made it clear that he doesn’t believe that is fair.

“That’s ludicrous to me,” he said, reiterating that all necessary vehicles are dispatched and equipment used when firefighters respond to town emergencies.

The mayor, however, did say he was encouraged by the chance to express the village’s stance in mediation.

“There are issues to iron out, for sure,” he said. “I hope there’s a sense of give-and-take in the discussions, and not just demands.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s a no-win situation at this point. We’re going to have to come to some kind of compromise. Both parties deserve a contract that supports the fire department but also is fiscally conservative and responsible.”

Previously: Oakfield fire protection dispute update: Village wants full payment before negotiating; Town has sent half

Previously: O-A school superintendent hoping for quick resolution to village, town fire protection squabble

Village of Oakfield threatens lawsuit, withholding fire protection over payment dispute with Town of Oakfield

By Mike Pettinella

Update: 9:00 p.m., Sept. 28

Sean Downing, chief of the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, left a phone message stating that he is "hopeful that both parties can come and resolve their differences before the November 30th deadline."

"If not, then by written order of the mayor or the board of trustees of the Village of Oakfield, we will not be able to respond into the town, which includes the elementary and the high school -- and that is per consulting with our attorney, Mark Butler."


Update: 5:50 p.m., Sept. 28

Oakfield Town Supervisor Matt Martin called back to The Batavian, but didn't not want to elaborate other to say that the matter is in the hands of the town's attorney.


The Village of Oakfield is preparing to take legal action against the Town of Oakfield – as well as threatening to withhold fire protection – if the town does not pay the nearly $80,000 it owes to the village as directed by a longstanding joint municipal agreement for such services.

That’s the message conveyed by Village Mayor David Boyle during an interview on Monday with The Batavian.

Boyle said a letter articulating the village’s position is being included in residents’ water/sewer bills this week.

The mayor said the dispute centers upon the town’s refusal to pay $78,648 owed to the village for the 2020-21 fiscal year ending May 31.

Contending that the town is “holding the village hostage” in hope of renegotiating the shared services arrangement, Boyle said the village board has instructed its attorney to file a lawsuit to recover the 2020-21 payment. He also said the town has yet to pay for the first three months of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The letter, which also is signed by Deputy Mayor John Igoe and Trustees Michael Cianfrini, Michele Graham and John Mullen, states, in part:

“The Village Board is united in recognizing that the village cannot burden village residents and businesses with providing fire protection to the town without reimbursement. Therefore, the board has directed a letter be sent to the Town stating that effective Nov. 30, 2021, the Village will no longer be able to provide fire protection to the Town with the exception of the Oakfield-Alabama Central School.”

Boyle said the village owns fire trucks and equipment, and runs the fire service through the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, which owns the building on Albert Street.

“The town buys services (coverage) from us,” he said. “For years and years, we’ve had an agreement with the town about purchasing fire protection from the village. For as long as I remember, there have been contracts in place that basically are the same structure year after year after year.”

The current structure has the village paying 42 percent of the cost and the town paying 58 percent. Boyle said that the town is looking for a 50/50 split.

While that may seem equitable on paper, Boyle said, when broken down by assessed valuation, village residents pay $1.62 per $1,000 of assessed value in taxes while the town residents pay 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in taxes.

“Our village residents have to work twice as hard to pay their bill, yet the town is saying we don’t find what you’re charging acceptable and we want to move some of that cost over to the village,” Boyle said. “They’ve held back the payment to force us to make an agreement that we don’t believe we can do in the best interest of the village residents and providing a sustainable fire service.”

Per the 2020 census, the Town of Oakfield has 3,145 residents, with 1,812 of those people residing in the village.

Boyle said the fire department budget is around $175,000 including Workers’ Compensation premiums that the town traditionally has paid and liability insurance that the village traditionally has paid. The fire protection agreement is based on $135,600, with the village responsible for $56,952.

He also said this hasn’t been an issue in the past.

“Two years ago, committees got together for budgeting the fire department – looking at the long range plan and controlling costs as much as we could while also being able to sustain it over the years,” he said.

Boyle said both municipalities are required by law to provide fire protection to its businesses and its residences.

“They (the town) knew what their bill was going to be and they’ve gone out and collected tax money for that, but they haven’t signed a contract for the fiscal year that passed, even though they have collected money from the taxpayers,” he advised. “It’s escalated as it has gone on the past 15 months, but what they are saying is that it’s too expensive and they have to drive their costs down.”

He did say that there is no signed contract for 2020-21.

As far as legal action, Boyle said one of the trustees contacted the state Comptroller’s office, and the village board feels good about its chances of winning a lawsuit.

“We feel the town knew what the bill was going to be, they collected taxes on it and we provided a service in good faith. Plus, they never contacted us, saying we shouldn’t be doing that because we don’t have a contract. We’re confident that we would prevail in a lawsuit because of those reasons.”

Boyle mentioned that five fire calls over the past year or so have been structure fires in the town and, as required, the village fire department volunteers responded.

A call this morning seeking comment from Oakfield Fire Chief Sean Downing has yet to be returned.

Oakfield Town Supervisor Matt Martin has yet to respond to email and phone requests for comment.

Meeting minutes from the June 8th Town Board meeting indicate the agreement with the village is “not a contract, but a service agreement” and that a counteroffer to the village has been proposed:

“For years, but recently the past few months Supervisor Martin and Councilperson (Carol) Glor have been trying to negotiate with the Village a service contract that is equal. Currently, the Town pays 58% of the fire budget. Supervisor Martin requested that the number become a 50/50 split over a three year period, which the Mayor and Village Board refuse to entertain.

At this time the Town has not paid the village for the last village budget year. Supervisor Martin says this is not a contract it is a service agreement and should be treated as such. A proposal to the Village of $63,000.00 per year for three years on a service contract appears to be rejected as there has not been any communication from the Mayor.”

Boyle, after hearing what was communicated, said, “We’ve always been willing to talk with the town, maybe not in their time frame.”

“I got the sense that they’re not paying the contract and using that as hostage money. We want to treat it as two matters: They clear up what they owe us and then we’ll talk about going forward. We provided a service to them in good faith, so we believe that they’re being disingenuous.”

Oakfield-Alabama releases school reopening plan; recommends but doesn't require masks in classrooms

By Mike Pettinella

While considering recommendations from the New York State Education Department, Center for Disease Controls and incoming Governor Kathy Hochul, the superintendent at Oakfield-Alabama Central School said the district’s reopening plan released today primarily reflects the wishes of its staff and its residents.

The plan formulated by John Fisgus calls for five days of in-person learning when classes resume on Sept. 8, with the wearing of masks or face coverings for students and staff while in classrooms left up to the individual’s personal choice.

Per the document, “Students and District staff are ‘highly recommended” to wear masks while in classrooms during instruction and learning, but it is NOT REQUIRED regardless of vaccination status. This is a personal choice and decision.”

The protocols do, however, require mask wearing on school buses, entering the school buildings and reporting to classrooms, and while traveling in the hallways between classes and/or to different locations within the buildings.

Fisgus (photo at right) said results of a survey he sent out on Aug. 5 separately to district staff and separately to residents is at the heart of the directive.

“We were looking to get a feel for their thoughts on masking -- thinking that there could be quite a difference in philosophies as, obviously, the teachers and the district staff can have a difference in opinion from that of the community,” Fisgus said.

What he found, however, was that both groups – staff and residents – were “right in line with each other,” he said.


“Overwhelmingly, in summary, they (staff and residents) want the personal choice to wear a mask or not. It was 75 or 80 percent in favor of that,” he reported.

The O-A survey featured seven questions about masks, with respondents asked to rate their choices from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Fisgus said he received more than 400 responses.

The questions were as follows:

  • Students age 4-11 years old who cannot be vaccinated at this time should be required to wear masks at school at all times.
  • Students age 12 and older who can be vaccinated and are not should be required to wear masks at school at all times while indoors.
  • Students age 12 and older who can be vaccinated and are vaccinated should be required to wear masks at school at all times.
  • Adults who are not vaccinated should be required to wear a mask.
  • Adults who are vaccinated should be required to wear a mask.
  • The O-A district should require that all staff and students wear masks at all times while in school.
  • The O-A district should leave mask wearing for staff and students as a personal choice and decision.

“Knowing what our local community wants and what our district staff is favoring, that is what we’re going to base our decisions on at this time,” he said. “But also know that we will have flexibility as we will be watching the seven-day rolling average. If something comes down that we’re having an increase in spread or whatever, certainly these protocols can change.”


Other key points of the O-A reopening plan are as follows:

  • While we will try to maintain 3-6 feet of social distance, some classrooms and learning activities will return to group work with close collaboration among students and our teachers.
  • Physical Education classes, Band and Chorus Ensembles and lessons, will return to normal operations in their regular classroom environments.
  • Cafeteria operations will return to normal. Students will be seated at our original tables as assigned within each of our buildings.
  • If anyone prefers to wear a mask while on campus, they will have the ability to do so with the respect of all students and staff members.
  • The District will continue its high levels of ventilation, sanitation, and cleaning each day.
  • We ask that each student and District staff member continue the practice of good hygiene by washing hands frequently and maintaining the proper social distance from one another, whenever possible.
  • We ask that your child(ren) and our District staff members stay home when ill and  contact the appropriate school nurse.
  • It is NOT REQUIRED for families and District employees to fill out the daily health screening form in ParentSquare this year.
  • In the absence of any future school mandates regarding interscholastic sport competitions from NYSPHSAA, masks are *highly recommended* but NOT REQUIRED during practices and competitions. Players and coaches have the personal choice and right to wear a mask if desired.
  • Our extracurricular activities and events at school will take place throughout the year and the wearing of masks is *highly recommended* but NOT REQUIRED by students and advisors. Any outside visitors to our campus for school events are *highly recommended* to wear masks, but it is NOT REQUIRED, regardless of vaccination status. This is a personal choice and decision.

*Please be advised of the following regulations regarding “close contacts” and “quarantining”:

  •  A Close contact is defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes. Close contacts, along with the infected individual, will need to quarantine if identified in contact tracing efforts. In the classroom setting, the close contact definition EXCLUDES students who were within 6 feet of an infected individual if BOTH the infected individual and exposed student(s) were wearing a mask.
  • Fully vaccinated students and teachers ARE NOT required to quarantine, however, they should be tested 3-5 days after exposure, even if asymptomatic, and wear a mask until their test result is negative.
  • Quarantine period is 10 days.


The District will continue each day to monitor the health and wellness of our students and District staff, along with the localized spread rate of COVID-19 and the Delta variant in Genesee County and our surrounding towns and villages.

Please be advised that the above protocols and procedures could change within 1-12 hours if the District feels it necessary for the health and protection of our students and District staff. Decisions will be based upon our current health status within our buildings and may be based upon the 7-day rolling average of transmission in our area. As well, any future mandates from the NYSDOH or NYSED may alter these plans.

Fisgus said the district’s board of education signed off on the reopening plan and he met with the teachers’ union earlier today to share the guidelines. On Thursday, he participated along with other superintendents in a Zoom meeting with Genesee Valley BOCES District Superintendent Kevin MacDonald.

“We’re all working together to try to figure out what is best for our region but, more importantly, what’s best for our local school districts,” he said.

Fisgus expects that the reopening document “will be fiercely circulated around the area,” and decided to release it despite receiving NYSED’s guidance late yesterday afternoon. Also, on Thursday, Hochul came out in favor of universal mask wearing in schools.


MacDonald, speaking for the 22 schools affiliated with Genesee Valley BOCES, said most districts are in “a bit of a holding pattern” as recommendations continue to come out.

“We’ve heard now that incoming Governor Hochul is in favor of school masks, so I guess, right now, there’s not a rush. We know we have to communicate with our communities what’s happening, but in terms of a mask mandate, I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

MacDonald said he plans to touch base with other administrators on a weekly basis until the first week of September, with the overarching goal of ensuring “we get all kids in school every day in the safest way possible for students and staff.”

“Each superintendent has the best feel and bead on their community and what they think is best, and in the end that’s what we all have to do – what we think is best,” he said.

Notre Dame High School Principal Wade Bianco said the private school’s plan is to follow the guidelines set by the state and the county in order to comply.

“We’re going to try to give the kids the least restrictive environment as possible, based on those guidelines,” he said, adding that he has scheduled a staff meeting for next Wednesday and expects a reopening plan decision to be made at that time.

O-A Alumni Hall of Fame community dinner and 2019 induction ceremony is Oct. 12

By Billie Owens

Press release and submitted photos:

The Oakfield-Alabama Alumni Hall of Fame Committee will be honoring the Alumni Hall of Fame Class of 2019 during an Alumni Hall of Fame weekend scheduled for Oct. 10th-12th.

This year's honorees are: Daniel Hopkins ('70), Linda Baldwin Potter ('72), and Kim Wolcott ('72).

On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 12th, there will be a community dinner and ceremony to induct our newest members. The dinner will be held at the OACS High School cafeteria, located at 7001 Lewiston Road in Oakfield.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with appetizers for guests to enjoy and the dinner will begin at 6 o'clock.

Tickets are on sale only through Oct. 4th and are available at the high school attendance office or by contacting Committee Member Brandon Brummert through email at Tickets are $25 each.

The Hall of Fame recognizes outstanding OACS alumni who have achieved distinction in their lives and chosen field after high school through significant contributions to their career, community or through personal achievements. 

Dan Hopkins has a lifetime of service to the OACS community, with an excellent track record in business.

Beginning public service as a trustee on the Haxton Library Board, Dan continued on to be a village trustee and Mayor of Oakfield. In these roles he helped establish the current village offices and headed the project to improve water quality in the village.

An early advocacy of ARC group homes in the community helped earn him NYS ARC Public Official of the year and Genesee County Public Official of the year awards.

As a member of the Board of the Children's Home Association Dan helped allocate funds for underpriveleged children. Dan was also a fixture at Labor Daze and Oakfield Youth Baseball.

Dan worked at Batavia Metal Products before being given an opportunity to buy Kaplan Container in East Rochester. He ran Kaplan Container for several years before selling it, and returning to Batavia Metal Products, which had become Strong Forge, in a leadership role.

A multitude of interests and accomplishments highlight Linda Baldwin Potter's induction. Moving to Texas after graduation from OACS she received her AA from San Jacinto Junior College, her BBA from the University of Houston (including a Who’s Who in America listing for her academic excellence, extracurricular activities and community service), and her MBA from Rice University, where she studied International Business in China, Hong Kong and Mexico.

An early supporter of computers for students, Linda was instrumental in placing the first computers in Texas schoolrooms.  She also played key roles in helping the corporate world adapt to computerization and continual new technological advances. Linda received an award from the state of Texas for accomplishments in the War on Drugs.

While raising her two children, Linda also became deeply involved in public service in the Houston area, beginning with school and Girl Scout volunteer leadership roles, culminating in her 2017 role as head of the Hurricane Harvey Family Relief Shelter at NRG Center, and including several other past and ongoing volunteer and leadership roles.

She is the Global Shared Services manager at Powell Electrical Systems Inc. in Houston. Multiple charities in the Houston Area benefit from Linda's involvement through her role at Powell.

Linda has devoted her life to others in the Houston area. For this and her professional accomplishments, Linda Baldwin Potter is inducted into the OACS Alumni Hall of Fame.

Success in business and contributions to the community bring Kim Wolcott to the Hall of Fame.

Starting as an installer at Will's Wallpaper and Floor Covering in Batavia in 1974, Kim rose to the position of sales representative, president and part owner.

He continues in these roles today and has helped shape Will's Carpet One Floor & Home into one of Genesee County's leading businesses.

Kim's community involvement begins with the Oakfield Baptist Church as a youth group leader and trustee.

An active participant in Labor Daze, Kim also helped coach OACS's girls' soccer teams for many years.

We hope to see you there!

For more information about the Oakfield-Alabama Alumni Hall of Fame, click here

Reminder: Genesee Valley Wind Ensemble to perform Spring Concert at O-A Central School April 29

By Billie Owens

The Genesee Valley Wind Ensemble will perform its 2018 Spring Concert in the auditorium of Oakfield-Alabama Central School beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 29. The school is located at 7001 Lewiston Road, Oakfield.

Conductors are: Mark Flynn, guest conductor, high school band director at Akron Central School; Dan Klinczar, member conductor, elementary band director at Alexander Central School; and Philip J. Briatico, conductor and founder of the GVWE, Warsaw Central School.

Admission cost: Adults -- $10; Seniors (55+) & Veterans -- $8; Students (with ID) -- $5; Children age 5 and under -- FREE; Family Deal -- $25 -- for immediate family and children -- mother and/or father and up to four children.

These works will be featured:

  • "Classical Gas" -- Mason Williams
  • "Flourish for Glorious John" -- Ralf Vaughan Williams
  • "Joy Revisited" -- Frank Tichelli
  • "The Chimes of Liberty" -- Edwin Franko Goldman
  • Highlights from "My Fair Lady" -- Lerner & Loewe
  • "Cherish" -- The Association
  • "Prelude, Siciliano & Rondo" -- Malcolm Arnold

This program is made possible in part by the Reach Grant program administered by GO ART!

The purpose of the GVWE is to serve and to provide the Greater Genesee Valley audience with new and familiar music, to serve its membership with the opportunity to perform challenging wind ensemble literature and to creat the opportunity for the conductor and musicians to grow their collective musical talents.


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