FCSD 2012 capital project to wrap up this spring

By Colin Hogan

Fulton City School District’s two back-to-back capital projects remain on schedule, with the 2012 endeavor likely to wrap up this spring, according to district officials.

With the exception of work around the entrance way at Fairgrieve Elementary, and few last-minute punch list items, the $8.8 million 2012 project is “pretty well wrapped up,” facilities director Jerry Seguin recently told the board of education.

Major components of that project include the replacement of the stage curtain, lighting and rigging at the Education Center; a partial roof replacement at G. Ray Bodley High School; technology upgrades and new computer facilities at both Fairgrieve and Volney elementary schools; security upgrades, asbestos abatement, ceiling tile/grid replacement, removal of classroom lockers and new ductwork/relief fans at Fairgrieve; and a partial roof replacement at Volney.

Seguin said the entrance way work that remains at Fairgrieve is the installation of some ceramic tile and the display cases that are placed near the entrance. He said the tile should arrive in time for workers to install it over the February break, and the display cases should be set for installation in March.

“We were hoping to get that started over Christmas break, but had some delays in getting the materials. The plan is to start installing them during the February break,” Seguin said. “We’ll get everything wrapped up as much as we can during the break so we can close that up and then put those cabinets in during second shift.”

When the referendum on the project was passed in December 2012, district officials anticipated it would be completed by spring of 2015. Seguin said that projection should hold true.

The $4.4 million 2014 project — which includes roof replacements at Granby and Lanigan elementary schools, a gym floor replacement at Lanigan, a new athletic storage building and the replacement of locks on classrooms and offices across the district — is also moving mostly according to schedule, Seguin said.

The replacement of the Lanigan gym floor and the new athletic storage building have both been completed, Seguin said, and the plans for the roof replacements are currently being reviewed by the state education department.

“The roof projects are still pending SED approval, but that’s expected at this point. We’re still on the original timeline. If that keeps up, we should be done with the roofs over the summer,” Seguin said.

Superintendent Bill Lynch said he anticipates SED will finish its review of the plans sometime in early February.

The installation of the new locks throughout all schools, however, is lagging behind a bit.

Seguin said the bids for the lock replacements are in and “look good” but are still in the process of being reviewed.

“We’re a little behind on the installation of lock sets. We thought we would be able to get those in earlier, but we’ll start working on them during second shift. It still looks like we’re going to be able to do all of that before school’s over, but it’s going to be tight, because there’s probably a 10 to 12-week lag time once they order the materials,” he said.

As they work on replacing the locks, Seguin said they may find some doors need to be upgraded or replaced. Still, he said the lock replacement looks like it may end up costing about 3 percent less than the original estimate stated.

State aid is covering about 96 percent of each project’s costs, with the district relying on capital reserves to fund about 3 percent, and the remaining 1 percent coming out of the tax levy.

 

Walter D. Scruton

Scruton OBWalter D. Scruton, 75, of Oswego, formerly of Hannibal, passed away Tuesday at the Syracuse V.A. Medical Center. He was born in Oswego, a son to the late Walter S. and Beryl M. (Weber) Scruton and lived most of his life in Hannibal. Walter graduated from Hannibal High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a design engineer with Atlantic Inland Design in Syracuse for several years. Walter enjoyed being outdoors, fishing, camping and sitting beside the campfire. In addition to his parents, Walter was predeceased by his brothers, Carl Leonard Scruton, who died in 1992, Gary L. Scruton, who died in 2001 and Thomas E. Scruton, who died in 2010; a sister, Joyce J. Santore Johnson, who died in 1988 and by a son-in-law, Mark Hudson. Walter is survived by his son, Walter D. “Skip” Scruton, Jr. of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.; three daughters, Eileen Sharkey, Kimberley Scruton and Michelle Hudson all of Oswego; four sisters and one brother as well as several grandchildren. There are no calling hours or funeral services. At Walter’s request his body was donated to SUNY Upstate Medical University for the advancement of medical research. Foster Funeral Home, Hannibal has care of arrangements.

 

Grace M. Smith

Smith OBGrace M. Callahan Smith, 90, formerly of Kellogg Rd., Hannibal, passed away on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at Michaud Residential Health Services. She was born March 2, 1924 in Syracuse, a daughter to the late Joseph and Maude Myrto Callahan. Grace retired from Hannibal High School as a lunch aide and was a communicant of Our Lady of The Rosary Catholic Church. She enjoyed her crafts.  Along with her parents, Grace was predeceased by her husband, Robert J. Smith, Sr. in 2010; son, Robert Smith, Jr. in 2009; daughter, Dorotha Bennett in 2014 and son-in-law, David Shoults in 2011.

She will be greatly missed and forever loved by her four children, Joann (Michael) Mays of Kansas, Mary Jean (Larry) Swiger of Tennessee, Hazel Shoults of Oswego and Joseph Smith of Hannibal; 16 grandchildren; several great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Calling hours and a service were held Friday at Foster Funeral Home, 837 Cayuga St., Hannibal. Spring burial will be in Hannibal Village Cemetery.

 

Nancy M. Coulter

Coulter OBNancy M. Coulter, 87 of Fulton and formerly of Texas, passed away Monday.  Nancy had worked at several area diners. She enjoyed playing bingo, playing cards and visiting friends. Nancy was predeceased by her husband, Richard L. Coulter, who passed away in 1993 and siblings, James Scardella, Santo Scardella, Anthony Scardella, Palma Cardinalli and Josephine Patane. She will be greatly missed and forever loved by her children, Debra Duncan of Linden, Texas, Dennis (Cheryl) Coulter of Oswego and Robert Coulter of Texarkana, Ark.; sister-in-law, Edna Scardella; six grandchildren, Jessica, Crystal, Thomas, Christopher, Cameron and Cade; five great-grandchildren, Dominick, Armando, Jose, Samuel and Abigail; several nieces and nephews. A calling hour and service were held Friday at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to American Cancer Society, 6725 Lyons St., P.O. Box 7, E. Syracuse, NY 13057.

 

Helen E. Polin

Polin OB.Helen E. Polin, 92, of Louisville, Ky., passed away Friday, January 16, 2015 at Baptist Health.

She was a native of Raymondville, N.Y., and a homemaker.

Preceding her in death were her parents, George H. and Alice L. White Tyo; her husband, Samuel Polin; a sister, Marie Kohler and a brother, Joseph Tyo.

Survivors include her daughters, Donna Zaborowski and Bonnie Wademan; brothers, Alfred J. Smith (Margaret) and Peter M. “Bud” Smith (Joan); grandchildren, Jacqueline Zaborowski, Anthony Dain (Sandee), and Randy Zaborowski; as well as her great-grandchildren, Derek, Corey, Nicole, Margaret and Andrew.

Her funeral service was held Thursday at Ratterman & Sons Funeral Home, 3800 Bardstown Road, Louisville. In accordance with her wishes, cremation followed her service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the charity of the donor’s choice in her memory. Online condolences may be directed to www.ratterman.com.

 

Judith “Judy” Stevens

Stevens OBJudith “Judy” Stevens, 79 of Volney passed away Sunday Jan. 18 at home. A native of Mexico, she had lived in the Fulton area since 1953. Judy had worked at Nestle as well as A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital. Judy cherished the time she spent with her family. She will be dearly missed and forever loved by her husband of 61 years, Stanley; sons, Gregory, Doug (Dranee) and Brad (Laura); seven grandchildren; six great-grandchildren.  A memorial service was held Friday at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. There are no calling hours. In Judy’s memory, contributions may be made to American Cancer Society, 6725 Lyons St., P.O. Box 7, E. Syracuse, 13057.

 

Audit calls school’s violent incident reporting into question

By Colin Hogan

A recent audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office found 79 incidents of alleged violence in the Fulton Junior High School that auditors say were not correctly reported to the state, a finding district officials say they “respectfully disagree with.”

The audit — which was actually conducted on the state education department’s system for reporting violent school incidents — used Fulton Junior High School as one of seven test schools, and examined how compliant those schools were in reporting violent or disruptive incidents under the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) system. In doing so, auditors determined that during the 2011-12 year, there were 79 incidents the school didn’t find to be reportable with which auditors disagreed.

Fulton reported 289 incidents that year, but should have reported 368, according to auditors. For instance, the school reported 23 assaults with a physical injury that year, while the auditors say they identified 64 incidents that would be considered VADIR reportable.

District officials were quick to point out that the auditors’ tabulations only took into account the initial reporting of an incident by a teacher or staff member, and not the administration’s follow-up investigations, which often resulted in new understandings of what happened.

“The auditors took whatever was written in the referral form from the source staff member and determined everything from that,” said Superintendent Bill Lynch. “We keep track of incident referrals and then the administrator would investigate what happened. Through the investigation they may clarify what actually happened and determine a different consequence than the state would recommend based on the initial referral.”

FJHS Principal Ryan Lanigan said he and the school’s assistant principal follow up on every incident referral to determine the whole truth of what happened.

“Whenever a referral is written (by a teacher or staff member), we have a process that we go through. That referral is brought to the main office where myself or the assistant principal read the referral and follow due process. We meet with the student. We meet with other students who may be able to shed light on what’s occurred. A lot of times, that changes our understanding of what’s happened, and we may find that it wasn’t quite the offense it sounded like at first. We take everything into account before we decide what the consequence is,” said Lanigan.

School officials say only looking at the number of incident referrals without taking into account the follow-up investigation paints a skewed picture of violent incidents being underreported.

“The audit was very black and white,” Lanigan said, “there’s no grey in there. They don’t take into account our intervention process, how we use PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — a U.S. Department of Education supported approach to disciplinary actions in schools). We go through that process diligently.”

The audit states that most of the schools examined misclassified incidents in their internal records “generally as categories that were considered less serious.” Both Lanigan and Lynch say they disagree with some of the ways the VADIR system requires incidents to be reported. For instance, Lanigan said “if a student were to flick another student with a rubber band and leave a welt, under the VADIR definition that’s considered an ‘assault with injury.'”

The audit also stated that Lanigan told auditors “the school does not record or report summer incidents.” Lanigan said Wednesday that statement misrepresents what he was telling the auditors, which was that there weren’t any incidents over the summer to report. The audit’s results confirm that there weren’t any reportable incidents at the school during that time.

Based on their results, the auditors recommended a review of prior or subsequent years to determine if the school should have ever been designated “persistently dangerous,” a designation the district would, by law, have to notify parents of.

In it’s response to the comptroller’s office, the district stated that the auditors’ assessment of the severity of incidents and appropriate consequences is “fundamentally flawed” for not considering the full context of an incident, or other factors like the school’s system of interventions, or “the presence of emotional and behavioral disabilities which require alternative approaches when responding to behavior infractions.”

In August, Lynch and Lanigan presented the audit’s findings to the board of education. Board President David Cordone said Wednesday he agreed that the incidents referenced in the audit don’t seem to have been placed in the full context. He said that, based on what was presented to them, the board was satisfied with the administration’s response to SED, and that he believes officials in the junior high and other schools are working hard to meet the state’s expectations.

“I think, obviously, there is an interest among everyone be sure that our school district is safe. If there’s anything (administrators) needed to learn here, based on the update we were given in August, I believe that’s occurred.”

Lanigan said he and other administrators will be doing more to make sure that their follow-up investigations of incidents are as well-documented as the initial referrals, and said he “can see how the auditors might draw their conclusions” if they’re only looking at the referral form. However, he maintains that the school already has a very diligent incident documentation process that he is proud of.

“I pride myself on how well documented we are, and I completely disagree with the perception that this is building isn’t a safe environment,” Lanigan said.

New suspects deny involvement in Allen kidnapping

Staff Report

Two men accused of being involved in Heidi Allen’s 1994 disappearance told conflicting stories on the witness stand Tuesday during the second day of a hearing to determine whether to overturn the 1995 kidnapping conviction of Gary Thibodeau.

Thibodeau’s attorneys called James “Thumper” Steen and Roger Breckenridge to the witness stand in Oswego County Court to question their involvement with Allen’s disappearance on Tuesday.

Both of the men, who are each serving prison sentences, have been accused by several new witnesses of being involved in the kidnapping of Allen from the D& W Convenience Store in New Haven in 1994. Neither have been charged with any crimes in the investigation.

The two men came to the fore of the investigation in 2013, when a recorded phone call between Tonya Priest and Jennifer Wescott — Breckenridge’s former girlfriend — revealed both women claimed to know that Steen, Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer kidnapped Allen.

Steen and Breckenridge, though, denied being involved with the kidnapping on Tuesday. They admitted to knowing each other, but denied being friends.

“I wouldn’t call him a friend but I wouldn’t call him an enemy,” Steen said.

During questioning from defense attorney Randi Bianco, Steen and Breckenridge admitted to smoking marijuana in the 1990s, with Steen also admitting to cocaine use in the late 1990s.

The defense has argued that Allen was a confidential drug informant for police who claimed to have knowledge of drug activity in Mexico High School. The police never followed up with Allen, but they did create an index card and a code name — “Julia Roberts” — for her.

While both denied personally being involved in the kidnapping, Steen did say that at one point in 1994, while hauling crushed vehicles, Breckenridge called him, saying that Allen’s body was in the back of a van he hauled to Canada.

Breckenridge said on the stand that he never had any discussions about Allen to anybody, including that conversation.

When Steen was asked why he never followed up with police when Breckenridge claimed to know that Allen’s body was stored in a crushed van that was hauled to Canada, he said Breckenridge was not a reliable source, calling him “a lot of hot air.”

“Breckenridge is nothing but a talker. A big mouth. He runs his mouth all the time looking for attention,” Steen said. ” He’s an attention getter, and that’s how he got attention, plain and simple.” Steen said he didn’t lend any credence to theories or rumors about Allen’s disappearance because “everybody was talking like they knew what happened to her” in the ’90s, “but nobody knew anything.” He adamantly insisted that his only involvement to Allen’s disappearance was that Breckenridge claimed he unknowingly hauled a van to Canada. He said that, if what Breckenridge said is true, Allen’s body is currently in a landfill in Canada.

“The shredder makes cars into little bitty pieces,” Steen said. “The garbage goes out the back and goes to a landfill.”

Steen said he and Priest had a tense relationship, and he did not associate with her, even when his ex-wife, Vicki, was alive and friends with her.

“Me and Tonya did not get along, I didn’t like the way Tonya treated her children,” he said.

Steen said Priest’s claim that he, Breckenridge and Bohrer hid Allen’s body underneath a cabin on Rice Road in Mexico was untrue, as evidenced by the fact that searches in that area have yet to turn up a body.

Steen, who is serving a life sentence, said he had nothing to lose and did not want to be a “snitch.” Bianco pointed out that Steen is not in protective custody.

“What would happen to you if the other inmates learned that you kept an innocent man behind bars for 20 years?” she asked.

Steen said he had no information that could exonerate Thibodeau.

“I don’t have that information, though, so I’m not worried about that,” Steen said.

When Breckenridge took the stand, he said he never made any statements about Allen’s body in the back of a van.

Breckenridge also denied ever meeting Bohrer before 1999, saying the one time he met him, Bohrer was a “bug out” person, and he didn’t intend on ever spending time with him again.

Breckenridge said he made a “stupid mistake” by stealing Thibodeau’s van and stripping it.

“You did that because you saw he was in jail and you knew he wouldn’t miss a van?” said District Attorney Greg Oakes, to which Breckenridge agreed.

According to Breckenridge, if he had information about Allen’s disappearance he would share it, because he has several children who are currently around 18 years old, Allen’s age at the time of her disappearance.

In a filing made Tuesday, Oakes said he noticed a bit of information Monday evening that led him to interview the source of information, a woman named Cherie Sovallia, and her daughter, Cynthia Taylor.

According to a statement gathered Monday from Taylor, two weeks before Allen’s abduction she heard from Breckenridge’s now ex-wife, Tracy, about how Breckenridge and “three other people” were going to do a drug deal at the convenience store during the shift Allen worked.

Taylor told investigators that she told Ms. Breckenridge that she did not want to hear any more and left.

Taylor told investigators Monday that two weeks after Allen’s abduction she heard Ms. Breckenridge discussing the case.

“They did something to a girl because somebody told them that she was going to tell on them for doing a drug deal in the parking lot of the store,” Taylor said Ms. Breckenridge said.

James Abbott, Taylor’s uncle, who said he was present for the same conversation, said Ms. Breckenridge claimed “they burned her up and spread her ashes on the highway.” Abbott said she never identified the other three men involved, just “Roger and a Thibodeau.” Taylor, Sovallia and Abbott were subpoenaed to court to be available to testify during the hearing.

Bianco and Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, who also serves as an attorney for Thibodeau, tried a different tactic with the witnesses they called to the stand in the morning. The pair tried to demonstrate that former assistant district attorney Donald Dodd was not compliant with handing over materials that could have been potentially exculpatory to the defense at the time of Thibodeau’s trial.

Former Oswego County Judge John Brandt said “about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes” was spent during the original trial arguing over what qualified as exculpatory evidence.

Brandt said he understood that attorneys would create an itemized list of evidence they wanted turned over if one side was not cooperating.

“We never really had any discussions in this case that weren’t about the substance of this case,” Brandt said.

The next witness, Robert Calver, said he worked as a private investigator for the trials of Thibodeau and his brother, Richard, who stood trial for the same crime after Gary’s conviction. Richard was acquitted of the kidnapping charge.

Calver said he was not aware of Allen’s status as a confidential informant until he began to develop an alibi for Richard during his trial.

Before calling Steen to the stand, Peebles called Tyler Hayes, who said he had a confrontation with Bohrer in a bar in 2000.

According to Hayes, Bohrer was drinking and was making members of Hayes’ party uncomfortable by saying he had information about Allen’s disappearance.

“He told me he had information regarding the case, and I said, ‘ Yeah, I know about the case. They arrested two people for it,'” Hayes said. “I couldn’t remember their names, and he said it was the Thibodeaus, but they’re not the ones who did it.”

Hayes said Bohrer told him he knew who did it, and he knew the whereabouts of Allen’s location.

Hayes said he called the sheriff’s office when he returned home.

Oakes asked if alcohol might have impaired Hayes’ memory.

“When someone makes admissions to a murder, it’s not like ‘I forgot where I put my car keys,'” Hayes said.

Oakes brought up a sworn affidavit where Hayes made no mention of Bohrer saying that neither Thibodeau committed a crime.

Hayes said he only shared the basic outline of the details he was told.

Breckenridge is expected to be the first witness called to the stand today at 9 a.m. for cross-examination.

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