Category Archives: Other News

Patricia A. Grant

Patricia A. Grant, 74, of Hannibal, passed away Sunday at home.
Mrs. Grant retired in 2003 from Nestles after working for 41 years from 1962 to 2003. She was pre-deceased by two infant sons, Kevin and Edward Grant, and two grandsons, Ian Woodridge and Kelsey Devenney. Mrs. Grant is survived by her husband of 53 years, Gerald Grant of Hannibal; two children, Eric (Lynn Burns) and Heidi (Ronald) Samson; four grandchildren, Jared Grant, Alex Grant, Lauren Samson and Morgan Samson.
A Graveside Service and Burial will be privately held in the spring at Mt. Adnah Cemetery, Fulton. The Sugar Funeral Home, Inc., 224 W. 2nd St. S. Fulton has care of the arrangements.

District looking for input on website changes

By Colin Hogan
The Fulton City School District is looking to make changes to its current website, and hopes parents and others in the community will offer some feedback.
In a school board meeting last week, district officials said they are in the process of revamping the design of the website, www.fulton.cnyric.org. Superintendent Bill Lynch said, after recently talking with people from Onondaga-Cortland-Madison (OCM) BOCES on plans for the redesign, district officials decided to post a survey on the website to collect input from the public.
“We’re in the process of continuing to work with (OCM BOCES), but what we’ve come up with right now is a survey that has been posted on our district website. And what we’ve done is we’ve communicated this out to parents, staff, principals and students in the district so they get the opportunity to offer input,” Lynch said.
The 13-question survey asks visitors things like how often they visit the  district’s website, what types of information they visit the site for, what they like or dislike about the  site,  which social media tools they tend to use and how they’d prefer to receive  school-to-home communications.
“To make the  website  as effective and beneficial as possible we really are looking for input from the community — parents, students, teachers, board members — we really want to make this a great communication tool for our schools,” said Stephanie Maturo, director of technology for the district.
Lynch said by receiving as much input as possible, the district can tailor the website to the needs of those who use it most.
The survey will remain available on the site until April 10. After all of the information collected has been processed, the district will meet again with OCM representatives to come up with a final design plan, which Lynch said will then be presented to the board of education for approval.

FCSD hoping for good turnout at upcoming Parent University

The Fulton City School District, as part of the Community Schools Grant, STLE3 Grant and the Title 1 Grant, will hold its first Parent University on Saturday, April 11.
“We’re inviting community organizations and teacher leaders to offer some insight into several areas, including academic, social and emotional,” said FCSD STLE3 Instructional Program Coordinator Mary Ann DeMar. “All these areas affect a child’s education, and by having parents, teachers and community leaders come together as partners, we are able to spend time communicating and learning together to better address the needs of our children.”
District officials hope that parents will take advantage of the opportunity to go to “school” while their child participates in learning activities simultaneously. Throughout the event, teachers will discuss learning strategies, Common Core Standards, best practices and ways to improve communication between child and parent. Community members will also have the opportunity to interact with board of education members. Additionally, representatives from Oswego County Opportunities, the Department of Social Services, Farnham Family Services and other local agencies will be on hand to discuss their specialty areas.
“Parents can choose which sessions they want to attend,” DeMar said. “There will be separate areas and different blocks of time that will allow parents to learn and collaborate around a variety of topics.”
Although the event is called Parent University, there are several activities planned for students, who are welcome to attend. Arts and crafts, age-specific learning activities, and other events will be held during the day for children.
The Parent University will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 11 at the Fulton Junior High School. The event is open to all parents, students and community members within the Fulton City School District.

County’s educators call for more local control of school districts

Roughly 350 people fill the cafeteria at Fulton Junior High School to take part in a countywide forum on education Monday evening.  Colin Hogan photo
Roughly 350 people fill the cafeteria at Fulton Junior High School to take part in a countywide forum on education Monday evening.
Colin Hogan photo

By Colin Hogan

Hundreds of teachers, support staff, administrators, parents and school board members from across the county gathered in Fulton Monday evening to send a unified message to their state leaders: leave educating to the educators.

The event, which was coordinated by the county’s teachers unions and held at Fulton Junior High School, was one of many being held in schools across the state recently. Speakers representing all the different stakeholders in public education discussed the many ways they’d like to see New York state release its grip on school curriculums and operations, and give more control back to local educators and school boards.

Among the most highly discussed topics were Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed teacher reforms, the Common Core curriculum, mandate relief and the state’s gap elimination adjustment on school budgets.

Teachers blasted the governor’s proposed reforms, which were outlined in his State of the State speech earlier this year, for being off the mark on influencing actual change, and condemned him for withholding aid from schools that don’t adopt them.

The reforms include changing accountability measures so that half of teachers’ evaluation ratings would be tied to how well their students perform on state exams. Currently only 20 percent of teachers’ ratings are based on that criteria. They also prohibit any teachers who have been rated ‘ineffective’ due to those test scores from getting an overall ‘effective’ rating, and extend the period for being granted tenure to five consecutive ‘effective’ years, up from three years currently.

Jeff Peneston of the Liverpool Central School District — who was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 2011 as well as one of Cuomo’s Master Teachers — said the governor’s plan is out of touch with the realities inside schools, and will only end up hurting students.

“Every one of the governor’s reform agenda suggestions is an experiment, and he’s suggesting that if we do this, this, this and this, and if we hold all these school boards hostage to budget issues, that somehow we’re going to solve the problem,” said Peneston. Like many of his colleagues, Peneston stressed that the decisions that determine how schools are run are being made by Albany lawmakers with no experience in the field.

He felt the proposed evaluation methods will not accurately assess an instructor’s effectiveness — an argument he said is too-easily discounted as teachers being afraid of scrutiny.

“I’m not here for the union. I’m not an angry teacher who’s afraid of losing his job. I’m not afraid of being evaluated — I don’t know anyone who’s afraid of being evaluated,” he said. “I’m afraid of being put on the bathroom scale when I know that bathroom scale’s not calibrated.”

Other speakers criticized the laying out of the Common Core Learning Standards for being a rushed process, too centered on standardized testing, and leaving little opportunity for teachers to take more creative approaches to their instruction.

“One of the biggest criticisms of the layout of the Common Core was how quickly it was rolled out,” said Barbara Hubbard, a former Fulton educator and current school board member. “The rush to implementation has impacted teaching and learning in our schools, and we must have a culture of trust and community in order to support change that is based on what will best serve our students.”

She said while standardized tests have been around for decades, the intensity of exams students now take, and the setting in which they take them, is far more daunting than it used to be.

Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch discusses the Gap Elimination Adjustment during the education forum Monday.  Colin Hogan photo
Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch discusses the Gap Elimination Adjustment during the education forum Monday.
Colin Hogan photo

“To be clear, testing is not new. I had to give New York state tests back in the ’70s and ’80s, but now students are taking tests over the course of many hours, over multiple days, and the tests are back-to-back on the weeks they’re given,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said she’s been told stories of students “crying, having anxiety attacks and losing sleep over tests,” and of kids feeling “the responsibility for what might happen to their teacher because of that score,” something she called “a very unfortunate situation for our students.”

Kevin Caraccioli, a parent in the Oswego City School District, shared some of his children’s negative experiences with the Common Core, which he said “has turned our youngest generation into a bunch of nervous, self-doubting test takers.” He feels Common Core “places so much emphasis on testing and evaluation that it has lost sight of our proudest accomplishment: our children.”

Speakers’ concerns extended beyond the classroom, though, with many calling for the elimination of the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) — a measure that was enacted in 2010-11 to help the state close its own budget gap by taking back from districts a certain portion of their state aid.

In the Fulton City School District, alone, the GEA has cost the district about $10 million in aid it would have otherwise received over the last five years, according to figures provided by Superintendent Bill Lynch.

“New York state, as we know, faced significant financial deficits (during the 2010-11 year) and in order to balance their books, they took money away from school districts. The more money they gave a school district, the more they took away,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the GEA, coupled with the state’s cap on local tax levy increases, has left school districts — particularly high-need, low-wealth districts like Fulton — with considerable budgetary challenges. He called the tax cap “a backdoor way of limiting local control” — an issue many attendance felt would be the silver bullet is alleviating many districts’ problems.

“All kids need is a little more local control. Local school district control in decision making — within state guidelines, yes. We need to be accountable, but within guidelines, not with unfunded mandates and being held hostage for money if we don’t do what we’re told,” said Gerry Hudson, a former Altmar-Parish-Williamstown superintendent who moderated the event. “We know what needs to be done for our children.”

Attendees were asked to fill out petitions that will be mailed to each of the county’s state representatives. The petitions ask those lawmakers to “advocate strongly for equitable school funding this legislative season.”

David Derouchie, a Fulton teacher who helped coordinate the event, estimated that nearly all of the roughly 350 people in attendance filled out the petitions.

FCSD budgeting with cautious optimism in lieu of state aid figures

By Colin Hogan

With roughly two-thirds of its budget provided through state aid, the Fulton City School District is left waiting for the New York state to finalize its own budget before it can really plan financially for the next school year.

“We’re at the point, still, of waiting for the state legislature and governor to come to agreement on the budget for the state, which would then direct education aid to school districts across the state,” Superintendent Bill Lynch told the school board Tuesday.

Right now, after completing a second preliminary budget draft without state figures, the district is looking at an estimated $69.2 million in expenditures for the 2015-16 school year — a 2.69 percent increase from this year’s projected operating costs of $67,357,685. Current estimates have the district receiving $43,350,051 in general state aid for the 2015-16 year — about a half-million more than it received last year. However, concrete figures won’t be available until after the state budget passes, the deadline for which is March 31.

The district hopes to use less from its reserves than it did last year. Early budget projections have it using $1.5 million of its fund balance, as opposed to last year’s $2 million. Lynch explained that it was the use of so much fund balance in last year’s budget that prompted the state comptroller’s office to give the district a “moderate” fiscal stress rating.

“That’s a figure ($1.5 million) we really need to find a way to live within, because last year we weren’t really able to replenish our reserves, which led to us being designated as under fiscal stress by the comptroller,” Lynch said.

In their current calculations, district officials are accounting for a 2 percent local tax levy increase, though Lynch told the board Tuesday the goal is to keep it less than that.

“Once we get our state aid that may be able to come down a little bit, and it would certainly not be any higher than that,” Lynch said. “We’re working to keep that down. We want to be sensitive to our local taxpayers and obviously the impact the draining local economy has had on them over the last six to seven years.”

Some on the board, however, felt 2 percent is still asking too much.

“I just don’t think the households in Fulton can afford a 2 percent increase,” said board member Christine Plath.”Again, we don’t know what the state aid is going to be, but I think maybe we need to start looking at some reductions because I don’t think Fulton can support this.”

Lynch mentioned that if reductions were to be made, the district would first look at areas that won’t cut jobs.

“If we have to make reductions, we are willing to look at areas where we can reduce our spending that don’t affect current staff,” Lynch said.

He noted, though, that there might be some retirements in grade levels that are staffed as such “that we could look at some consolidation,” and also said the district could look at ways of reducing its substitute teacher costs.

With those estimates in place, the district would still need to find another $1.4 million to meet its expenses. Lynch hopes that this will be achieved through additional state aid and changes to the district’s Gap Elimination Adjustment — two items state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are currently working out (see related article).

“Those two areas are primarily what we’re looking at to close that $1.4 million gap,” Lynch said. Lynch also said Tuesday that, based on the most recent budget status report, the district is on target to underspend by about $1.15 million during the current school year.

He said, at this point, anticipated revenues are expected to fall short by about $300,000, which would leave the district about $850,000 under budget by the end of the year, barring no major changes.

Allen’s informant status highlights Thibodeau hearing

Two former Oswego County Sheriff’s Office investigators testified Thursday that Heidi Allen provided no substantive confidential information to police, but Gary Thibodeau’s defense team argued she was still in danger because her confidentiality had been breached.

Allen went missing in April of 1994 — last seen at the D&W Convenience Store in New Haven — and Thibodeau’s conviction of kidnapping her has come under fire with witnesses naming new suspects and the defense team arguing Allen’s perceived status as an informant gave others a motive.

Allen’s confidential informant identification card — called a “pedigree card” by investigators — was dropped and later found sometime in 1992, according to sheriff’s office records.

Much of Thursday’s testimony centered on whether this index card — which contained a code name, personal details and thumbprints — was discussed or seen publicly, or gave the impression Allen was an informant.

Investigator Christopher Van Patten said he interviewed Allen on Dec. 11, 1991, after hearing from former judge Russell Sturtz — Allen’s uncle and a friend of Van Patten’s — that she wanted to share some information on illegal drug use in the county.

“It was basically rumor mill,” Van Patten testified, “what she heard on the street.” It was Van Patten — whose patrol included the D& W, where he sometimes used the payphone — who had control of Allen’s pedigree card, though he said he did not know when or how exactly he had dropped it.

Van Patten testified he never worked with Allen again or had any further contact with her. He said he found out about the lost card in late January of 1992, when Sgt. John Cox assigned deputy Michael Montgomery to retrieve the card from the D& W, where owner Kristine Duell had called in after finding it.

The card was then put in Van Patten’s mailbox at the sheriff’s office, according to Va n Patten.

During cross-examination, he told federal public defender Lisa Peebles he never notified Allen or her family about the lost card. He also told Peebles that his training on working with confidential informants was limited.

Van Patten confirmed with chief assistant district attorney Mark Moody that the pedigree card gave no indication of Allen’s status as an informant.

But the investigator also told Peebles that anyone seeing the card would have no idea what Allen was doing for the sheriff’s office, with Peebles arguing a drug dealer seeing the card would be “concerned,” or have a motive to harm Allen.

Investigator Michael Anderson testified he interviewed Allen and her boyfriend Brett Law sometime after Van Pat-ten had met with her. Like Van Patten, Anderson said Allen’s contribution as an informant was nothing of significance.

“It was kid stuff,” said Anderson, noting the conversation took only around 15 minutes. He said he never got any names out of Allen and never met her again. He said the conversation never led to any investigation or arrests.

The defense team questioned whether a confidential informant would be in danger if their confidentiality were breached.

“Generally speaking, yes,” Anderson testified. But he said an informant should only be notified that they’d been compromised if they were indeed, “an active informant.” Anderson said, however, that he would have performed more follow up to discover how the card was lost and the circumstances of its discovery.

He also told Peebles he wasn’t aware of any sheriff’s office “standard operating procedure” in dealing with informant confidentiality being breached back in the early 1990s.

Duell testified she could not recall exactly when she found the pedigree card, and said she spoke with no one but her mother about it. She said she did not share it with Allen, an employee and a family friend.

Duell and her mother agreed not to tell anyone, and she decided to call the sheriff’s office, who picked it up in January of 1992 — little more than a month after Allen first met with them — according to sheriff’s office records.

Duell testified she did not know Michael Bohrer, with Peebles asking questions about regulars visiting from Spinners, the nearby bar and hotel where Bohrer testified he lived for a time.

Judge Daniel King told attorneys Thursday morning he had ruled against allowing testimony from three witnesses related to Bohrer’s 1981 false imprisonment conviction, according to the defense team.

Peebles wanted to recall Bohrer to the stand, saying his 1981 abduction of Catherine Schmitt in Wisconsin — when he grabbed Schmitt from behind and attempted to force her into a car — was similar enough to the Allen case that it would have been admissible in trial.

Prosecutors argued the cases were dissimilar, with no connecting factors or evidence, and the testimony should not be allowed.

King indicated Wednesday that he was leaning against allowing testimony on Bohrer’s 1981 case, because the defense appeared to be impeaching its own witness, which is not allowed.

His written ruling denying the testimony was not immediately available at the Oswego County Court Clerk’s office.

In January, Bohrer was on the stand for two days of emotional testimony involving a psychic, visions, his businesses and connections to the Thibodeaus and other newly named suspects James Steen and Roger Breckenridge.

Bohrer told the court he personally investigated the Allen case for 20 years, collecting tips and documents in an a large black briefcase.

Several times throughout the hearing, the defense team has attempted to bring Bohrer’s prior record — and other allegations of violence against women — before the court.

But each time, prosecutors have objected over relevancy and hearsay, with King largely sustaining their objections and shutting down the testimony.

King also ruled against allowing the defense to question former District Attorney Donald Dodd over trial transcript questions regarding Allen’s fingerprints.

King said the testimony was unnecessary because the transcript speaks for itself, but said in fairness to the defense, he would review the sections of the transcript they wanted to ask Dodd about.

Former ADA: All evidence in Allen case turned over

Staff Report

Former assistant district attorney Donald Dodd took the stand for more than five hours Wednesday, a day featuring heated exchanges over filing procedures and evidence disclosure in the hearing to determine if Gary Thibodeau deserves a new trial for his conviction of kidnapping Heidi Allen.

Prosecutors have tried to establish that Dodd and the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office investigators were thorough in ensuring Thibodeau’s defense attorney received all evidence in the case. The defense team, however, paints a picture of suppressed evidence and mismanaged files.

Dodd was adamant about two things: that all of the sheriff’s office investigation files were turned over to Gary and Richard Thibodeau’s attorneys — including documents related to Allen giving confidential information to investigators — and that Allen never actively worked as a confidential informant.

“Heidi Allen provided confidential information, I believe, on one occasion in 1991,” Dodd testified. “She never worked as a confidential informant.” Dodd made the distinction in line with what prosecutors have argued, that Allen provided some information to investigators but was not consistently tipping investigators off to criminal activity.

Thibodeau’s defense team, pointing to an informant identification card dropped in the parking lot of the same New Haven convenient store where Allen went missing, argues the perception of Allen as an informant gave other suspects a motive.

They also argue documents related to Allen giving confidential information were not properly disclosed to Thibodeau’s lawyer, Joseph Fahey.

Fahey testified in February he was unaware Allen was an informant and would have “raised holy hell” if he saw such documents in the middle of Thibodeau’s trial.

Cross-examining Dodd — and former Inv. Terry Whipple Tuesday — Bianco tried to establish that investigators didn’t place enough importance on Allen’s status as a confidential informant.

On Tuesday, Whipple said he was informed, “there was nothing to it,” in reference to Allen’s informant card being dropped. Dodd said he did not recollect whether the informant card itself was ever given a “lead number.” Dodd said, however, that Allen’s informant status was discussed openly in a pretrial proceeding Dec. 8, 1994, and that very day, he told investigators to provide him “the full file and record to find out if Allen at any time provided information as a confidential informant.” The next day, three investigators provided statements to Dodd revealing Allen had provided some information confidentially. Dodd said the statements were then photocopied and turned over to defense counsel.

“In fact, those documents were turned over personally to Fahey on Dec. 14, 1994,” Dodd testified.

Dodd said he spoke with both Fahey and William Walsh, Richard Thibodeau’s attorney, “on more than one occasion, to the best of [his] recollection,” about Allen providing confidential information.

Both attorneys came to the District Attorney’s office in March of 1995, where Dodd says the “entire” investigation file, including documents on Allen giving investigators information, were made available to the defense teams.

But Bianco questioned whether certain information about Allen’s informant status was not given to defense lawyers until the middle of Gary Thibodeau’s trial; Dodd said discovery was always ongoing.

Bianco also engaged in testy exchanges with Dodd over his record keeping, with both of them — and eventually Judge Daniel King — expressing frustration.

Dodd said he had no control over what items were assigned lead numbers, and made clear there was a required procedure, which included marking all original documents in the sheriff’s office case file with green ink to notify they were copied and turned over to defense counsel.

But Bianco pointed to cover letters without Oswego County letterhead, copies without green ink, or documents excluding specific references to Allen being an informant.

“They supposedly have this system where they stamp things, then they don’t,” said Bianco to King. “There’s a green marker, then there’s not.” Dodd asserted only originals were marked with green ink, and repeated that defense attorneys were shown, and given copies of, the entire case file, and received further discovery documents as time went on.

Bianco asked about a January 1995 court proceeding in which Walsh asked for more than 100 lead sheets and asked the court whether there should be a hearing on sanctions over Dodd’s sharing of evidence.

Bianco asked if Dodd didn’t think the original defense team was “entitled” to review the grand jury minutes from Richard Thibodeau’s trial.

Dodd later told Moody during redirect examination that he opposed disclosure of the grand jury minutes because the District Attorney’s Office didn’t have them completed yet, and because no indictment had been filed.

He said by law there’s no requirement to disclose grand jury minutes until after an indictment has been filed.

Bianco claimed Fahey — when asking for discovery documents in December of 1994 — was asking specifically for the confidential informant identification card.

“He was asking for the actual file and the actual file wasn’t given to him,” said Bianco.

“That’s absolutely incorrect,” replied Dodd, who said he couldn’t speak to what was in Fahey’s mind at the time, and “nor can [Bianco].” Dodd maintains Fahey asked for any information related to Allen providing confidential information, and a week later received everything the sheriff’s office had in the file at the time.

There was also some testimony on Michael Bohrer, with Dodd saying investigators ran a national criminal background check on Bohrer, which showed no record of any convictions or active warrants.

He did acknowledge to Bianco, however, that “you could still have a criminal record with an agency not entering it into the national system,” he said.

Dodd said investigators ran the background check on Bohrer because someone with a similar name — Michael Bort — was on Thibodeau’s lawyer’s witness list.

Dodd called Bohrer “part of the overall investigation,” saying he had been interviewed by the sheriff’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Dodd said it “absolutely” would have been significant for him to know Bohrer’s criminal record if he had one, just as it’s important for him to know information on “any suspect as part of the investigation.” But Dodd said he did not think “that was the case here,” and Bianco, after attempting to once again introduce more details of Bohrer’s 1981 false imprisonment conviction, was told to change her line of questioning by King.

King still needs to rule on whether to hear testimony from the victim in Bohrer’s 1981 conviction, and also whether to allow questions to Dodd regarding trial discussion of Allen’s fingerprints.

The hearing resumes today, from 8:45 a.m. to noon. After this week, the proceeding con-tinues April 7.

New pizza place coming to Valvoline building

Pictured is the former Valvoline Express building on S. Second Street in Fulton. The vacant facility is now being renovated into a pizza shop. Matthew Reitz photo
Pictured is the former Valvoline Express building on S. Second Street in Fulton. The vacant facility is now being renovated into a pizza shop.
Matthew Reitz photo

By Matthew Reitz

The former Valvoline Express building on S. Second Street in Fulton will soon be looking a lot different.
Pathfinder Bank, the owner of the property, has hired Rowlee Construction to repurpose the vacant property into a pizza shop, which will also feature a drive-up Pathfinder ATM kiosk on the site.
Dennis Merlino of the Fulton Planning Commission said the project has been “completely approved” by the commission.
“They answered all questions and addressed parking, landscaping, and signage (concerns),” Merlino said. “They want it to be an attractive, appealing property to enhance the look and feel of Fulton.”
Taber Rowlee, of Rowlee Construction, said the project is underway and will take approximately three months to complete.
Rowlee said the construction has “started on the inside with infills and structural modifications.” The project will “dress-up the building as it sits there now,” according to Rowlee.
Plans include stonework on the exterior wall base and the addition of a façade on top of the building to give it curb appeal.
The project will also be “adding new landscaping” and cleaning up the area, according to Rowlee.
Rowlee mentioned that a “national chain” would be moving into the building, but added that he was “not at liberty to say more.”