Currently Browsing: New York Education, Upstate

NY Senator David Valesky Will Be Challenged By Two

David Valesky, the Senator for New York State’s 49th District, is a “nice guy,” said one of his likely 2010 opponents:

New York State Senator David Valesky

“I will be the first to acknowledge that our incumbent senator is a nice guy.”

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I don’t much care if he’s a sweetheart – David Valesky is unashamedly weak on education.

Last year I gave Valesky a grade of C- on the education portion of his public candidate questionnaire. His opponent James DiStefano pulled an F – but that’s because DiStefano didn’t bother to submit a response. As always, no response constitutes failure.

Valesky made it clear last year that he had no interest in reforming education funding. When asked about funding, he pointed to cuts everywhere else, reconstructing government and reforming Medicaid:

“As the state faces an extreme fiscal crisis, my goal remains to reduce state government spending without impacting education. I have already voted for $1 billion in state spending cuts at the August special session. I anticipate we will do more in the upcoming special session, including efforts to consolidate state government and taking a hard look at the Medicaid system.”

Valesky seemed to believe then – as he does now – that an issue as serious as funding education can be resolved not by addressing it head-on, but by fixing every other serious issue around it. Common sense suggests that approach is overwhelming and ineffective.

I admire Valesky’s honesty on this issue as much now as I did then. He’s badly misguided, but he’s up front about it:

“While I have also supported capping property taxes, I believe cutting state education funding is the wrong answer, as this will only increase the burden on property tax payers and negatively impact education and its critical role in our economic recovery.”

Valesky doesn’t mention reforming education funding or even investigating any aspects of it to ensure that current expenditures are useful. It doesn’t even occur to him that funding can be cut at the state and local levels and not be replaced needlessly. I’d be more forgiving if this was a live interview; it wasn’t. He and his staff had plenty of time to think about this one – and this was the best they could do. No cuts, no examination, nothing – just spend, because, after all, it’s for the children.

That’s what a nice guy would say.

It was with great relief that I read Valesky will be challenged by at least two candidates come 2010. Andrew Russo, a well-regarded pianist who is also an artist-in-residence at Le Moyne College, has announced that he’ll stand in the GOP primary for Valesky’s seat. Jessica Crawford has also announced; she’s a young Upstate native whose background includes work with 40 Below, an organization dedicated to halting the “brain-drain” of intellectual and social capital that’s ravaging Upstate New York.

Russo is 34, Crawford is 31. If it’s one thing the Leatherstocking Region needs, it’s strong, young leadership. On that account, both challengers look good.

It’s still early. We’ll see how things play out with Russo, Crawford, Valesky and anyone else who tosses their name in the hat. Hopefully they’ll address public education a bit more fully – and with a bit more competence – than Valesky has, as evidenced by his weak performance and poor rhetoric. I don’t expect him to change; Valesky doesn’t even address public education with any gusto on his State Senate page. [Perhaps 2010 will bring Valesky's second Tweet, too.]

Good luck, Crawford and Russo – your heartbeats and warm bodies have already launched you both ahead of the flaccid Valesky. I’ll take a good Senator over a nice guy any day.

Bob Lettis’ Tales of Cooperstown: Influential People, Teachers

I wanted to highlight a neat article by Bob Lettis that appeared this week in a Cooperstown paper. He reminisces about some of the great Cooperstown teachers of his day – Red Bursey, Nick Sterling, etc.

Perhaps one day I’ll write my own version of this article. Tom Good, Ted Kantorowski, Dave Fundis and another Mr. Tabor populate a very short list of Cooperstown teachers of my era who possessed uncommon teaching ability. Cooperstown Central School has a laughable “Greatness by 2010″ plan – lipservice to improvement, really – as they move further away from these masters of development.

But enough of that – here’s Bob Lettis’ take on the great Cooperstown educators of his day, courtesy of The Freeman’s Journal.

Apologies for the wonky formatting, it’s part of the e-original.


Red Bursey Never Mentioned That Cigaret


Cooperstown was a wonderful village for a boy to grow up in. Being somewhat handicapped, the village was especially protective of me. It was a great place for all its children, but I seemed to get more attention than most.
Many special people guided me as I grew up. I cannot mention all those that were helpful, but I will try to pick out those that I felt were the most important and influential. All, I think, are dead now, but regardless of their circumstances, all will have a special place in my heart reserved for exceptional friends.
Lester Bursey was my gym teacher, coach and friend. He made sure that my polio affliction never stood in the way of an opportunity to participate in games and sports. From the time I went to the summer playground as a young child until I graduated from high school, having played varsity sports in football and baseball, Lester “Red” Bursey was my mentor.
When I was a 120- pound sophomore, trying to make the varsity football team, he wrote
in the local paper: “Bob Lettis can lick his weight in wildcats.”
I made the varsity that season, and Red encouraged me all the way. I was his varsity catcher on the baseball team, batting fourth in the batting order, which is the spot for the best hitter on the team. His advice and inspiration allowed me the chance to play sports at a very high level. Without his confidence in me, I might never have been given the chance to even try out, let alone play, baseball (and certainly not football).
As wonderful as he was to me, I’m afraid I let him down very badly.
He was always encouraging his athletes to maintain a healthy life style while participating in high school sports. When I was 16, I started smoking. I felt, as most smart-ass teenagers do, that I could smoke and play sports without any adverse effects.
One day I passed him on the street with a cigarette in my hand. He never said a word, either then or later, but I knew that he saw what I had done.
I’m very ashamed of that violation of his trust. I now know that it made a difference. Perhaps not physically, but psychologically it made me ashamed of having let down such a dedicated and warm human being. He had given me the opportunity to become a good athlete, despite my handicap, and I felt that I had been a disappointment.

While Red was very influential helping me with sports, there were others who had an intereste in my artistic development. I had several wonderful art teachers when I was growing up.
At an early age in elementary school I had Miss Bea Prine. Alongside several other talented students, she saw potential. She proceeded to nourish this talent by giving us special attention and encouragement. Our work was always well displayed and we were continually talked to about going on to art school to develop our skills and talent.
When Miss Prine retired, she was replaced by a beautiful young woman, Marcia Matoon. Miss Matoon had graduated from Syracuse University, where I eventually obtained my undergraduate art training. She continued the encouragement begun by Miss Prine years before. She entered my work in national poster contests, in scholastic art competitions and I won several awards.
She wrote a letter of recommendation that went into my school records, and, when I attended Syracuse University, it became part of my entrance credentials. After graduation from high school, I went into the army and Miss Matoon wrote to me several times while I was in training and serving overseas.
However, the most influential art teacher that I had was Helga Edge. I not only learned a great deal from this wonderful, dedicated woman and professional artist, but was also encouraged by her to pursue art as my life’s work. She was British, though had come to the United States just prior to our country entering World War II and stayed here for the rest of her life.
I took private art lessons from her for several years, paid for by my patron, Grandma Hail. After high school and my stint in the army, I attended Syracuse University because Miss Edge thought that it was the best art college in our area. After graduation, she was instrumental in my getting my first teaching position, at Worcester Central School.
During my years as an art teacher in Worcester and Cooperstown, I maintained close contact with her. We worked together in her studio in Toddsville and my son, Daniel, took art lessons from her at that time. Upon her death in 1980, she willed her entire professional art library and her small etching press to me.

During the years I attended elementary and high school, many teachers took a special interest in my life. I’ve already mentioned Miss Prine and Miss Matoon. Mabel Wagner, a drama and English teacher was also one of them. She came to our village as a beautiful young woman who immediately gained the attention of all the single men in the community. We as high school boys thought she was pretty terrific as well.
At that time, I had a slight speech impediment that she helped by giving me lessons in oration and allowing me to compete in several speaking contests. She cast me in several plays and encouraged me to enter an essay and speaking contest. Miss Wagner was the kind of a teacher that every one of her students could fall in love with.
Alas, Robert Atwell, a young and upcoming civic leader, won her hand and her heart, for they were married a few years after she came to our village. They had two beautiful children, Bobby and Neil, both of whom were students of mine when I came to teach here.
Nick Sterling, another teacher, was a special person in my life. He became principal and superintendent of our high school when I was a sophomore. While I never took a class from him, he always treated me with kindness and respect. I was on the ski team at the time and Mr. Sterling became our coach.
When I was teaching art in Worcester and Schenevus, I chaperoned a group of students to a basketball game in Cooperstown. I met Nick again for the first time since I was in the service. He had become superintendent of Cooperstown’s schools by then. After asking me how my teaching was going in Worcester, he said that he was looking for a high school art teacher and asked if i might be interested.
After talking it over at home, I decided to accept his offer. And so for the next eight years I taught at my old alma mater. Besides teaching, I coached junior high baseball, was adviser to the Student Council, taught ski lessons at Mount Otsego and collaborated with Bob Squires, another teacher, on high school theatre productions. I did sets, lighting and costumes while Bob directed and took care of the drama end.
As well as working on high school theatrics, Bob and I were instrumental in starting a community theatre group called “The Back Stagers.’’ Both in high school and the community we managed, in just six or seven years, to stage many productions ranging from musical theatre to Shakespeare. (Nick Sterling gave us a free hand to do all these things.)
I need to say at this point, Nick Sterllng was the finest educator and energetic community leader that Cooperstown has ever had.

I’ve mentioned these people because they stand out in my mind. There were others, as well, who were not quite as central, but nevertheless played a role in my life within this village.
To name a few: Greeny (I do not know his real name), Smith Tolmie, Harold Wall, Bob Wright, Jake Schaffer, Ellamae Hanson, Mrs. Denton Stillwell, Angelo Pugalese, etc. Not all were teachers. All helped me through my difficult years as a polio kid. After my mother and father separated, all acted as friends and mentors.
The cliché, “It takes a village to raise a child,” was certainly true in my case, at least.

Why I’m Voting for John Lambert, Jim Seward and Not Bill Magee

I‘m not an evangelical voter, though I’m happy to have any honest discussion about politics. I like information and understanding.

I’m not a secretive voter, either. I don’t mind telling anyone how I vote or why I do it.

As a resident of Otsego County, I’ve got 3 local races to vote on tomorrow:

Otsego County Judge, Jill Ghaleb [D] vs. John Lambert [R]

john lambert

Mr. Lambert turned in an impressive performance last Monday at SUNY Oneonta. Though the Otsego County Judge handles mostly Family Court cases – about 70% are family cases, I think [***please read the addendum below] – a deep knowledge of Surrogate’s and Criminal Courts is necessary. Lambert’s experience as Asst. District Attorney has prepared him will for the job. While Ms. Ghaleb’s familiarity with the Family Court is admirable, it isn’t enough to warrant a 10-year term as Otsego County Judge.

Ghaleb’s speech at the SUNY Oneonta event was weak. I want a clear, confident, knowledgeable judge on the County bench. Mr. Lambert talked to us like a judge. Ms. Ghaleb talked to us like a kindergarten teacher.

My vote for Otsego County Judge is for John Lambert.

*** Mr. Lambert’s campaign sent a brief explanation of the 70% Family Court figure. I could have been more clear, but what’s above does imply that the majority of cases heard by the Judge are Family Court cases. I referred to the number of cases, not the Court’s commitment to those cases.

In short, it stands to reason that several custody hearings are easier than a single murder trial. They explain it this way:

“In your blurb about John, I couldn’t help but see that you mention that Family Court is 70% of the job.  Unfortunately, this statistic is misleading.  Ms. Ghaleb wants us to believe the job is 70% family court, but it’s just not true.  For example, in county court during a given week there may be 5 family court matters.  One a day for the week.  In that same week there could be one trial in criminal court.  That one trial could take the entire week (usually longer).  There are also several steps to a criminal trial that need to take place outside of the court room as well.

So, as far as Ms. Ghaleb’s statistics are concerned,  the above scenario would count as 5 family court cases and 1 criminal court case – While the number of family court cases may show a number at or around 70%, the time it takes to run a single criminal trial is actually much longer.

If Ms. Ghaleb’s numbers were true then Otsego County would probably have its own Family Court Judge like many other surrounding counties.  Also, if the criminal court aspect was less than 15-20%, then Otsego County would not need a full time district attorney and 4 assistants to handle the case load.”

I’d contend that the numbers are true, just that Ms. Ghaleb hasn’t been clear about the meaning of those numbers. I’ve found her commitment to statistics favorable to her to be disingenuous.

111th NY Assembly District, William Magee [D], unopposed

william magee

Though William Magee is running unopposed, I will not vote for him.

I don’t know Assemblyman Magee personally, but he seems like a delightful guy. Unfortunately, Magee could be the posterboy for the philosophy that has turned Central New York into a stale, atrophying wreck.

Check Magee’s questionnaire for the Observer-Dispatch – including his answer of “Yes.” to whether the state Legislature could reduce property tax burdens.

Magee is all over the board philosophically with little for substantial plans. Property tax cuts, yes – school funding from the state? Yes as well, though that tax money has to come from somewhere Magee hasn’t disclosed. He’d like to stop the ‘brain-drain’ but thinks that making New York a “mecca of green” and pushing an ad campaign for hiking and biking will do the trick.

Bill Magee, your platform could be held responsible for 111th District New Yorkers under the age of 35 being damned miserable. I don’t care that you’re unopposed – I won’t give you a vote. It might not be your fault personally, but what you stand for is a problem.

And if I’d known sooner that the Republicans didn’t have a candidate to run against you, I would’ve run against you myself. I thank Assemblyman Magee for his many years of service, but I’d like to see him move along in 2010.

My vote for the 111th NY Assembly District is for no one, despite William Magee running unopposed.

51st NY Senate District, Jim Seward [R] vs. Don Barber [D]

james seward

I attended the 90 minute Seward/Barber debate in Oneonta last Monday. It was a clear victory for Jim Seward, who is one of the finest, most benevolent politicians in New York State. I think if Seward moved to Park Slope, even those folks would drop their arugula and pick up an “Another Family for Seward” sign.

Don Barber comes off as a sneaky, dishonest leftist – not to be confused with a liberal. As I wrote about Barber’s school funding ideas, he’s comfortable with a bait’n'switch on taxes and state healthcare.

I like openness and honesty, and it’s why Barber received the lowest grade [D+] of any profiled candidates who submitted an answer.

I sincerely believe what Barber says about wanting universal healthcare for New Yorkers, and in a way, this race will gauge the 51st District’s interest in and support for that issue. Barber does not, however, address the issue honestly in terms of how the fiscal ramifications will impact New Yorkers.

Seward has exercised excellent judgment during his tenure and has balanced well the interests of our District’s businesses and citizens. Seward is responsible, responsive and has progressive ideas for how to keep Central New York’s talented younger generation in New York – like tax credits to forgive student loans over a 10-year period for those who take up residence. I can’t imagine where Central New York would be right now if it wasn’t for the work of Seward and friends.

In this case, I want more of the same – not a shifty leftist bent on bankrupting our businesses to fulfill the agenda of the Democratic party’s social engineers.

My vote for the 51st NY Senate District is for Jim Seward.

Why I’m Voting for Richard Hanna and John McCain

I‘m not an evangelical voter, though I’m happy to have any honest discussion about politics. I like information and understanding.

I’m not a secretive voter, either. I don’t mind telling anyone how I vote or why I do it.

There are two races on which I’ll vote tomorrow that have national significance:

House of Representatives, 24th District, Michael Arcuri [D] vs. Richard Hanna [R]

richard hanna

Richard Hanna is a breath of fresh air in Central New York. He’s a businessman, not a career politician. If he’s not silver-tongued like his opponent, it’s to his credit. I’ll take a genuine guy over a weasel of a politician any day.

Michael Arcuri is a shill for his party – he’s a Blue Dog on paper only. As late as September, over 80% of his campaign contributions had come from outside our district. Arcuri serves his party nationwide and in Washington more than he serves the 24th Congressional District. They might love him for it. I don’t.

Richard Hanna didn’t have $5,000/plate breakfasts held hundreds of miles from his district. If he’s a shill, it’s for people in Upstate New York – and that’s exactly the type of shill I want.

Their stances on the large, looming national issues are fairly predictable given their respective parties. They did differ a great deal on education funding, as I wrote last week, and on their understanding of public education. Hanna not only gets how we deliver, monitor and improve public education, but he understands how it relates to that ‘brain-drain’ we’ve got in Upstate NY.

After two years of Michael Arcuri’s impotent representation, Richard Hanna is a welcome alternative.

My vote for the 24th Congressional District of New York is for Richard Hanna.

President of the United States, John McCain [R] vs. Barack Obama [D]

john mccain, young

I’m a simple guy. The government’s got two main functions: to keep me safe and to stay out of my way. Senator John McCain will be better than his opponent at both.

My vote for the President of the United States is for John McCain.

Farewell, New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills

richard mills, education commission of NY

Richard P. Mills has served as New York State’s Education Commissioner for 13+ years. Today he notified the Board of Regents that he’s stepping down in June, 2009:

“Mills continued, “There is no better time for a transfer of leadership than when an organization is strong and the building blocks for the future are in place. I am confident that my successor will find an agency of strength with a compelling agenda for the future.”"

Mills’ tenure has been as unremarkable as the press release. Standard stuff, nothing incredible, nothing awful.

Richard P. Mills is the Tim Wakefield of education. 4th starter, a few flashes of brilliance, a few meltdowns, fairly inexpensive and predictable. 178 Wins, 157 Losses, 4.32 ERA.

On a personal note, Commissioner Mills’ early work on Regents passing grades introduced me to the phrase “Raising the bar by lowering the floor.”

Who’s next? We’ll wait and see. It’s a little early for that.

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