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Alone in the field: Troy High School football remains, while many student activities do not. Photo: Chris Shields

Trouble, Right Here in River City
Troy students pay the price while parents mobilize to fill gaps in the city’s sad school budget

When she went to Troy High, Sue Steele was in the school’s first musical and was president of the library club. She went on to get her master’s in Library Science. Now Steele is passing the hat to allow her kids the same opportunities.

The Troy School District is in quite a pickle. Even after a 25-percent tax hike, students are taking the hit for the district’s seemingly endless fiscal nightmare. In addition to cutting teachers and administrators and forcing closure of the Alternative Learning Center for students with disabilities, this year’s budget leaves barely any extracurricular activities.

“None of us could really believe that’s how they’d reduce the budget,” said Steele, secretary of the Troy Booster Club, a new parent group organized to raise the estimated $100,000 needed to reinstate student activities. At minimum, a club needs $574 to pay its faculty advisor.

More than 25 sports and various clubs were eliminated. The only ones left in the budget are the student council, yearbook, newspaper, national honors society, and some varsity sports. The cut list is long: No musicals, no marching or pep bands, no language clubs, no drama club. Likewise, no varsity hockey, lacrosse or swimming, and no freshman basketball.

Football, however, actually gained coaches, which Steele found “pretty lopsided.” Some argue that because football and basketball tend to help bring in money, they should remain, but others point out that football also costs more.

“Particularly in an urban school, it’s important to have healthy after-school programs,” Steele said. Many students fear that the lack of activities will make them less competitive in the eyes of college- admissions officers.

The cuts also reach below high school. A program for inter-city competition at the middle-school level was entirely cut, though $7,500 was then put toward a scaled-back intramural program.

Parents didn’t find out about the cuts until midsummer, once the budget was finalized, giving them little time to raise money before September. Still, they are determined. The booster club is busy organizing collections and fund-raising events, like a concert last week spotlighting—and benefiting—the High School Jazz Ensemble. “We raised over $4,000,” Steele said. “It was nice to be able to say they started as the former high school jazz ensemble, and by the end they were the high school jazz ensemble again.”

An anonymous donor has offered $3,000 for the school musical, but only if the booster club can raise the remaining $8,000. Profits from events this fall will likely go to that, since the preparation needed for a musical makes it particularly time-sensitive.

The boosters hope to hold a Broadway revue in October and a classical concert in November, dates and locations not yet confirmed. It’s “quite a daunting task,” Steele said. “We’re parents trying to fit in full-time fund-raising, in between our jobs and being parents and all of the other things we do.”

Sports parents are getting active as well. Last year, the varsity lacrosse team had to practice in the parking lot; this year the team doesn’t have a budget at all. So Jim McClenaghan, whose son is on the team, is organizing a golf tournament for Oct. 11 to try to raise enough funds to reinstate the team. “It’s really frustrating to me that for that little bit of the $65 million budget, they took so much away from these kids,” McClenaghan said.

The lacrosse team is fortunate, however, as it is a spring sport and has more time to raise its money. Some teams, like hockey, may not make a November deadline for winter sport funding.

“It’s a district that’s given my kids a fine education to date. I have got a senior and a sophomore at Troy High,” said McClenaghan. “But then I’ve also got a 2-and-a-half-year-old, and I’m going to have to think long and hard about if I’m going to want to keep her in the Troy schools at this point. I’ve been a proponent of Troy’s schools my whole life. I sell real estate for a living—it’s important to me that the Troy school district survive. They’re my livelihood.”

—Ashley Hahn

A golf tournament to benefit the Troy High varsity lacrosse team will take place on Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Frear Park Golf Course. The cost is $80 per person and includes three meals, all fees and carts. Prizes will be awarded. Anyone interested in participating, sponsoring a hole or donating prizes should call Jim McClenaghan at 279-1900 or 271-8626.

Donations to the Troy Booster Club can be made to the Troy Educational Pride Foundation, 44 14th St., Troy, NY, 12180. Donors should write Booster Club and whatever activity they wish to sponsor in the memo line.

After the Sprawl
Rapidly growing suburb Clifton Park may put subdivisions and malls on hold—for a bit

Clifton Park is the fastest-growing town in Saratoga County. But if the town passes a building moratorium it’s considering, large-scale development might come to a grinding halt for at least one year in the western part of town.

Clifton Park has hired Clough, Harbor & Associates to perform a generic environmental impact survey of nearly 18,000 acres to help examine the possible environmental impact of development and present a reasonable approach to growth.

“We have to look at development as a whole for that part of town, rather than at each specific project,” said Clifton Park planning director Jason Kemper.

Town Supervisor Philip Barrett finds it sensible to look at the area now, before the pressure to develop becomes too intense in the western reaches of Clifton Park. (The eastern side of Clifton Park is more densely developed, including numerous residential subdivisions and several large shopping malls clustered around the intersection of Route 146 and I-87.)

If the moratorium is approved, it only would prevent developments over four lots and commercial spaces larger than 5,000 square feet. It will affect some 2,000 parcels located roughly west of Vischer Ferry Road, Route 146A and Hatlee Road.

“It’s just common sense and good government to take a pause and get all of the information necessary before moving forward with development in the western part of town,” said David Miller, Audubon New York’s executive director and cochair of Clifton Park’s open-space committee. “Let’s see what type of impact it will be cumulatively, over time, so the best decisions can be made.” Clifton Park could decide as early as October to halt building.

For Miller, Clifton Park’s situation is important because “it’s typical of what’s happening in some upstate rural suburban communities that are trying to hold on to their agricultural heritage and their natural resource space, at the same time they’re facing the onslaught of sprawl and rapid development in these areas.” The appropriate way to balance those concerns, he said, is “not to say no to development, it’s to make sure the natural heritage of the town remains and development is put in the proper places so that your quality of life remains.”

At a public hearing Monday (Sept. 15), some citizens, like Miller, were optimistic that the moratorium would allow the town time to do better planning and organize its priorities for land use. Citizens expressed concern about overdevelopment, traffic problems and crowded schools that they felt would worsen with increased, rapid growth.

But others worried about stalling developments that are in the town’s building-review process or in planning stages, and said a moratorium could cause some projects to lose funding or potential tenants due to delays. Some also worried about possible rezoning of their property that could hinder future development possibilities or cause job losses during the moratorium.

However, the town has not determined whether a moratorium is necessary, and does not know what the environmental study will recommend.

Halfmoon, Galway, Ballston, and Saratoga have used similar building moratoriums to keep responsible planning up to speed with the pace of building.

The environmental survey likely will incorporate the town’s new open-space plan and some of its recommendations into its considerations for land-use options. The town offers tax breaks and incentives for those opting to keep their land undeveloped. “Any open space is completely voluntary,” Barrett reminded the audience at the hearing. “I think it makes your land more valuable.”

In the early 1960s, Clifton Park had a mere 4,000 residents; today, the town’s population is 33,000.

“[The town’s] motivation is natural heritage and quality of life,” said Miller. “If the western part of town has a build-out like the eastern part of town, we’re in a disaster zone. We have to figure out a way that whatever development happens in the future is done at a pace that the town can absorb. It’s like when you pour too much water into a cup, it’s going to flow over the top.”

—Ashley Hahn


Books for the people: Meghan Keegan in the Green Party’s in-house library. Photo: John Whipple

Back to the Greenroots
The Green Party is alive and kicking—and knocking soon on a door near you

“You know what to do about bees?” The kid next door—maybe 11 years old—was holding his ear, in pain. Meghan Keegan was on her porch. “Baking soda and water, honey,” she offered. “And then a little ice.”

It might not seem like a campaigning moment. But for Keegan, who’s running for the Albany County Legislature in the 8th district on the Green Party line, it was a perfect example of what the Greens should be doing. “Until people within the Green party are willing to spend the time on the local level and [build trust],” the Greens will never win on the state or national level, she said.

Keegan is definitely focusing local. In June, she and 11 other people—from undergraduates to parents in their mid-30s—moved into in two adjoining houses on West Street as an experiment in group living that focuses on sustainability and building community. The Albany County Green Party, of which Keegan is cochair, has an office there. But Keegan also sees the house as a resource for the neighborhood. Residents participate in the neighborhood watch, pick up trash along the street, and have pooled their books, intending to create a neighborhood lending library.

The “Green House” is also becoming the go-to place for people with a range of problems. “[The residents] have been politically active for so long,” says the 24-year-old Keegan, “that we’ve become like everyone’s lawyers,” connecting neighborhood people with resources from the American Civil Liberties Union to city code enforcement.

Keegan is hoping that by meeting everyone in her neighborhood, she can spread the word that the Green Party platform is not as radically left as people imagine. “We don’t want people to live in teepees,” she jokes. But then she gets serious, ticking off a comprehensive agenda focused on the working people of Albany. A living wage requirement of $10 per hour for any company doing business with or getting subsidies from the city, decent salaries for child-care workers, tenants’ rights and affordable homeownership make the list.

So do bread-and-butter issues like potholes and schools. “If we’re going to pay taxes, we should expect streets without potholes, sidewalks that are safe for our kids to walk on, drinking water that is not going to cause you to have cancer 50 years from now,” said Keegan. “These are simple things to expect for giving over one third of your income to the government.”

And with the county struggling financially, how are these things going to be funded? First, Keegan points out, many of her proposals would actually save the county money over the long term. Getting more people on public transportation, for example, could reduce the subsidies that go to the CDTA, not to mention the costs of building new parking garages. Living wages would reduce the burden on social services. “There’s better ways to spend our money,” she insisted.

Keegan also wants the state to pony up its share to the county. State statutes direct 8 percent of state revenue to local governments, but since at least 1990 the state has been cutting back on that amount to balance its own budget. “Now [the counties] only get two percent,” said Keegan. “That’s a huge chunk of change.”

But though Keegan seems comfortable discussing arcane funding formulas, it doesn’t take very long for her Green Party roots to show through again. If elected, Keegan’s first two priorities would be to pass resolutions calling for noncompliance with the Patriot Act and repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws, which mandate minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. She acknowledges that on the county level, both would be symbolic gestures, but makes an impassioned case for raising people’s awareness of both.

Even with all the local groundwork—Keegan got on the ballot with three times as many signatures as she needed—running as a Green in post-Nader days is difficult. “A lot of people blame us for Bush, which is hard,” said Sally Cass, Keegan’s campaign manager.

Peter Lavenia, the other county cochair, said most of the resistance comes from “activist Democrats” who “still have the illusion that the Democratic Party can be reformed.” It is harder to level the spoiler charge in Albany though, since Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. The Albany County Greens have 900 registered members and many more “sympathizers,” said Lavenia. It’s run by four “core” activists, and is very closely associated with the University at Albany’s SUNY Campus Greens, who provide most of the volunteer labor.

But for all the Greens’ withering criticism of the Democratic Party, Nancy Wiley, the 8th district’s Democratic incumbent, comes in for relatively little criticism. “I don’t know that much about her,” admitted Keegan. “She’s been very active working for the mentally ill. Her heart is in the right place. I didn’t move to this district to oust her [specifically], but I want to bring some [additional] issues to light.”

“No one on this block has heard of Nancy Wiley,” added Cass, whereas, “[Meghan’s] going around the neighborhood a lot.” Wiley did not return calls for comment.

For Keegan, winning would take registering a lot of transient students to vote and convincing disillusioned minorities that voting is worthwhile. “A lot of African-American people I talk to in the city . . . say what’s the point of voting . . . if you’re just going to trample us anyway?” Keegan said. “They don’t have a voice here. I would very much like to be that voice.”

Keegan believes she can win, and she’s ready—even though it would mean “a huge life change,” including dropping one of her two jobs. “I don’t want to be a politician for the rest of my life,” she insisted. “I’m only doing this because I really do care what happens to this city.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute


Photo: John Whipple

Side by Side on Sept. 11
Imam Abdul Rauf Campos-Marquetti and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb were joined by the Capital Region’s Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order in New York City on Sept. 11 for a peace walk between Congregation B’nai Jeshrun on the Upper West Side and Masjid Malcolm Shabazz in Harlem. Gottlieb and Campos-Marquetti began PeaceWalks between their respective congregations in Albuquerque to support fellowship among Muslims and Jews and a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Following Thursday’s walk, they joined September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in a memorial vigil at the World Trade Center site. The Grafton Buddhists are walking back from New York City to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, and will arrive on Sept. 26.


Waste Deep in the Big Sludgy
The EPA and GE get going on dredging plans, treatment sites, and community input

Headway is being made in charting a course for dredging a 40-mile stretch of the PCB-contaminated upper Hudson River, a federal Superfund site. As General Electric works on the project design and siting treatment plants, community members are preparing to keep a close eye on the proceedings through a new community involvement process.

This week, GE and the EPA announced the seven candidate sites for constructing temporary dewatering facilities to treat removed sediment during the dredging. Washington, Saratoga and Rensselaer Counties each have two proposed sites, and one is in Albany County. The sites need to be very accessible for barges as well as rail cars, while keeping close to the heaviest dredging locations.

Dewatering is a “very simple process,” according to the EPA’s Leo Rosales, of the Fort Edward field office. When material is brought on land, the water is squeezed out, the wastewater is treated, and the dried sediment is put on rail cars to be shipped off-site. The disposal sites probably will consist of landfills outside of the Hudson Valley, said Rosales.

“We’re not crazy about hosting any of the dewatering facilities in Saratoga County,” said Paul Lilac, town supervisor for Stillwater, though he understands the proximity concerns. “We’re going to be the most negatively impacted communities during and throughout this project. To burden us with a dewatering facility, I think, is unfair.”

The EPA is holding forums next Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 23 and 24) in Fort Edward and Troy for public input, which it will take into consideration prior to selecting the final two or three sites sometime in January.

Because GE is the “responsible party” for the PCB-related pollution, it has agreed to conduct the sediment sampling as well as design the cleanup project, which Rosales says is a big deal because it locks the company in to work until 2006.

GE is currently collecting sediment samples “to pinpoint the exact locations for the dredging,” including how wide and how deep it is necessary to go to best remove the pollutants, explained Rosales.

The cleanup design includes every detail of how the dredging will be done, from the exact spots that need dredging, to how many machines are on the river at once, to how many hours a day or how many days a week dredging will occur.

And though it may seem unusual, according to Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group, it is “not uncommon under the federal Superfund law for the ‘responsible party’ to design the plan. It still has to meet EPA approval.” But she also believes that there are many aspects of the process that are clearly skewed in favor of the polluter, such as early confidential negotiations between GE and the EPA about cleanup plans, which she said were “business as usual.” NYPIRG subsequently sued and won a decision that the meetings between GE and EPA were not exempt from Freedom of Information Law. The process has seemed more transparent recently.

“We’re constantly overseeing the design. . . . Every report they come up with they have to clear it through the EPA,” said Rosales. “We have control over everything that happens out there. It really is the EPA overseeing this process.”

Due to public requests for increased local input, plans were recently solidified for a community advisory group. The EPA identified and invited groups with key interests in the project, including local governments, agencies and community organizations. After more public pressure, the EPA increased the number of representatives in the advisory group from 17 to 25. A small community group already has been meeting more informally, but the first official advisory group meeting will likely be held in December.

“I don’t know if there’s any site in the nation that has this level of community involvement,” said Haight. This is “far more extensive than in your typical [community involvement plan], because it’s such a high-profile site.”

“It’s not a decision-making group as such, but we certainly hope to have enough input where we would be in fact decision makers, based on the advice that we give the EPA,” said Lilac, who is part of the unofficial group and likely will be on the official group. “I really believe that we’re allowed to voice our opinions without being looked at like we have two heads. That’s comforting.”

The next agreement that the EPA and GE have to reach is who will actually do the dredging and how it will be paid for, which is expected to be worked out by 2005.

People interested in more information about the siting forums should call the EPA field office at (800) 866-6490 or go to www.epa.gov/hudson.

—Ashley Hahn


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