pains: Green Islands Heatly school. Photo: Teri
As the student body outgrows its school, Green Island residents
will vote on whether to send their high schoolers to another
Island residents will head to the polls today (Thursday, Jan.
22), for the second time in the past seven years, to decide
whether to send its high school students to another district.
As the school district’s population has steadily swelled over
the past few years, Heatly—the district’s only school—has
become obviously overcrowded. Parents, students, educators
and village officials have wrestled with the idea of paying
another school district to educate its high school students
(“tutitioning”). Doing so would alleviate the school’s structural
constraints. However, it would ultimately bring an era to
an end: The Green Island Union Free School District is the
only district in the Capital Region where all students in
grades k-12 are educated in one building.
Approximately 316 students currently attend Heatly, and many
extol the virtues of such a small school. With the exception
of kindergarten and sixth grade, which take up two classrooms
each, each grade is taught in a single classroom.
my perspective, the class sizes are ideal because I know all
of the kids by the time they get to me,” said Mat Manning,
the high school’s social studies teacher and a member of the
committee that studied the tuitioning issue. “You lose less
kids this way. It is much harder for them to slip through
But the school’s population continues to grow, and district
officials worry that tight classrooms will soon become overcrowded
ones. Population projections say that grades seven-12, which
have typically totalled 130 to 140 students, will swell to
150 by 2005, and 173 by 2008. There are 33 kindergarteners
this year. For the next 13 years, Heatly will have to accommodate
a two-classroom-sized grade level snaking its way through
There is no denying that Heatly cannot accommodate many more
students. Over the summer, one of the school’s two front entrances
was converted to a small kindergarten room for 11 students.
A converted boy’s bathroom serves as a speech therapy room.
A basement hallway has been morphed into a kindergarten annex.
District officials also lament the district’s lack of extracurricular
activities such as football, choir, ski club or a student
newspaper. The popular student drama club has to perform its
theater productions in Cohoes Music Hall.
But despite the school’s structural inadequacies, Heatly plays
a large role in the Green Island community. Generations of
Green Islanders have received their educations in that one
building. Heatly’s library doubles as the village library.
The extracurricular activities it does have are shared with
the community—the high school drama club regularly performs
for the village’s senior citizen home.
Last year the district hired a consulting firm, Castallo &
Silkey, to determine the feasibility of tuitioning out Heatly’s
high school students to Cohoes, Watervliet, or Waterford-Halfmoon.
(This is the second such study the district has commissioned,
but the findings of the first one were dismissed for lacking
depth.) The study, released in November, reported that the
district’s students would indeed have access to more extracurricular
activities, but the village’s taxes would increase. Village
residents would face two-year tax increases of 16.92 percent
by sending students to Cohoes, 2.42 percent to Waterford-Halfmoon,
and 4.79 to Watervliet.
Green Island residents’ vote on the tuitioning issue is a
referendum to the board of education, which will ultimately
decide the matter on Feb. 5. Voters turned down a $10 million
school expansion and renovation plan posed to them by the
board of education in 2002-2003.
Herb Perkins, the school district’s superintendent, stressed
that today’s vote is only on the issue of whether to send
the high-school students to another district. The vote does
not address the district merger proposal brought up last week
by U.S. Rep. Mike McNulty (D-Green Island).
idea is too much of an unknown to even comment about at this
point,” Perkins said.
Jonathan Gradess Photo: John Whipple
Defense of the Defense
Should New York create a state agency to oversee public
the New York State Thruway from New York City to Syracuse,
you pass through approximately 11 counties. Should you get
arrested on that drive and require a court-appointed attorney,
you’ll receive 11 different standards of public defense depending
on where you’re arrested.
You may be one of 20 files in your public defender’s caseload,
or one of 60. Your public defender may or may not have ready
access to an investigator, a research library or expert witnesses.
Your public defender may be able to visit you in jail, or
you might only see your attorney in court.
Currently there are no state-level laws or governing bodies
to oversee public defense services in New York state. After
Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1964 landmark Supreme Court
case that established the individual’s right to counsel, New
York’s state Legislature decided that each county would have
the responsibility to fund and provide defense services for
its indigent. Essentially, that means New York state has 62
different public-defense systems, funded 62 different ways.
Some are hoping that this year things will change.
For the past three years, state legislators and advocates
for the poor have been pushing the idea of creating an indigent
defense commission to standardize and oversee public-defense
services statewide. Such a commission could mandate a cap
on the number of cases public defenders could handle per year,
representation at arraignments or access to expert witnesses
and investigators—all of which are currently at the discretion
of the county.
A commission provides “a place to turn and say, ‘Help me do
the right thing,’” said Jonathan Gradess, executive director
of the New York State Defenders Association, a nonprofit lobby
group for the public defenders and their clients. “Without
those standards and specifications you have 62 counties out
there on their own making it up as they go along.”
To keep it free from partisan politics, the commission would
be set up as a public-benefit corporation, independent of
the governor’s office, the Legislature and the courts system.
The idea is not earth- shattering—26 states take responsibility
for overseeing and funding public-defense services for the
is clearly the trend throughout the country,” said Robert
Spangenberg, who heads the Massachusetts-based research firm
the Spangenberg Group, and has contracted with the U.S. Department
of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Services to analyze public-defense
services nationwide. “Generally speaking it is fair to say
that, with some exceptions, the quality of representation
is higher in state-funded systems.”
While New York state does pay for indigent defense, it only
does so nominally. According to figures from a NYSDA study,
approximately $217 million was spent on defense services throughout
the state in 2001; $10 million of it was state funding. “A
pittance,” according to Gradess.
now we’re going through some difficult times with a lot of
the state budget deficits nationwide,” Spangenberg said. To
cope with these financial difficulties many states have pushed
costs down to the counties, since counties can more easily
increase their taxes, he added.
Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany) is co-sponsoring legislation
to create an independent indigent defense commission, a bill
that was first introduced in 2001. Similar legislation exists
in the senate. McEneny says that disparities in people’s ability
to attain legal representation, and in state funding of prosecution
and defense services, show the need for a change.
scales of justice have to be equal,” McEneny said, “yet the
way we fund defense is nowhere near the way we fund prosecution.
. . . It is very important that justice be uniform throughout
the state. The uniformity [a public defense commission] could
provide is just one more thing that keeps the scales of justice
McEneny believes that the bill has a good chance of passing
this year considering that its cosponsors, Assemblyman Joseph
Lentol (D-Brooklyn) and Sen. Dale Volker (R-Depew), are both
well-respected members of their caucuses. Lentol and Volker
did not return calls in time to comment for this story.
But not everyone is sold on the idea. Albany County Public
Defender Gus Devine says he agrees with the philosophy behind
the commission—providing public defenders with the resources
and time to better serve their clients—but he isn’t sold on
a new state agency as the method for providing those reforms.
is needed is more funding for the delivery of services, not
the creation of a whole new level of state bureaucracy,” Devine
says. “We can create new offices, new secretaries and new
overhead, but instead of spending those dollars on the bureaucracy,
why not send those dollars to the public defenders offices
that need it?”
Albany imagines its future, awaiting the redevelopment
of the Harriman State Office Campus
W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus, a huge, aging government
office park, is slowly being emptied of state offices. To
Lori Harris, the city’s development and planning commissioner,
the sheer volume of potential development—more than 300 acres
within the city limits—is “unprecedented” since the early
20th century. Virtually everyone agrees that changes at the
campus could be a significant opportunity for the City of
Albany, though it seems that many goals for its future have
already been determined.
In this year’s State of the State Address, Gov. George Pataki
certainly made the state’s intention clear when he heralded
phase two of the state’s high-tech development initiative,
which included establishing “a Harriman Campus Development
Corporation to bring new high-tech companies to Albany and
to provide space for Center [of Excellence in Nanoelectronics]
spin-offs.” Pataki also announced that John C. Egan, president
of the philanthropic Albany Renaissance Corp. and former CEO
of Albany International Airport, will head the newly established
corporation. The new corporation will direct transformation
of the campus, by seeing it through construction phases and
courting a diversity of businesses from biotech and pharmaceutical
companies to software firms.
Harriman’s transition is the final chapter of the Albany Plan,
a 1997 state initiative to modernize the Capital Region’s
state offices. Many buildings on the campus need to be remodeled,
so it wasn’t considered fiscally prudent to keep them as state
offices. In response, the state’s Office of General Services
hatched the Albany Plan, advocating that departments vacate
the campus to offices in the tri-cities’ downtowns, making
way for changes to the Harriman campus.
In 2000, OGS and its independent consultants found that linking
the Harriman campus’ redevelopment with UAlbany’s technology
development initiatives was advisable because of the connections
between the university, which borders the campus, and the
The state projected in 2002 that the campus’ makeover will
take around 20 years, and will cost about $300 million, $64
million of which will come from the state for infrastructure
improvements and site modifications. The city will offer incentives
to help offset costs for new tenants.
There are still questions about the wisdom of those moves,
which color some people’s view of the coming redevelopment.
“I don’t get the sense that there was a lot of openness with
this process,” said a Department of Transportation employee
who has worked on the Harriman campus since 1988. DOT is slated
to move off of the campus into a privately owned building
on Wolf Road soon. He wonders who’s really benefiting and
his instinct is that it’s real estate developers.
But at this point, most city officials are focusing on the
future and how the details of the transformation can help
the city. “We want to make sure [this] is completed in a way
that leverages every opportunity, not only for new users of
the campus but adjacent properties, both commercial as well
as residential,” Harris said. She added that once the city
has “a better sense of the timing of the authority actually
being created, and what it is, then we’ll be able to begin
our neighborhood process, integrating stakeholders, and bringing
up those questions.”
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings was put on the board of the campus
development corporation after requesting that he, and all
future mayors of Albany, sit on it to make certain that “we
don’t compromise the integrity of the adjacent neighborhoods
and we grow in an intelligent way,” he said. He is particularly
excited to see the new buildings added to the city’s tax rolls.
No specific businesses have announced a move to the campus,
nor is the exact look of the campus set in stone, which has
led some local imaginations to come up with some creative
visions for the campus.
certainly a great opportunity for revitalization and for reuse
of that site,” said Todd Fabozzi, program manager for the
Capital District Regional Planning Commission, particularly
because of the campus’ location, existing ties to utilities
infrastructure, and proximity to the highway. Though he hasn’t
seen the current conceptual drawings, Fabozzi senses this
could be a valuable chance to integrate the now-insular campus
into the surrounding neighborhoods. Options might include
extending the street grid and adding sidewalks to make it
more pedestrian-friendly. “If people were to buy houses, who
worked [at the new Harriman], in Albany, they potentially
could walk to work or hop on the bus line,” he said.
up to be counted: Shanna Goldman (l) registers a resident
of Lincoln Square Apartments to vote. Photo: Shannon
In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., volunteers hit
the hallways of Lincoln Square Apartments to sign up new voters
was almost a setup. The theme of the sixth Annual Labor Celebration
in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., held Monday at Albany’s
Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science and Technology, was “Your
Vote is Your Hope.” Keynote speaker Wil Duncan, executive
director of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, chastised
Democrats in general for being “apathetic” and “taking the
chicken way out,” and added a warning to the audience that
just showing up to an event like this one was not enough to
make a change.
As they headed to lunch with these words ringing in their
ears, attendees found the Working Families Party and Citizen
Action New York inviting them to join a voter registration
drive that afternoon. The request was last-minute and a little
daunting, but they collected a group of about 10, who carpooled
down to the Lincoln Square Apartments at the southeastern
corner of Lincoln Park and gathered in the blissfully warm
lobby (it’s no coincidence they decided to work inside that
day) to receive their marching orders.
Talk about the issues we represent, Working Families organizer
Brian O’Malley emphasized, but make sure you don’t pressure
anyone to sign up with any particular party. The volunteers
picked a buddy, divided up who was going to what floor and
jockeyed into the appropriate elevator (one for odd floors,
one for even).
On floor 11, Ruth Senchyna, a social worker who last did voter
registration with Nuclear Freeze in San Francisco “many years
ago,” and John, new to voter registration but clearly steeped
in the relevant issues, knocked on most of the doors along
the tan cinder-block hall before finding someone who was home
and not already registered. The young woman was initially
skeptical. “My father’s not home, and I’m not into politics,”
she said decidedly.
But John prodded gently. Were there no issues she was concerned
about? Nothing that made her angry about the way the world
was going?. At first she said no, but when he started listing
issues important to the Working Families Party—such as raising
the minimum wage—she thought of something. “You know, I am
mad about something. The cuts in after-school programs,” she
said. Did she know that the Bush administration might cut
Head Start too? She hadn’t, and sounded none too pleased about
That’s the approach WFP and Citizen Action like to take, said
Shanna Goldman, Capital District organizer for Citizen Action.
“People have a lot of anger about what’s going on right now,”
she said. “[We’re] trying to tie the election to issues [that
people care about].”
The young woman speaking with John and Ruth still didn’t want
to register on the spot, but she took a form and a flier,
and they left feeling optimistic. By the end of an hour and
a half, they and their fellow volunteers had covered two towers
of the complex and registered approximately 15 new voters,
a good number, said Goldman, for such a short stint during
a work day.
This drive was only one in a series of forays these groups
have made into the low-income areas of the Capital Region
over the past couple years. “These are areas that have traditionally
been ignored by the major parties,” said O’Malley. “We want
to make sure these communities do have a voice and do feel
paid attention to.” The WFP also believes that their platform—living
wage, universal health care, quality public education, and
public financing of campaigns—will resonate particularly well
in these neighborhoods. They’ve been going out at least once
a month, trying to build an established base and show that
they’re not “the politician who shows up three weeks before
[an election] and asks you to vote and are never heard from
again,” said O’Malley.
During the McCall campaign, this kind of targeted voter registration
and sustained follow-up increased voter turnout from 16 percent
into 87 percent in one section of Arbor Hill. Citizen Action
and WFP are trying to spread those kinds of numbers, hoping
not only to increase voter turnout in the upcoming presidential
race, but also to help these neighborhoods be taken more seriously
by their local politicians, said O’Malley. “Politicians pay
attention to who will be voting.”
Luther King was very much associated with the right to vote,
registering to vote, getting out the vote,” he added. “It
is important in celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday
that that is remembered.”
the recent unexpected results in Iowa—first place for John
Kerry, second for John Edwards, and third for Howard Dean—some
analysts are speculating that bread-and-butter issues like
health care and economics are on many Democratic voters’ minds
more than war, though the candidates’ positions on those issues
may be harder to tease out.
Dennis Kucinich may not be leading in any of the polls, but
his emphasis on universal health care sure seems to have taken
hold among his Democratic rivals. Though none have taken up
his call for a national single-payer system, each one has
worked the word “universal” into his plans as frequently as
possible, even though in many cases it only applies to children,
or translates to “universal theoretically affordable insurance
if people can spend the money up front in order to get a tax
credit.” All who had the opportunity to voted against the
recent Medicare bill.
There are several common themes among the Dems’ health proposals.
Dean, Kerry, and Joseph Lieberman want to raise eligibility
for the states’ Child Health Insurance Programs to 300 percent
of the poverty level. Clark and Lieberman want to raise adult
eligibility for Medicaid to 150 percent of the poverty line.
Wesley Clark, Dean, and Kerry want adults to have the choice
to buy into either the Federal Employees Health Care Benefits
program, touted as a cost-saving measure. Clark would limit
this to those who didn’t have access to job-based insurance.
Lieberman proposes an insurance system modeled on the FEHBP
that would be accessible to all who wanted it.
Clark, Edwards, and Kerry all want to use tax credits to make
health insurance more affordable. Clark would offer them to
parents between the current CHIP eligibility standards and
500 percent of the poverty line for use in insuring their
kids, and to all adults under 275 percent of the poverty line
for their own use. Edwards would offer refundable tax credits
for use to buy into only CHIP or employer-based plans. Everyone
would be eligible to buy into CHIP if they wanted to. Kerry
promises tax incentives to both employers and individuals
to make health insurance more affordable.
In an interesting take on the roots of the problem, Edwards
and Clark add a personal responsibility item to their agendas,
requiring parents to enroll their kids in some kind of health
insurance, or face warnings and loss of tax benefits.
Making it easier to get more affordable prescription drugs
on the market by closing patent loopholes, giving preference
to generics, or allowing purchase of Canadian medicine, is
also a common theme, taken up most strongly by Dean and Kerry.
There are some unique plans in the mix. Lieberman would enroll
every child at birth or lapse of other coverage (unless the
parents decline) in a new plan called MediKids. He would also
create a program called MediChoice that all adults could buy
Clark would create an “independent commission to determine
the value of health services and benefits,” which would investigate
standards of care, opportunities for prevention, and “evidence-based
Kerry would offer to have the federal government cover 75
percent of catastrophic claims over $50,000 provided the companies
pass the savings on to policyholders. It is not clear how
that provision would be enforced. He also, however, emphasizes
reducing the cost of health insurance by reducing “waste,
fraud, and abuse.”