“We sold West Hurley!” exclaimed Onteora Central School District board of education president Bobbi Schnell after the unanimous decision of the board approved two resolutions authorizing the action at its October 27 meeting. The West Hurley Elementary School campus has not been used as a school since 2004, when the district reconfigured is usages. It has only been utilized for budget and board of education elections.
The two resolutions were a last minute addition to the board’s agenda. The first was a Negative Declaration of Impact, stating that that sale would not have a significant impact on the environment based upon the standards of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and the second resolution approved selling the property to The Center for the Investigation of Native and Ancient Quarries, Inc (CINAQ) for $700,000. According to the contract $35,000 was given as a down payment upon signing with a balance of $665,000 upon closing. The contract was signed by Phillip LaPorta, president of CINAQ and according to its website it is a non-profit organization located in Goshen, New York. The website states that CINAQ, “fills an education and research need by reaching out to local, interregional, national and global public and scientific communities. CINAQ’s goal is to educate the public and scientific communities on the existence of ancient quarries; their importance to the culture history of a region; how to investigate them if preservation is a goal; and if preservation is not an option, how to conduct respectful and scientific mitigation in the face of modern day development.” The asking price for the property was $1 million through Win Morrison Realty, at a five-percent commission. LaPorta could not be immediately reached for comment.
Keeping WiFi in K-6 grades
By a four-to-one vote, board trustees turned down a proposal to temporarily remove Wireless capability (WiFi) from Kindergarten-through-grade six at Bennett, Phoenicia and Woodstock Schools. Trustee Ann McGillicuddy was the only vote in favor of remove it, fearing that it could potentially be harmful to the health of young children. Trustees Schnell, Rob Kurnit, Tanya Davis, and Valerie Storey voted to keep it intact until the WiFi task force the board appointed returns with its studies, and at that point make a decision. Trustee Laurie Osmond abstained stating lack of information and newly appointed Kevin Salem was absent.
Kurnit explained his view. “I have read more since we met last, articles, papers; I spoke to my friends in France (schools in France have disable WiFi at Pre-K levels). I’ve talked to my uncle who is a laser physicist and he is not a specialist in this — he just knows about all kinds of radiation, and I’m unconvinced. The reason we formed a task force was to do due diligence to get the information in such a way to hopefully be done in a bi-partisan beneficial way so that information can be presented to the board.” Kurnit said that programs would be affected and that switching from wireless to Ethernet cable that would hard wire computers could take nearly a year. “It’s not something where you can just snap your fingers and do.”
McGillicuddy read a letter from the Phoenicia PTA in favor of turning off WiFi. “Parents are concerned that growing children will be most affected by possible disruptions to cell growth and brain function.”
During public commentary, approximately a dozen people spoke, both in favor or against removing WiFi temporarily from grades Kindergarten-through-six. Most controversial was Theodore Tomita who spoke in favor of technology including WiFi. “I’m a long life IT engineer both in the military and locally here in Kingston and probably one of the most well known IT engineers in the State,” Tomita said, “and I’m the national spokesperson for Time Warner Cable business class. We have the responsibility as a school district to be teaching stem, science, technology, and math and engineering, and all are important parts of this — and they’re all taking a giant hit today as we try to express that WiFi is causing cancer and destroying minds, and being compared to things that aren’t even in the same ball park as this.”
Grumbles could be heard throughout the audience as Tomita spoke with Schnell calling for silence. Later in the meeting, during the WiFi discussions McGillicuddy said about Tomita, “I know there was a person in the audience tonight from Time Warner Cable and I’m wondering why they came, they don’t live in our school district, I find that interesting.”
Raji Nevin, a member of Stop Smart Meters Woodstock, spoke in favor of removing WiFi. “I’d like to begin by emphasizing that the people who are asking for WiFi to be taken out of the schools are not asking that the current technology be eliminated, we’re simply asking for the technology to be used safely, so not to harm the children.”
Dr. Stewart Maurer, a Ph.D. in electromagnetism from Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn said his router at his home gives a very low to no microwave frequency reading. “It’s so low I can’t read anything, but who knows, right now you are all being irradiated by WAMC, if you didn’t know, your little transistor gives a higher number.” He said even with the router off, a computer would still search for and emit a frequency.
At one point Maurer was told by an audience member that his time to speak was up. This led Schnell to say, “We’d like to continue this in a civil manner…” Others spoke over their three-minute time limit, ignoring calls to stop. Additionally children spoke against having WiFi in school. A grade-five student blamed WiFi for his headaches. “I’ve been experiencing terrible headaches while in school which started a couple years ago. When I go home the headaches get better, go away and they are gone, but when I go back to school my headaches return. This only happens to me in school and I ask my friends if they get a headache when they go to school and a bunch of them said, ‘yes,’ they get headaches everyday.”
Several trustees have recommended that when the computers are not in use, teachers should turn them off, including the routers.
In other news…
Director of Ulster BOCES, Dr. Charles Khoury presented a Superintendent search timeline that will begin in November with an online survey for district groups to weigh in. A vacancy announcement will begin after the holiday break, followed by a candidate search process and a person hired no later than April 14. The new Superintendent will begin on July 1, 2016, the beginning of the new fiscal school year. The district pays for advertisements, however BOCES service is at no cost.
The board of education violated open meeting laws when it appointed Kevin Salem as a trustee to fill the vacancy when Gideon Moor resigned. According to Robert Freeman Executive Director for the Committee for Open Government, the appointment of someone in executive session, who holds a public seat, is inconsistent with open meeting laws. Filling a vacancy in an elective office should allow the opportunity to involve public discussion, transparency and scrutiny. He explained that executive session should pertain only to discussions such as employment history, medical, or financial records. Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren said she was not aware of the violation and will check into it. At the last minute the Board voted in public to approve Salem’s appointment.