Neighbors confront Elk Lake school board

BY PAT FARNELLI

Neighbors of the Elk Lake District took the school board to task Thursday night to clear up rumors about any contracts the district might be discussing.
In a meeting that lasted three hours, the subject of proposed natural gas pipelines for the district property was revisited.
Most of the two rows of visitor seats were occupied by neighbors to the Elk Lake property who expressed concerns about royalties for gas wells on or near their properties which await pipeline construction to transport the produced Marcellus gas.
Colt Norville, a 2006 Elk Lake graduate, said that he was there to try to untangle rumors he has been hearing about the school board’s hiring of a law firm for advice about pipeline contracts with Williams pipeline company.
Attorney Ned Abrahamsen said, “It is my intention to move expeditiously at board request that we have an agreement. We did tell you that we will listen to your concerns and allow you to ask questions, but we may not be able to answer questions. “
Jeannie Jayne asked, “Where is the pipeline going to go in relation to the school building and the homes?”
Board member Anne Teel started to clarify, “The proposed pipeline…” and began to answer the question, then Abrahamsen said, “I would prefer that the board left it to me, as negotiations are taking place.”
Keith McCauley, a resident who has a pipeline easement on his property, attended the meeting and asked, “Did anyone make contact with the Willliams pipeline company before this meeting? I have a letter from Williams that was given to me to bring tonight.”
Teel accepted the letter to bring into the executive session, and the board left the room for an executive session to negotiate pipeline easement agreements with Williams.
Upon the board’s return, McCauley asked, “I know litigation cam be withdrawn, can this be wrapped up?”
Abrahamsen replied, “There is no lawsuit, I am handling negotiations on behalf of the district, just as Williams has hired a lawyer to represent them.”
Resident Pete Waldenberger asked What caused you (the board) to change your minds, since the pipeline agreement from the well to Grosvenor’s (neighboring gas well site)?”
Board President Anne Teel said that the original agreement was with Cabot, and was a different agreement.
Board Vice President Matt Curley said, “We were looking for sound legal advice.”
He added, “When we entered into the first pipeline contract with Cabot, we did not know so much about the gas industry…. we were naive. we are trying not to continue that pattern.” “It is easy to get your ears pinned back if you have been in all these negotiations,” Curley said. “I don’t think we have made unreasonable demands. Williams is comfortable saying whatever they want now, because they are not in our position. As much as I would like to say things to make you all smile as you walk out of here tonight, that would be disingenuous.”
Board member Chuck Place said, “What we are looking for is the good of the entire school district. This has to be diluted by what is best for everybody.”
Curley said, “We are eager to get this worked out, we don’t want to be a bad neighbor to anyone. What Williams wants from the district is valuable to everybody.”
Superintendent William Bush reported that the school district was looking at a potential $585,000 deficit for next year.
He said that millage, estimating with the index, could be set at .88 mil for Susquehanna County, and .89 mil for Wyoming County residents within the district.
He noted that with the two previous budgets and this one, 30 positions have been eliminated and not replaced.
A preliminary budget for 2013-14 should be approved by the Apr. 18 meeting, and the budget should be ready by June 30.
High school principal Ken Cuomo did a presentation on the new “tools for teacher evaluation” to be implemented next school year based on the Danielson model for teacher effectiveness.
Cuomo said, “I’ve been doing teacher evaluations for 22 years, but there has been nothing like this done in the past.”
He noted that the Danielson model has four domains. There are 22 components, and each one is evaluated onstage and offstage. Only factual information is identified during the evaluation, with no qualitative information reported by the evaluator.
Later, the teacher does a self evaluation based on facts, and last, patterns are explored.
Elementary principal Charles Pirone submitted a resignation for purposes of retirement, which was accepted with regret.
Other resignation requests were also submitted, including support staff Sandy Zapolski and head custodian Jim Jones.
Pirone, in his principal report, noted that kindergarten registrations had been held, and that between 90 and 100 new students will be coming in for the next school year.
One cafeteria resignation was received, and it was recommended that the board hire Patricia Ketcham retroactive to when she began work. The board approved this hire.
Dr. Bush said that he has been working with a group which advocates natural gas in the southern tier of New York State, and that group and the Binghamton Press are coming here next week for a cursury walk-through of the campus, and to hear our story, and how we came up with $246,000 in energy savings.”
Kim Guiton spoke about energy issues and efficiency opportunities for the campus, which highlighted transitioning the school district infrastructure to natural gas, utilizing rebates, energy efficiency and savings from natural gas to pay for needed upgrades, such as the replacement of two aging oil burners. Nick Sracic of Johnson Controls talked about the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act and energy efficiency.
A leaking fuel tank was replaced by Ultracon at a cost of approximately $26,000, and labor at $39, 690. completed during the months of December through February.
Cuomo reported on the forensics team’s success, and noted that three debaters qualified for the National Tournament in Philadelphia.
Cuomo also commended Jason Vermeulen and Megan Bush for the success of the District Conference of student councils, which was so successful that Elk Lake has been requested to host the state conference.
Extended winter sports contracts were approved for about 10 coaches, for the basketball, swimming and wrestling teams.