Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs….

I’ve been seriously trying to write a post about the on-going school budget debates, but it seems that every time I do something else happens, or there hasn’t been enough solid information to write an intelligent post.  It seems we are now at the breaking point where State funding is set, board members have filed for re-election or election and things have gotten ugly.  We have been dealt with more aid cuts and the fight to save programs continues to rage.

As I see it, there are basically two issues at play as we draw closer to the big budget vote.

1).  There is a decisive rift between those who believe our budget crisis is a funding issue evolved from years of steady decline in State funding and those that believe the district has an expenditure issue that goes way back.  Then there is the silent majority that has no idea what to make of it all and are tired of rising school taxes each year despite the cuts in school programs.  Paying more for less gets old very fast.  You can find me in the third group.

2).  There are also similar factions that have an ax to grind ever since the emotional closing of the George Washington Elementary and those board members who voted for it are slowly getting picked off at each election.

The result is an internet war between these factions and it has gotten beyond ugly with hate, vitriol, stupid cartoons, bigotry and baseless accusations.  I have considered an attempt at constructive discussion with participants on one blog but it seems that if my child was not part of the GWS closing, my opinion doesn’t mean anything.  The other seems to have its head in the clouds and I cannot deal with that either.

The feud has resulted in large signs recently popping up on Rt 43 accusing two board members of leading the school district to ruin (and yes, they voted for the closure of GWS) and accusations are flying as to who is responsible for putting up the signs.  One appalling, and public,  accusation is that a sitting Board member assisted in erecting those signs.  Yikes.

Last night there was a BOE meeting where the signs were publically decried and apparently names were brought up.  Amongst all of this craziness, I am still trying to figure out whether or not the Board adopted a budget!  Thankfully, this meeting stayed out of the media but it makes getting info a little difficult without resorting to consulting the feuding blogs of the McCoys and Hatfields.  Anyone??

My view from 5,000 feet is that it is both a revenue and expenditure problem.  Until some kind of compromise can be made and acceptance of what is reality, the district will continue to lose its programs.  And yes, the State is short-sided in hammering districts like ours who are not classified as High Needs but seriously lack a tax base due to its “Bedroom Community” structure.  Until we have representation with clout in the Legislature (I can’t believe I’m saying this but oh don’t we miss Joe Bruno now?) we will continue jump up and down pleading for more assistance with no one to notice us.

The expenditure issue is something we can somewhat control (unfunded mandates and mandatory expenditures aside).  The district needs to stop operating as usual because it is the way it’s always been done.  Things need to change, policies need to be re-examined and strive for more efficiency.   Apparently we can’t apply for the State competitive grants in administrative efficiency because we don’t qualify…why the hell not??

Fixing our revenue problem is a long-term issue.  The Town needs to bend and encourage bigger businesses to put down roots, and lobbying for mandate relief and an examination of the GEA cuts (see section on Gap Elimination Adjustment) for possible relief of this inequitable cut.

I’m going to try to examine different aspects of the battle beginning with an examination of peer districts and the size of their administration as compared to us.  Those screaming for admin cuts may be surprised to see that we are not spending lavishly here and we are pretty much on par.  Competency of those in these positions is moot…I can’t quantify that.

And when the final budget scenario is released, I will try to get that up here too.  The last one I saw was on April 3 and is posted here.  It ain’t pretty folks!

No Snow=No Snow Days

(Update on April 17 – It seems that the district will add a day off to the Memorial day weekend and school will be closed on Friday, May 25th.  So now we are down to four days to eat up.)

Last year, thanks to a relentless winter, the school district plowed right through their snow day limit and then some.  This meant the loss of two days during Spring Break and I think the loss of the Good Friday holiday, if memory serves.  In what was my opinion, a knee-jerk reaction, the administration tacked on an additional snow day to our allottment for the 2011-12 school year bring it to six built-in snow days to avoid this in the future.

Karma says…..Not so fast!  Mother Nature’s response to that was nary a snow storm this winter so we used one whopping snow day.  One.  That means we have five school days to eliminate because they are built into the school year.  Interesting problem, eh? (Ironically enough, the power outage from fall of 2011 did not constitute a snow day.  It was an “emergency day” and doesn’t count towards the allotment.)

The Troy Record posted this article today about this very issue how various area school districts plan to burn up their excess snow days.  Unfortunately, they either did not call Averill Park (which incidently the Troy Record is the OFFICIAL newspaper of the town of Sand Lake) or Averill Park didn’t give it up.  Historically they have always lopped off the remaining snow days at the end of the school year and I have no reason to believe that they will deviate from this plan.  This means FIVE DAYS will come off the end of the year.  Five.  So school ends…June 18.  Wow.

That is kind of a parent’s nightmare, and yes mine.  That is five more days of child care that we will have to dredge up until summer camps start up.  Couldn’t we spread this out around Memorial Day and Spring Break?  Or another long weekend here or there?  According to the article, that is what the majority of the school districts are planning to do, why not us?  My guess is that this is what is negotiated into the teacher’s contracts, which is good for them but a pain in the rear end for us.

Five unused snow days.  Ouch.

Watchful Waiting

I have been writing and editing a post regarding the school budget for a while now but it seems whenever I feel close to pushing that Publish button, something changes.

So that being said, I feel it is best to wait for the appearance of the School Runs. What’s that, you say?

The school runs list out the amount of State aid doled out to each district according to the formula. Each district run is broken out so you can how the formula works. It isn’t pretty.

You can find last year’s here. The Legislature is currently debating and voting on the bill that will set the formula into motion. I think once the bill is voted on, the runs will be released. Once that happens, the district will have set funding to work with and will be able to present solid scenarios that won’t contain moving target numbers. Until then, I will wait to opine.

Good News, Bad News

The bad news is that the school budget hole is nearly insurmountable this year. I seriously fear for the future of my child’s education in Averill Park, but more on that in another post.

The good news, in my opinion, is that the Sand Lake Day Camp will be operating and has restored the extended hours. Hallelujah!! And they kept the price flat. Double happiness.

Last year, due to school budget woes and the eventual enacted contingency budget, the camp’s future was in limbo thanks to limitations on using Sand Lake School. It did go on but with limited hours from 8-4:30…not exactly helpful for working parents.

BIG thanks to Sand Lake Youth for making it happen this year. It’s one less thing to worry about as we watch our District crumble under budget cuts.

Spring is in the Air

The calendar may say March 21, but it sure feels like summer this week.  Accordingly, I’ll bet I’m not the only AP resident looking around at our seasonal businesses and wondering when they’ll be opening up for the spring.

So here’s a roundup so far:

Kay’s Pizza – Everyone’s favorite lakeside roadhouse.  Looks like they will open on April 1st!  No foolin…

The Hollywood Drive-In – One of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the Capital District.  They are hoping for April 6, but it’s not set in stone yet.  So get that bug spray ready…

Jiffy Mart Ice Cream – Their ice cream sign was on when I drove by on March 17.  Lucky indeed!  I’ll be stopping in for a FlavorBurst cone very soon….

Rocket’s Drive In – Not seeing any signs of life yet.  They tend to open later than most.

Hoffay Farm – I drove by the other day and their placard said Opening March 24.  Not sure if that means their playground is opening or if this is just for the Harvest House.  Guess you’ll have to stop in and check it out for yourself.

That is about it for our local town haunts.  (Did I miss any??)  However, there are some goodies in our neighboring towns as well.

Wynantskill:

Jack’s Drive In – You can smell the burgers up and down Main Street.  They beat most to the punch and opened mid-March.  Be prepared for long lines as long as this summer weather holds.

The Big Dipper – A yummy ice cream/food stand also on Main Street.  Again, not seeing much sign of life yet.   Look like they are open!   Yay!

North and East Greenbush:

Gene’s Fish Fry – Gotta love their website.  One big fish with the words…Opening Day April 28th, 2011.

The Oasis – They opened for mini golf and ice cream on March 18.

Funplex and Lickety Split – Nothing on the website yet and haven’t driven by lately.

And now a moment of silence for the late Wholly Cow in Nassau.  Bummer.

Sand Lake Restaurant Week!

Let’s start with something really positive!  This week is Sand Lake Restaurant Week.  Oh yum!  And the weather gods have accomodated us with deck-worthy sunshine and warmth as well.  You can’t lose.

It looks like all of the biggies on Route 43 are participating, such as The Arlington House, Uncle Marty’s, The Lakeview and the Towne Tavern are all offering special $20.12 menus.  Additionally, off of the 43 path, Paolo Lombardis and Villa Valente are in the mix.

Links to the menus and to the restaurants are all available at the above link.  We really do have some fabulous food offerings in Sand Lake and it’s nice to see them getting showcased.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the Arlington House except for an after work drink.  The bartender was best, so I can give kudos there.  I plan on getting there soon, if not this week.

Everything Old is New Again…

Welcome to my new (old) blog.  It used to be a random, never updated, load of whatever was on my mind.  After many years of neglect, I’ve decided to resurrect it and give it some focus.  I may leave some old posts from its former life but I will probably delete everything prior.  It wasn’t that interesting to begin with! (Note:  I did leave most of the Red Sox posts.  I am a huge fan.  Deal with it…nicely of course)

As you can see, it is now called Life in the Park.  Or more specifically, life in Averill Park.  It’s probably not that interesting to anyone that doesn’t live in the town of Sand Lake, but perhaps some might be interested in my City Girl-turned-Country observations.  I’m a native of Schenectady and I moved here when I got married.  It’s a tight knit town with a core of lifers who come from generations of Sand Lake residents and it can be a tad intimidating to an “outsider” that is trying to lay down roots.  I’ve been here for more than 12 years now and I feel that I’ve earned my right to an opinion finally.

There is plenty to talk about.  The small town politics can be a hoot, or downright scary, the school district budget woes have spawned several opposing blogs and Facebook pages that could be the fodder of a black comedy sitcom and I hope to occasionally opine on the “silent majority” that may be too timid to step forward (I know I am!!).  I’m not going to link to certain active (and opposing) sites on the issues of the school budget because I do not want to be affiliated with either side.  I will call it as I see it as a homeowner and parent…or you can just call me Switzerland.

On the flip side, the town boasts of beautiful lakes, restaurants and unique offerings that I hope to highlight.  Sure we live “in the sticks”, but our sticks has many hidden gems worthy of the spotlight.  Give me Kays Pizza, smoked Towne Tavern wings or sticky cinnamon buns from Pie Squared any day.

So welcome to my blog observations of The Place of Picnics, Porches and Progress.  Comments are most welcome here but I expect nothing less than respect of others opinions.  Argumentative conversation and name-calling will not be tolerated here.

!@#$ Punxsutawney Phil!!

The Truck Parked in Front of Fenway

The Truck Parked in Front of Fenway

In spite of Phil’s prediction of more doom and gloom, the best sign of Spring is occurring today in Boston.  It is a happy day known to Red Sox fans as Truck Day!

What is Truck Day, you ask?  Glad you asked.  It is the day that all the team gear leaves Fenway a truck bound for Fort Meyers, Fl., aka Spring Training Camp.

The next best days are Feb. 12th and 14th, where pitchers and catchers are required to report and their first spring training workout occurs, respectively.

And for my birthday on Feb. 18th, the Sox will have their first full squad workout.  Thanks Red Sox.  Good birthday present.  I appreciate that.

That means Major League Baseball is not that far away and better days are coming.  And after experiencing the Longest Winter Ever©, I am overjoyed to see the beginning of the season.  Bring on the heat and humidity, hot dogs and peanuts, and strikes and homeruns!

And yes, only us screwball Red Sox fans could get THIS excited over a truck.  And Marlene…I am not a truck.

Oh When the Saints Go Marching In…

siena_saints_logo…right into the top 25 in the RPI rankings!  How about that?!  For you non-sports types, that means that the Siena Saints Mens Basketball team is ranked right up there with the national powerhouses such as Syracuse, Georgetown, etc.

Okay, it just means that they are REALLY REALLY GOOD!  Undefeated so far in the MAAC this season and are on a rampage to March Madness. They are even getting some national coverage!

Sports Illustrated had a thing or two to say about the Saints.

Siena may have fallen off the radar after the Saints lost all three of their games at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando in November, but now they have won 12 of their last 13, they’re undefeated in the MAAC and they’re ranked 20th in the RPI.  No team will want to see its name pop up next to Siena’s on Selection Sunday.

He then goes on to rank them #25 in the country in his own personal rankings.  I’ll take it.

They will be also be playing in Bracket Busters tournament that will be on ESPN and an ESPN writer already had some decent things to say about the team.

Wow. Yep, that’s my alma mater! Not bad for a little ole college in Loudonville.    While I’m not a huge basketball fan, and I don’t follow the Saints games that closely, I do keep an eye on them, go to an occasional game and get real excited when they make the NCAA tourney.  It’s fun!

So….GO SAINTS!!

Ice, ice and more ice.

We were pummeled by an ice storm that started on Thursday and didn’t end until late Friday morning.

When Hubby and I went to bed on Thursday night, we lay awake for awhile listening to the horrible snapping and cracking of tree limbs, and hoped that none of them fell on our house or cars.

When we finally did fall asleep, we were awoken at 1:30am by the furnace and the sump pumps (which are right under our bedroom in our one-level home) going on and off as the power fluctuated and finally sputtered out.  We grabbed our flashlights and proceeded to unplug major appliances just in case and went to bed with the horrible thought that our basement was now flooding because the sump pumps were not running.

Friday AM – The house was not freezing cold, thankfully.  It was cool, but not unbearable.  The basement, as expected, was now covered in several inches of water.  We turned on our radio and listened to the absolutely wonderful coverage by Don Weeks and the Morning team at 810 WGY.  They were wonderful in October of 1987 and were wonderful this past weekend as well.

Friday PM – We tried to nap or otherwise occupy ourselves but it got colder in the house as the day went on and no one could sleep with the constant sound of falling tree limbs. Seriously, it is a disturbing sound. My daughter also got stir crazy and it was decided that it was time to make the refugee trip to my SIL’s in a neighboring town that did not lose power.

We went outside to this:

Broken Trees

Broken Trees

Our two crab apple trees, which look so pretty in the spring in full blossom, had their main tree limbs cracked off by the weight of the ice. Across the street, a power line was laying the street and the local fire department had arrived to move it.

And while I am mentioning the fire department, I’d like to take the chance to thank our volunteer fire department from the absolutely bottom of my heart. Along with the NYSEG and National Grid, these people, unpaid, worked around the clock to remove trees from roads, pump out basements, or provide shelter at their firehouse. Thank you so much.

Anyways…we got in the car and proceeded down the main road out of town only to be detoured numerous times. We dodged hanging tree limbs and broken wires to the point to where we almost turned around to go back home. But we did make it out of town and to the warmth of my SIL’s apartment where my daughter and I stayed for the entire weekend. Hubby insisted on staying at home…must be a man thing.   He felt the need to protect the house.

Hubby had a hot shower, a warm meal and went back to the house to watch over a flooding basement and to take care of our beloved dog. What you have to understand about us is that we are avid campers so we have serious camping provisions at hand. Hubby was able to cook, have light and knew how to keep himself warm at night despite the fact that the temp in the house went down to 42. Brrrrr.

Sat AM – Hubby arrives at the apartment to shower and eat a hot breakfast. We then decide to venture out to scavage any useful things we may need in case of prolonged outage. I was not prepared for the scene outside. It was…beautiful! The sky was clear blue and the sun was reflecting off of the coats of ice on the trees. The world was literally dazzling!

Sparkling Trees

Sparkling Trees

This picture doesn’t do it justice though. It actually hurt your eyes to go outside. What was worse was was when the breeze picked up and all you could hear was the crackling and snapping of ice. It was a tad unsettling!

So Hubby and I went in search of propane tanks (none to be had), water (sold out) and where the open gas stations were (very few, all with lines). We went back to collect Little Sionna and back to the house to check on it and to collect my car.

The neighborhood was a wreck. I don’t have more pictures because I didn’t have my camera with me unfortunately. Perhaps it’s best forgotten! The house was freezing and the dog was going bezerk. She was warm enough but certainly cabin fevered. It wasn’t safe to go out for a walk, much less to just go out for bathroom business!

Sat PM – Hubby managed to put a claim on an incoming generator!!! He hardwired the furnace and the sump pumps to it and we could breathe a little easier about our pipes and flooding basement. Little Sionna and I went back to SIL’s to sleep and I worried about Hubby sleeping with the generator running….completely rediculous considering that he is a former electician and is totally safety crazy. But I worried just the same.

I didn’t get any sleep that night for another reason…I was sharing a double bed with Little Sionna who is apprently an active sleeper and a total bed hog! She hasn’t kicked me that much since she was in utero!!! Oy.

Sun AM – I get up to get showered because I was taking Little Sionna and her friend to The Nutcracker (yes, the show did go on!). Not even a minute after I stepped out of the shower…the power goes out. Crap. I managed to get dressed and then 10 minutes later, the power goes back on. Whew!  I met up with Little Sionna’s friend and her parents in town and off we go.  It was a nice diversion and the girls had a good time.

Sun PM – Power is back on!!!  Yee haw!!  Of course that means clean up time.  We have a lot of wet yucky stuff in the basement to toss and possibily some mold remediation to be done.  There will be the chainsawing of our apple trees as well, but we probably can’t do that until this weekend.

That was our weekend in a nutshell…one that I DO NOT want to repeat again in the near future, unless it is in the middle of the summer!!