Posted at: 08/29/2013 3:10 AM
| Updated at: 08/29/2013 11:46 AM
By: Steve Flamisch
HUDSON -- State legislation authorizing a new academy for at-risk kids is not scheduled to reach the governor's desk until the day before the school year begins, while the building itself will not be remodeled in time for the start of classes, NewsChannel 13 has learned.
The non-profit Galvan Foundation is transforming the old Register Star building, 364 Warren St., into the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy. The Berkshire Union Free School District in Canaan would hold the lease and supply the teachers, while the Catskill and Hudson School Districts would send close to 60 ninth-grade and tenth-grade students.
The bill authorizing Berkshire Union Free to use the property passed the state Assembly and Senate on June 21 with bipartisan support. It has not budged in the more than two months since.
A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday the Assembly majority still had not sent the legislation to the governor's desk. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the governor is not calling for the bill until September 3. It was unclear whether Cuomo would sign it into law.
Both spokesmen agreed such a delay is not uncommon given the hundreds of bills requiring action each year, but the assemblyman who sponsored the legislation, Steve McLaughlin (R - Melrose), bristled at the hold up.
"It's not an acceptable excuse to say this is just the normal course of business," McLaughlin said. "This is a time-sensitive matter, and they've known about it for weeks."
To further complicate the situation, rehabilitation and remodeling work in the building was suspended for a time while the city's planning commission debated the proposal, according to Tiffany Martin Hamilton, Vice President of the Hudson City School District Board of Education.
It was unclear when the work would be completed, but it was not expected to be finished in time for the start of the school year on September 4, Martin Hamilton said.
"THE ONLY WAY"
The superintendents of the Berkshire Union Free, Catskill, and Hudson School Districts developed the new model in response to the governor's request for community schooling proposals, Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said. The plan involves two groups of children.
The first group, special education students, would otherwise be transported by bus to Canaan at a cost of $40,000 yearly to her district alone, Suttmeier said. The second group is comprised of students who have already dropped-out, or are at risk for dropping-out, because they do not function well in mainstream classes.
"Their academic, social, and emotional well-being are hanging in the balance," she said. "This is the only way we're going to improve our graduation rate and alleviate the problem that we have with drop-outs, and our rate is much too high."
Hudson axed its own Alternative Learning Program (ALP) in 2010 as a way to save $500,000 during a severe budget crunch, Suttmeier said.
The new program, jointly operated by the three districts and initially underwritten by a Galvan Foundation grant, has encouraged several recent drop-outs to resume their studies, Martin Hamilton, of Hudson's school board, said.
Several parents broke down in tears at a recent board meeting while discussing how their children would only remain in school if they were able to study in the new academy, also known as "The Bridge," Martin Hamilton said.
"They can see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "They can see graduation and exactly how it will happen, and throwing up these roadblocks creates a really unnecessary scenario for them."
The proposal to educate dozens of at-risk students inside a 5,500-square-foot building in Hudson's bustling business district has been dogged by controversy from the start.
Several business owners, while supportive of the Alternative Learning Program (ALP), said the school does not belong with the antiques shops, galleries, and restaurants on Warren St.
"The bottom line is, I'm not opposed to the program," Alana Hauptmann, who owns Red Dot Restaurant and Bar, told NewsChannel 13. "I just think there must be a more appropriate place for the kids to learn and have physical education."
The building does not have a gymnasium, but Martin Hamilton, the school board vice president, said many of the children refuse to change their clothes for a typical physical education class anyway. The plan is for them to play Wii games and read about nutrition instead.
Hudson Alderman Nick Haddad also questioned the school's location, and he expressed disappointment that school officials were "not transparent" in the early stages of the proposal.
"The opposition is to the location -- not to the merits of the program -- and to the fact that none of the legislators were consulted," Haddad, one of two aldermen in the city's first ward, said. "None of the business owners were consulted. Not even the residents were consulted."
Haddad noted that Suttmeier, the superintendent, has "graciously" apologized on several occasions.
Like Hauptmann, Haddad said he supports alternative learning programs. To that end, he wondered whether the centuries-old building at the corner of Warren St. and N. 4th St. is the best place for at-risk children.
"It almost appears to be a jail," he said.
In fact, the building started as a jail in 1805, according to a placard with historical information. It became City Hall in 1838, a theatre in 1855, and a printing shop in 1862.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
In yet another controversy, attorneys for the New York State Education Department (NYSED) have questioned whether a voter referendum is required to transport the at-risk children across district lines, Haddad and the Hudson school officials said.
It was unclear whether that uncertainty would affect the governor's decision when the legislation comes to his desk on Tuesday. He has three choices: sign it into law, veto it, or do nothing for ten days -- in which case it would automatically become law.
"Not only is this a money saver," McLaughlin, the bill's Assembly sponsor said, "but much more importantly, it's the right thing to do for the kids."
Assemblywoman DiDi Barrett (D - Washington) strongly supports the legislation, her chief of staff said. Sen. Kathy Marchione (R - Halfmoon) sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
The decision now rests with the governor.