Thursday, November 19, 2009

Police looking to demonstrate tasers

This week's paper reports that Chief Joe Snyder asked the Police Commission for its opinion on the police force purchasing tasers. Among other things, he said he would try to arrange for a live demonstration "if he could convince someone to do it."

I'll do it.

The article implies that the Chief was looking for a volunteer from the department, since "officers have to be tasered" as part of their training. It's commendable, but I think it's the wrong way to go. Officers who have experienced a taser in the past, and are trained to endure much tougher rigors than the rest of us, can't possibly provide an accurate representation of what this thing is like on the receiving end. Let's get a civilian volunteer, I thought, or demonstrate the taser on members of the Police Commission so they have a clear idea what they're being asked to approve.

Then I realized that it's fine to make that kind of suggestion, but no one's going to take it seriously. I also realized that I have no idea what a taser is like, and so I really shouldn't be forming opinions.

So why not? I can get tasered at the commission's next meeting and tell them what it's like. I've got an average build, average health, and a willingness to sign a waiver, as long as I get a copy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Code of Conduct statistics (now, with a title)

The superintendent's office prepared a response to my inquiries about the code of conduct, as promised. I did have to submit a formal request for this information, but I got far more than I really could have hoped for. Instead of simply allowing me to review the endless pages of statistics the district no doubt keeps, assistant superintendent Connie Hayes prepared a specific response to my request. This was a remarkably unobstructionist thing to do - they gave me exactly what I asked for, even though they weren't under any legal obligation to do so. It took some time, but that included doing the research, confirming what they legally could tell me, and checking with the Health Advisory Committee because I found a typo in the Code.

What I asked
Mostly, I wanted to know how many kids have been told to "go home" as punishment for something that they did. In the 2008-9 school year, 169 kids were suspended from school, none permanently. 122 of these, or 72%, were high schoolers; 45 (roughly 27%) were middle school students; the remaining two were attending Lenape. Most of the suspensions were for five days or less (149, more than 88% of cases) - this included the two Lenape students. Twenty kids were given longer out-of-school suspensions - nearly 12% of cases.

I also asked how the punishments fit the crimes. Interestingly, the offenses aren't reported using the same categories as are listed in the Code of Conduct, so the information was less clear. Here's the list in order of occurence, with my paraphrasing of the name of each offense:
  • Insubordination: 77
  • Willful acts to disrupt normal operations in school: 76
  • Disorderly conduct (includes abusive, lewd, and obscene behavior): 30
  • Misconduct on school bus: 30 (all Lenape)
  • Drug offenses: 20 (all high school)
  • Misuse of electronic devices: 9 (all middle school)
  • Stealing: 8
  • Tobacco: 6
Some interesting hints about the actual offenses come from the names of the discipline reports, "Cell Phones," "Inappropriate Language," "Disruptive Behavior," and "Insubordination." Did nine children actually get sent home for using a cell phone? Were another twenty given the boot for cursing out a teacher?

I realize that violent kids have no place in school, but how serious does a cell phone offense have to be to send a kid home? I was surprised at how few of these cases were related to drugs, but I have to wonder how serious the inappropriate language has to be to get the kid the reward he might just be looking for.

I'm glad the district made it so easy to discover the truth here - that we're awfully quick with the nuclear option of sending a kid home. Am I off-base in thinking we could make this a lot less common practice?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Undoing Racism in New Paltz

Doing the research for my letter to the New Paltz Times also made me curious about the Undoing Racism course that Mr. Rodriguez felt his fellow Trustees should be taking. What type of coursework was it?

Superintendent Rice told me to contact Ulster County BOCES, whose offices I contacted a little bit late on a Friday for anybody high up to be around the office. Administrative professionals do all the real work, but would rather not have their name attached to anything. I did find out that the program was actually created and presented by The People's Institute.

I did, last Monday, speak to a member of the Ulster County BOCES staff about the class. I have his name here, but he didn't actually ever give me permission to use it. Bloggers don't have a universal code of ethics, but I don't think it's right to mention someone's name if they don't say I can. For the most part he might have been reading from the link above, but he eventually told me something that was not on the web site - that New Paltz (the district) was a strong participant in the Undoing Racism class. Some people get uncomfortable or defensive during the program, but the attendees from New Paltz (which are many) "always stay to the end."

My Rodriguez letter to the New Paltz Times

After writing about my initial reactions to Edgar Rodriguez' racism accusations I decided to dig deeper into the matter. I wrote a letter to the New Paltz Times about the subject, which I present here as well. I know that NPT has about a billion times' the readership of the Gadfly, but there's no reason to deprive to two or three who read here and not there. (I also hope this post lasts longer than the month or so they keep their letters online.)

As a white male, I realize that I'm not permitted to have an opinion which runs contrary to a claim of racism. So, I will allow others more qualified to speak on my behalf today.

Trustee Edgar Rodriguez made such claims at a recent Board of Education meeting. It's not the first time he's felt discriminated against; Rodriguez filed a suit against SUNY New Paltz in 1984 alleging the same. In that case, Rodriguez claimed that he was denied tenure because of his race, while the court felt that SUNY was consistent in requiring Mr. Rodriguez complete his Ph.D., like others are required to do, and so found no evidence of racial bias.

At the Board of Education meeting in question, after Trustee Rodriguez left, Trustee Daniel Torres thanked the district for the many opportunities he had received as a student and pointed out that he had, earlier that day, attended the Latino Leadership Luncheon at Marist College where he is a student. Trustee Torres, himself a Latino, apparently does not feel the same racial tensions as Trustee Rodriguez.

Racism is an ugly thing that should be addressed immediately and quashed completely wherever it is found. Still uglier is making a false claim of racism to cloud the issue of the middle school's renovation, because it gives bigots ammunition for hatred and devalues the experience of real victims.

I don't doubt that Trustee Rodriguez is presently getting a frosty reception from other board members, but perhaps he should apply Occam's Razor and discard other, more likely possibilities as to why, such as his battleground mentality and dissemination of incorrect information about the project to the public. I am glad that he is willing to express a minority view, but he should check his facts if he wants to have any credibility, and he certainly shouldn't assume racism just because he's not being listened to.

My next post will be on what I learned about the Undoing Racism course.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Road Ahead

I can't stand politics and I'm grateful I don't have to see those signs on the roads for much longer. Instead I'm looking forward to what will be happening with the roads of New Paltz over the next couple of years.

One thing everyone agrees about is that Phil Johnson has done a good enough job in his tenure to keep New Paltz safe. That he managed to tick off both developers and environmentalists while doing so is impressive - it's hard to get those folks to agree on something, after all.

What New Paltz needs now is a smooth transition to the next Highway Superintendent. Phil and the entire department can give a real gift to the community by being as helpful as George Bush was to Barack Obama. I don't believe everything I read, and I'm sure Phil isn't so petty as to harm his home town by being uncooperative, but I hope he bends over backwards to make this a smooth ride.

Mike Nielson has many ideas that could be years in the future because the cost is prohibitive or the technology isn't ready yet, but there are things he can do this winter that will save the taxpayers money and save our delicate watershed from the impacts of human encroachment. Stormwater Magazine's newest issue's cover article is on road salt, and many of the ideas in it can be used here and now. For example, there's no reason we can't prewet our roads with brine (salty water) ahead of a storm, which has been proven to reduce icing, or reduce the amount of salt in road sand, which doesn't really do much other than keep the sand from sticking together.

Our roads are one place where embracing new strategies can save money and the environment, so there is no need to be at loggerheads about how to move forward.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mike and the Library WIN in New Paltz

C'mon People It Is Election Day

Based on voter counts taken at all the polling sites in New Paltz at 4:30pm it looks like turnout will be at about 30% today. C'mon people - it was 79% last year! Get out to your polling place and VOTE!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who I will be voting for

For New Paltz Highway Superintendent: Mike Nielson - on the Working Families line.

For County Court Judge: Deborah Schneer - on the Working Families line.

For County Clerk: Gilda P. Riccardi for Ulster County Clerk - on the Working Families line.

For Town Board and Supervisor -- since the incumbents have a cake walk with both the Republican and Democratic lines -- who should we write in, just for kicks? I am thinking Jason West and/or Guy Kempe and/or Terence Ward - what are your thoughts?