The Journal News from White Plains, New York on July 29, 1990 · Page 94
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The Journal News from White Plains, New York · Page 94

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Sunday, July 29, 1990
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AA4 THE JOURNAL-NEWS, SUNDAY, JULY 29, 1990 Education head gets an 'A' for effort By Jay Gallagher Gannett News Service ALBANY - The state Board of Regents gave Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol a passing grade on his evaluation last week. They should have given him an A for effort. Since he took over the top state education post three years ago, Sobol has done his best to shake up the stodgy schools establishment. He's proposed: Giving parents the right to send their children to other public schools if the one they're assigned to is failing; Have the state take over the operations of districts that aren't serving their children well, much as the state takes over the finances of municipalities facing bankruptcy, Giving more state money to school districts with children who are more likely to drop out; Having schools re-think their social-studies courses to see if non-white, non-European cultures are being given short shrift. A new study on the last proposal is still to be done, while the other three ideas have been rejected by the Legislature. The Legislature has opted, instead, to throw money at the problem, increasing state aid to education by more than 80 percent over the past eight years, but consistently rejecting attempts to reform the system. Most seriously, the lawmakers consistently rejected attempts by Gov. Mario Cuomo to funnel more money to ALBANY ANGLE poor districts by retaining an absurd provision that prohibits the state from cutting aid even if enrollment dropped. That provision, known as "save harmless," generally means that wealthier districts get more money from the state than they should. Cuomo this year also wanted to parcel out state aid this year in a way that would reward disticts that streamlined their bureaucracies and punish those who didn't. That idea also died. While Sobol has been trying to get reforms adopted on a state level, the New York City schools chancellor, Joseph Fernandez, has been having more success. He has been able this year to eliminate the veto school principals had over whether or not they'd be transferred, even if they were clearly not performing well. Fernandez has also been able to abolish the Board of Examiners, a body that made the complicated process of hiring teachers in New York City more tortuous then necessary. He's still pushing to get rules changed so that custodians will have an incentive to keep school buildings properly maintained. Now, the less they spend on maintenance, the more they get to put in their own pockets. While state lawmakers are willing to give more control of New York City controls to the city chancellor, they've been unwilling to give Sobol more power over the entire state system. Sobol and his department already do have more control over what goes on in New York public-school classrooms than most state eduation departments, in part because of the Empire State's tradition of Regents' Exams. Anyone who wants to get a Regents' Diploma when graduating from high school has to pass some state-designed tests. That means if Sobol and the regents decide to change what's covered in the tests, schools have to change their course of study to teach that material. That's why the state's study of what should be taught in social-studies courses is being watched so closely. If Sobol and the regents decide that New York students should know more about Marcus Garvey and less about Christopher Columbus, courses will have to change to reflect that judgment. But in a broader sense, schools here and elsewhere are being asked to fill a role they're not designed for, which is one reason they're coming under increasing criticism. Teachers in most districts say they have more chiildren now than ever who come to school hungry, tired, abused, neglected, or with some other problem that hinders their learning. Schools can cure some of these, with meal programs, counseling and contact with families. But we can't expect them to solve all our social problems. Within the limitations of what schools can actually do, the reforms Sobol is pushing would help. Throwing money at the problem hasn't worked in many districts. Making educators more accountable for the results of their efforts is a logical step to take. SOUTER, From page AA1 Once-neglected Ellis Island shines again The Associated Press NEW YORK - The noble, soaring spaces are radiantly clean and dry again. Light streams in on a summer day. On one or two patches of wall restorers have left poignant graffiti, scribbled names and drawings of outstretched hands. The graffiti was the artwork of immigrants, some of the 12 million people seeking a new life who passed through this main building of the Ellis Island immigration station. They were the forebears of perhaps 140 million present-day Americans. "Nowhere else can you say 'almost half the population of the country can trace their ancestry back through this building,'" says architect John Belle, director of a $156 million Ellis Island restoration project. The architects in charge of the renovations were Belle's firm, Beyer Blinder Belle, and Notter Finegold & Alexander. They began work in 1983 to rescue the 220,000-square-foot building, neglected for more than a quarter of a century and left in a state of near-ruin. It will reopen to the public on Sept. 10 as the National Museum of Immigration and is expected to draw 2Vi million visitors a year. "We began by getting to know everything about the building, by documenting it to the umpteenth degree, every nook and cranny," says Belle, leading a tour of the beaux-arts structure. The familiar, warmly handsome, horizontal building in limestone and brick, with four copper-domed towers, dominates its island in the harbor alongside Liberty Island. The present building opened in 1900, replacing an earlier wooden structure destroyed by fire in 1897, along with all the records. The present building continued in use until 1954, when it was inherited, already in deteriorated condition, by the National Park Service. "The original design of the building with its east and west wings was a very classical plan, and it was also a very efficient plan for moving people through," Belle says. "Now, starting in September we're going to have numbers of people moving through again." In addition to describing the history and experiences of those Ellis island immigrants, 'Nowhere else can you say 'almost half the population of the country can trace their ancestry back through this building.'' architect John Belle restoration project director the museum will reflect the whole history of immigration into this country from all entry points. It also will present some of the achievements of those immigrants. Visitors will be able to follow the immigrants' route through the building. From the dock where the ferry from Manhattan will leave them as the steamship-company ferries used to leave their ancestors they'll walk to the main entrance under an airy new canopy, described by Belle as "a contemporary interpretation of the original." Belle, a native of Wales who came to this country in 1959, specializes in historic preservation. In addition to the Ellis Island project, he directed the restoration of New York City's Grand Central Terminal and the South Street Seaport Museum, the Boston Customs House and the Delaware Aqueduct. "The Park Service is very strict about never faking history," Belle says. "That's a philosophy we share. We don't want to fool anybody with our project. This is a very, very careful restoration. "When we came in the plaster was on the floor. All that has gone back in place. Where elements no longer existed we tried to design the modern equivalents. History will be the judge you will be the judge." Most immigrants spent most of their time on Ellis Island in the second floor registry room. In its heyday it routinely handled 5,000 to 7,000 people a day. "To many it must have seemed huge, and intimidating, the largest building they'd ever seen in their lives, filled with noise, a babel of languages," Belle says. And the lamps glittering along the balconies and shining down from the chandeliers would have been the first time many of them, coming from small villages, ever saw electric light. At the far end of the great chamber is a memorable staircase: the one by which immigrants left after negotiating the nervous passage through desks and register books and questioning officers. The exit was to one of three destinations, down one of the three lanes separated by the staircase's two rails. On the left, you were off to catch a ferry into Manhattan; on the right, to buy your ticket for a train heading out West. But the center lane was the "stair of separation" down which immigrants were detoured for further formalities, entry to the promised land heartsinkingly postponed. They may have found themselves pleading their cases in the special inquiry room, a kind of court of last appeal. This is one of the few rooms that will be left as a "period room," with its carved wooden railings directing anxious steps toward the judge's table. Many other interiors have been designed to accommodate exhibits, not to simulate the rooms' early appearance. In addition to the major exhibition areas, there are a library and reading room, an oral history center with a recording studio where immigrants and former employees may chronicle their memories, and a listening center where others may hear these recordings. Other public amenities include orientation areas, museum shops, two 146-seat movie theaters, meeting rooms and a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the harbor. A curatorial complex contains offices, research facilities and conservation labs. but his interest in the law was already evident His senior thesis was on the judicial philosophy of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and some friends, detecting Souter's unspoken ambition, used to jokingly call him Mr. Justice Souter. At Oxford's Magdalen College, Souter lightened up a bit, according to fellow Rhodes Scholar and law school classmate William Bardel, now with the Wall Street investment house Shearson Lehman Hutton. "He had a wry sense of humor, he enjoyed a party, having a pint of beer. He was very sociable even if he was wearing a three-piece suit," Bardel said. Souter did not serve in the military because his Rhodes scholarship extended his student deferment when his draft call would have come in 1961 or 1962. An Army official noted that draft quotas in those years were relatively low and usually filled by 18-and 19-year-olds without deferments, so Souter's avoidance of service was not unusual. He returned to Cambridge, Mass., in 1963 to attend Harvard Law School, where classmates said he was not argumentative and seldom volunteered to speak in class. A member of Souter's class of 1966, Kent Bishop of Atlanta, remembered him as "a very serious, intense person" whose few outside activities included membership in a non-exclusive dining club called Lincoln's Inn. By contrast with his Rhodes scholarship and his Phi Beta Kappa standing as an undergraduate, Souter was a relatively undistinguished law student. Souter was not chosen for the Law Review the school's most eagerly sought-after honor and in a class where nearly one in four students graduated with cum laude or better, Souter did not. "If there had been a list made of likely Supreme Court nominees, he would not have been on it," one classmate said. "He was just a quiet brain sitting there," said another. Upon graduation from law school, Souter returned to Concord and signed on with the law firm of Orr & Reno. Malcolm McLane, a partner at the firm who had helped Souter secure his Rhodes scholarship, said that the firm was delighted to land him when he returned home after law school. Charles Leahy, another partner at Orr & Reno, said that Souter soon chafed at the scut work of the "small country law firm," which chiefly handled tax matters, business disputes and some family law. "He wanted to break out, to be in charge of something, to be responsible for his own outcomes," Leahy said. So when Warren Rudman, who was then the No. 2 man at the New Hampshire attorney general's office, offered Souter a job as a deputy attorney general, he jumped at it. "Rudman recognized within a week that he had someone of superior abilities," Leahy said. Within a year, Souter was head of the department's criminal division and shortly afterward was named deputy attorney general when Rudman was elevated to the top spot. When Rudman left in 1976 to enter private practice, he lobbied for his protege to fill his unexpired term. Arch-conservative Gov. Meldrim Thomson happily complied, said Rudman, now a U.S. senator who was instrumental in getting Souter named to the high court. Working for Thomson forced Souter into defending some extreme stands, such as the governor's order that state flags be flown at half-staff on Good Friday in honor of Christ's crucifixion. The state, under Souter, also unsuccessfully tried to prosecute a man who defaced the words "Live Free or Die" on his New Hampshire license plate, saying the words conflicted with his religious beliefs. Leahy said that Souter privately disagreed with both positions, but articulated them in court because he was obligated to as the governor's lawyer. "Given our ultra-conservative politics, he was pushed into a lot of fake issues and red herrings. He had to defend this business about flying the flag at half-staff and some other damn-fool right-wing causes. "He privately felt that a lot of these things were not of such importance that they should consume court time. But he was also aware of his role in our political system," Leahy said. Liberals see in Souter a strong streak of Yankee libertarianism, a "live-free-or-die" philosophy that firmly opposes judges who dictate morality. Conservatives are hopeful that Souter will remain the restrained jurist he has been for a decade, and will not seek to use the court as an instrument of social engineering. But on the most contentious issue of the decade in New Hampshire the Seabrook nuclear power station Souter stood foursquare behind the state's conservative leaders. Rowdy bands of demonstrators repeatedly tried to stop construction on the plant in 1977 through a variety of civil disobedience tactics. During several of these demonstrations, which were well planned and publicized long in advance, Souter set up a command post in the plant manager's office and personally supervised arrests. He took it upon himself also to argue before a local magistrate that demonstrators should be sentenced to jail rather than be given suspended sentences. "He didn't like to delegate important cases," said an attorney who worked with Souter in the attorney general's office. "He insisted on being on the scene himself (at Seabrook) while the protesters howled outside." In a pattern that would be repeated later on other issues, he did not address the merits of nuclear power, only the more narrow issue of whether protesters were justified in breaking the law to challenge it. Souter felt strongly that they were not. Leahy to this day said he does not know whether Souter approves or disapproves of nuclear power. "But he feels strongly about public safety and orderly political protest. This was a deliberate and active violation of the law. David finds that type of thing deeply disturbing," Leahy said. Despite his central role in quashing the Seabrook protests, the short, gray-suited attorney general never became a lighting rod for the anti-nuclear forces. Nor did he acquire a reputation as a harsh law-and-order official. Perhaps in another state he would have become a conservative icon or a liberal bogeyman. But not in flinty New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, David Souter is a moderate. That explains the elaborate praise he wins from Democrats and liberals in the state. "He is clearly an intellectual giant," said Concord attorney Kate Hanna, a former clerk for one of Souter's fellow justices on the state supreme court. "He stands out among all the other human beings I know. He is just a splendid, splendid jurist." State Sen. Susan McLane, a Democrat and a leader of the state's abortion rights movement, also was unstinting in her admiration. She and her husband, Malcolm McLane, are friends as well as colleagues of the nominee. "He is one of the most brilliant people I know. A fine, fine person," she said. The McLanes occasionally have Souter over for dinner and she described him as a droll, if low-key conversationalist. He enjoys food and wine, she said, and always sends a graceful thank-you note. Again, Souter never disclosed to his friends his views on a central issue this time abortion. "I kick myself that I never asked him," Susan McLane said. REVIEW page AA1 County Fair and RocklandFest officials both estimated that this was a "break even" year for their events. "I think we're going to break even," said Peggy Lipinski, management consultant of the Rockland County Fair. "We didn't expect to make money because of the past history, but I think we've finally got this thing turned around." "Its a little early to tell, but we should break even," said Phyllis Morena, coordinator of RocklandFest. Both officials said animals played a vital role in attracting families to the fairs, while placing a greater emphasis on the works of local artists added a community flavor that boosted attendance and involvement. They felt these factors helped them avoid past years' fiscal problems. Last year, RocklandFest lost about $2,000, while the county fair had reported about $140,000 in losses since 1986. As a result of similar strategies, RocklandFest, which ran July 21 and 22 in Letchworth Village Developmental Center in Thiells, and the county fair, which ran from July 12 to July 21 at the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area of Harriman State Park, attained marginal success this year. State warns Letchworth Village Letchworth Village officials have until the middle of next month to improve conditions at the state center for the mentally retarded in Thiells or face a cutoff of Medicaid funds. The warning was issued quietly last month by the state Health Department after inspectors found repeated instances where clients were unclothed, unsupervised, or had not been given prompt medical care or ongoing treatment. Inspectors also cited cases where clients engaged in self-destructive behavior, such as slapping themselves or biting their hands, without the intervention of staff. In other instances, clients wandered aimlessly or simply sat rocking on the floor at times when activities were scheduled, according to the survey. The 38-page list of deficiencies included new deficiencies as well as continuing problems cited by the state after a February inspection, according to a letter from K. Michele Dulemba, director of the state Health Department's area office for long-term care, to Letchworth's director, Frederick Zazycki. Letchworth officials said conditions do not pose a hazard to clients. "We don't feel we have any major health risks, nor is there any cause for alarm for the families of clients," said Ross Brackett, Letchworth's associate director. Officials further said they did not believe the survey was an acurate portrayal of conditions at the 700-acre facility that is home to 800 mentally retarded people. Advocates for Letchworth clients said they were not surprised by the survey's findings, but said they were surprised that the state reacted as firmly. Orangetown must respond to order Orangetown must respond by Thursday to a state draft consent order that could fine the town up to $100,000 for sewer plant violations. The draft order lists steps the town must take to lift the current state sewer-connection ban and bring the plant back into compliance. They include paying the fine, renovating the sewage treatment plant, and expanding the plant by 50 percent. Those terms will not be final until both the town and the state agree to them. The state Department of Environmental Conservation imposed a ban May 18 on all new sewer connections to the town plant because it has been in violation of its state-issued operating permit. The violations included exceeding the recommended 8.5 million gallon per day flow through the plant and inadequately treating wastewater in the plant. Orangetown will be fined $100,000 for the plant's violations over the past year, DEC assistant sanitary engineer Leonard Meyerson said in the draft consent order. But half of that would be suspended as long as the plant is not in violation. The suspended fine could be cut to $25,000 if the town reduced its daily flow by half a million gallons per day. A planned hookup to a Montvale, N.J., sewer line leading to the Bergen County sewage treatment plant could do just that. Town Sewer Director Joseph Sullivan called the $50,000 fine excessive. Since the town is already planning to do some of the things stipulated in the consent order, such as renovate and expand its plant, and rewrite its sewer ordinance to make its regulations stricter, the town should not be given such a heavy fine, Sullivan said. Tentative shelter agreement Officials of the village of New Hempstead and Rockland County have tentatively settled a lawsuit blocking expansion of a homeless shelter at the county health center. County officials have agreed to move the proposed expanded shelter farther from the village border and village officials have agreed to drop their lawsuit against the county. The agreement moves the shelter 2,500 feet away from its original location, 200 feet from the village border. The shelter will still be on the property of the Dr. Robert L. Yeager County Health Center in Ramapo. The $1.5 million shelter will consist of 16 family units and house about 52 to 78 people. The New Hempstead Board of Trustees voted last night to drop the lawsuit. The agreement awaits approval from the County Legislature and County Executive John Grant, which County Attorney Han Schoenberger said was likely. Both county and village representatives said the lawsuit's only issue was tee shelter's effect on nearby village residents. State to study bridge erosion The state Thruway Authority last week announced a $4.6 million, two-year study of possible erosion underneath the Tappan Zee Bridge and all other spans operated by the state agency. The study resulted from the 1987 collapse of a Thruway bridge west of Albany in which 10 people died. That bridge had collapsed into the flood-swollen Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam and his since been rebuilt. Thruway Executive Director John Shafer said consultants would analyze stream crossings to determine the adequacy of channel openings and the potential for the erosion of supporting soil around bridge foundations. The study will include examinations of all 168 Thruway bridges at 128 locations. Clarkstown compost facility halted The state has stopped Clarkstown from building a composting facility near the town landfill pending tests on the soil imported for the recycling site. The state Department of Environmental Conservation acted after receiving complaints from residents about the soil's odor and texture, and about trucks entering the area, which is behind Dunkin' Donuts and the car wash along Route 59 in West Nyack. "Some people said the soil smelled like gasoline or oil," said Ajay Shah, a DEC solid waste engineer. Shah's decision was not welcomed by town landfill officials, who say the soil is fine. They said they would comply with his request, but were concerned that the testing could delay completion of the site through autumn. Cab companies feeling squeeze Six months after Spring Valley liberalized taxi policies, the number of legal cabs in the village has jumped 50 percent and long-established companies say they're feeling the squeeze. Ted Stawar, a driver for almost three years, said his daily gross has dropped from $250 to $300 a day to $50 a day in the past five months. Stawar's boss, Yves Francois of Pouche Taxi, said increases in village fees and inspection requirements, along with expanded bus service in the village, are making life hard for him. The new Spring Valley policy raised the annual fee from $100 to $150 a year, and at the same time allowed unlimited taxi licenses. Previously, the number had been capped at 72. Since then, the number of licensed cabs has jumped to 115, Village Clerk Sam Hershkowitz said. Trustee Philip Simon said the new policy was meant to accommodate drivers who want to make a living. New York City's strict limits on cab medallions has inflated the price far beyond the range ordinary people can afford, he said.

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