City school district responds to Sands' comments

Editor's note: The following commentary is the opinion of the Board of Education of the Plattsburgh City School District, not of Denton Publications. The Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education issued the following response to comments made by WPTZ General Manager Paul Sands on Oct. 15. The following is the statement made in its entirety: On Wednesday, Oct. 15, Paul Sands, president/general manager of WPTZ, released an editorial which, unfortunately, requires a lengthy response. Mr. Sands' previous editorial concerning Plattsburgh City School District did not receive an official response from the District not because of any sense of agreement with his position, but because the district leadership discussed the matter and decided not to engage sensationalized, tabloid journalism. It is our belief that Mr. Sands' offensive, poorly-researched, and sometimes blatantly misleading statements are made simply to inflame emotions and illicit a response. And so the district previously elected not to respond to Mr. Sands tactics. Unfortunately, WPTZs current release is so very distasteful and inaccurate that we now feel obliged to react. Further, Mr. Sands releases have moved from off-the-cuff opinions (which are easily dismissed), to gross misrepresentation of facts something which we simply cannot ignore. A lengthy explanation of the districts position regarding the PHS field project was sent to Mr. Sands prior to his first editorial, and the information contained therein was largely ignored. Having no confidence in Mr. Sands willingness to accurately and fairly relay this response, this correspondence will be released to additional media outlets, civic groups, and WPTZ advertisers. Before reviewing the districts actions and illuminating Mr. Sands gross misrepresentation, an important disclaimer is warranted. Certain personalities and employees from WPTZ are constituents of Plattsburgh City Schools, and these individuals are active, valued members of our community. It is important to understand that the district leaderships position relative to WPTZ does not extend to all employees, but is instead specific to Mr. Sands and the direction in which he has taken the station. This lack of respect by our istrict leadership for Mr. Sands is no new sentiment. Rather, a sense that WPTZ is foremost a tabloid outlet has emerged gradually over time, but is most notably attributable to the stations distasteful and disrespectful coverage of tragedies involving our students and their families. The PHS Field Project Back to the topic at hand. We will first re-iterate the rationale for the fieldwork being undertaken at PHS, then deal more directly with Mr. Sands erroneous statements. The clearing of the trees behind PHS is indeed a continuation of site work which was begun in 2003 and which first involved the construction of the districts multipurpose turf field and track. This project was duly approved by district voters. As there is currently insufficient field space at PHS to accommodate all of the districts teams, many athletes must travel cross-city to practice and game sites. Any reasonable and rational person will recognize that students piling into cars to get to practices is a great liability concern. Thankfully, no tragedies involving PHS athletes have arisen as the result of the lack of facilities available at PHS. And we do not intend to wait for such to occur before pursuing solutions. Once complete, the PHS field expansion will allow for on-site athletics a safer approach, and a perfectly normal and reasonable expectation in New York State athletics. These fields will also be available for use by the community a civic benefit which should not be ignored. PCSDs facilities enjoy community use which, in our opinion, is likely unparalleled in this region. As our schools are all centrally located to the citys many neighborhoods (as opposed to rural schools, which may be more geographically isolated), we see families using our playgrounds, running/walking tracks, fields, etc. in incredible numbers. Mr. Sands accusations of poor neighborliness are insulting not just to district officials, but also to those who utilize the districts facilities. In a very real way, schools are the property of their taxpayers, and it is befitting that our taxpayers (who, as cited above, voted in favor of this PHS field work in the first place), should enjoy such wonderful resources. The new fields will expand the recreational opportunities available to our residents, and thereby enhance the already wonderful livability of our fine city. Of note, it appears as though Mr. Sands does not reside in the City of Plattsburgh and may therefore not be exposed to the communitys use of the Districts facilities. Finally, the districts notable athletic facilities should not only benefit our residents through direct use, but also through their assisting in attracting large-scale events. PHS is already home to many Section VII events (which attract spectators from around the region who then consume locally). But of most excitement is perhaps the current effort to attract the Empire State Games to our city a feat which surely would not be possible without the availability of the Districts athletic facilities. Environmental concerns We take umbrage with Mr. Sands depiction of this field expansion as environmental carnage. Admittedly, the loss of any tree is ecologically saddening, and not to be undertaken lightly. But all development that is necessary and wonderful in Plattsburgh (and most everywhere else!) once came at the expense of forested land. The site of the WPTZ station and its dishes was once treed. The site of each of our school buildings was once treed. So we would submit that the focus should not be preserving trees at the expense of worthwhile development, but in otherwise compensating for the resultant loss of foliage. A commitment was made by the district (and communicated to Mr. Sands and others) that an equivalent number of trees (we counted approximately 155 mature trees) would be replaced district-wide. This process has already begun, and is being undertaken in such a way that the resulting flora should be more environmentally advantageous than that which was lost. Rather than a predominantly white-pine grove, we have consulted with a local arborist and will use a broader selection of native species for our replanting. To date, acer rubrum (red maple), betula papyri/era (paper birch), and thuja occidentalis (white cedar) have all been planted. Further, these new trees will be spread across our schools, and many will be selected and strategically positioned so as to compliment seasonal solar needs and thereby reduce energy consumption (such as the sun-blocking trees already planned for Momot). To date, over 50 new trees have been acquired, and roughly half of these are already in the ground. As students are involved in almost everything we do, plans existed from the onset to include them in this effort. An athletic team, an environmental science class and girl scouts have already engaged in the planting process, and many, many more classes, clubs, and groups are on-board. The environmental education opportunities associated with this replanting effort are tremendous. Let us re-state that this planting initiative planned (and communicated) before the clearing of the PHS field site. The DEC has been involved at numerous steps. The superintendent and other administrators walked the grounds with a DEC Wildlife Technician before the clearing was begun, and a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) is in effect. Curiously, much of the vocal dissent for this project is stemming from the residents of the Adirondack Lane condominiums. It is troublesome that residents of this development would criticize the districts field expansion and clearing of trees given that the sites of their own homes, parking lot and pool were carved of the very same forest. Further, in deference to both common logic and riverside erosion,the district left the Saranac riverbank treed, while the construction of the aforementioned condominiums cleared the site to rivers edge so as to create attractive water views. There are many, many fine residents of this development whom we hold in the highest of esteem, and it is unfortunate that we have been made to highlight the glaring hypocrisy of just a few. Lies, sensationalism, and false-reporting Finally, we feel compelled to address some blatant mistruths. Mr. Sands most recent editorial exposes him as being either a liar or an incompetent journalist. Boldly stated in his release about Mr. Short is the statement He has not met with neighbors. This is a lie. This is a provable lie. Mr. Short, other administrators, and board of education members have met with neighbors about this situation. Neighbors were met prior to the clearing, and during the clearing process. This irresponsible and false statement alone discredits Mr. Sands. Further retort is warranted by Mr. Sands suggestion that an e-mail response is somehow tantamount to bureaucratic stonewalling. Mr. Short elected to initially correspond with WPTZ via e-mail for two reasons: to make the process more convenient for the WPTZ reporter (not having to be fit in between the superintendents many long-scheduled meetings), and so as to create a documented paper trail to prevent Mr. Sands from misrepresenting any verbal comments ... a strategy which seems very wise in hindsight. Mr. Short, since coming to Plattsburgh, has constantly made himself available to reporters often those from WPTZ, and often on very short notice. We challenge Mr. Sands to demonstrate another superintendent who has been quoted and broadcast on WPTZ more than Mr. Short in the past two years. Superintendents everywhere are very busy, student-focused professionals, yet these people (Mr. Short in particular) continue to make themselves available to the media. Mr. Sands accusations of reporter-dodging are rebuked by his stations historic inclination towards interviewing Mr. Short. The actions of his own station invalidate his comments! And so we conclude with another statement of regret that this release was necessary at all. The district leadership initially endeavored to take the high road and not engage Mr. Sands inflammatory remarks. As his releases have moved from opinion to fabrication, we are no longer willing to maintain this silence. We have found the reporting of other media outlets on this topic to be at least fair and balanced. We remain committed to the field construction process and continue to view it as advantageous to the constituents we serve. While Mr. Sands comments are unfortunate, it is not to him whom we report. On Behalf of the Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education, Clayton Morris President

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