Jessica's Reporter Blog

Cutting until it hurts

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

There have been a lot of cuts to state programs as a result of the budget deficit, and on most accounts, I think I’ve given Governor Paterson the benefit of the doubt.

As the new taxes on things from hair cuts to golf games to soda have been proposed, I haven’t complained (much) and I’ve even tried to look at the reasons why those additional taxes are necessary. Then came the funding cuts. Local municipalities and school districts, already hurting, have been asked to hold their breath and hope for the best as the state funding picture is determined. And despite the fact that a lot of districts are talking about layoffs or massive tax increases, I could still see where the state government was coming from. To save a lot of money, we need to look at the bigger expenses and try to find ways to cut back.

I can try to find the positive in a lot of the things the state is doing, but when I heard this morning that the state has decided to stop providing the NY Lottery Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship, citing budget worries, I had to wonder what our state officials are really thinking.

I understand that the scholarship is not a mandatory program. Sure, it’s an expense that we could do without, but in these economic times, as it is getting harder and harder for students to get loans for school, is this really the time to cut the programs that would help those kids get a head. How many students could have been helped by that funding? And how many are going to be struggling without the financial assistance that program provided?

I know that the state needs to cut the budget and figure out a way to keep New Yorkers from struggling under the property tax burden, but they need to do so without taking away the few programs that actually help residents to succeed on their own.

*** I learned about this story after reading reports from other news sites and getting e-mails from upset parents. A link to one of those stories is posted below.

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=6682548

After this blog was posted, we received the following response from the NY Lottery:

NEW YORK LOTTERY INVITES HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS TO APPLY FOR
$5,000 LEADERS OF TOMORROW SCHOLARSHIP

The New York Lottery is now accepting applications for the $5,000 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship for the 2009-10 academic year.

“One graduating senior from every participating public and private high school across New York State will receive a Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship this year,” said New York Lottery Director Gordon Medenica. “I strongly encourage those community-minded students in the Class of 2009 to learn more about this important financial aid opportunity to help them complete their higher education here in New York State.”

The Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship recognizes strong academic achievement as well a student’s participation in extracurricular activities and his or her demonstrated commitment to community service. The $5,000 scholarship is distributed in payments of $625 per semester and may be applied toward the cost of attendance at any New York State accredited college, university, trade school or community college.

Participating high schools are required to submit the names of two students to the Lottery for consideration. A multidisciplinary selection panel comprised of professional educators, administrators, counselors and other qualified staff then reviews candidate applications and selects a winner. The second nominee may be eligible to receive the scholarship in the event the original recipient cannot accept the award.

Application materials for the 2009-10 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship are now available at high schools statewide. Interested students may inquire about the program through their Principal’s office or Guidance department.

The deadline for schools to return completed applications and accompanying student transcripts to the Lottery for consideration is April 8, 2009.

The Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship is an extension of the New York Lottery’s mission to raise revenue to support education in New York State. Since 1999 the New York Lottery has awarded more than 10,000 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarships to high school graduates across New York State.

The New York Lottery partners with New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) and University of Albany’s Capital Area School District Association, (CASDA), to administer the program. For more information about Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship, call 518-525-2686.
The New York Lottery contributed nearly $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2007-08 to help support education in New York State, over 13 percent of total state education funding to local school districts. The New York Lottery continues to be North America’s largest and most profitable Lottery, earning over $34.2 billion in education support statewide since its founding over 40 years ago.

Voting in Chenango County

Friday, March 20th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

I love when I have the opportunity to vote. It doesn’t matter whether I’m voting in a presidential election or for a local school board member, it’s great to feel like your opinion actually matters and you have a say in who is going to represent you for the next few years.

After hearing the results of the last batch of local elections, I have to wonder how many people are actually taking the opportunity to voice their own opinion. On Wednesday, several villages throughout the county held elections for some local positions.

There were two issues with most of these elections. First of all, very few of the candidates ran with any opposition. In fact, out of all of the races in the county, I think only two positions had actual competition for the seats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as someone is willing to do the job, I guess that is a positive for the community, but the fact that so few people want to get involved seems like a problem to me.

The other issue with the races is the number of people who actually took the time to vote. Now maybe people think it is silly to vote in an election when there is only one person running, but it’s still a right that people in this country have and something that should be taken advantage of.

In one village, the total number of voters who came out to cast their ballots was 17. I know that some of these areas have very small populations, but for only 17 people to come out for an entire election seems pretty ridiculous. Is it even worth the money to pay someone to monitor the voting booths for that long?

Here in Chenango County, and everywhere, I think we need more local involvement. I’m the first to admit that I probably won’t be running for public office anytime soon, but I will make sure that I vote in every election I can and that I make an effort to stay informed about what is happening in my hometown, my state and my country. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s something all of us should make an effort to do.

Change in the weather…

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

With spring in the air, it seems like the perfect season for a fresh start. Winter can be sad and depressing and sometimes the events and happenings that take place in the winter months can be sad and depressing too. (It hasn’t been a walk in the park for me.) But as the snow melts and the flowers begin to grow, it seems like the perfect time to shed the old and take advantage of some new beginnings.

Although this might be the type of thing more expected at the beginning of the year, I’ve always found spring to be a better time to assess the last year of my life and decide what changes I would like to make in the future. Some of those changes have already been set in motion. But others are still up in the air and are just waiting for the right action before they can be set on their paths.

All of my plans are pretty vague at the moment. What do I plan to do? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m going to do my best to enjoy every minute of it. It seems like a much easier concept to grasp when the sun is shinning and the birds are singing. With the dreary winter months behind me, it’s time to set those goals. I know I want to become more independent. To take every opportunity I have.  To cherish every moment I spend with my wonderful son and to look forward to the moments I will spend with the new baby I expect to arrive in August.

Okay so it’s all pretty vague and sappy, but it’s the type of positive attitude I hope I can keep all year long.

Music and speed

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think there is a direct correlation between the volume of your music and the speed of your car. The sound and beat of the song also plays a role, but volume I think is the key component.

Let me start off by saying I have never received a speeding ticket. (Knock on wood.) That’s not a challenge or a boast, I just never have. I like to think it’s because I’m not a reckless driver, but who knows for sure.

Despite that fact, I’ve found that no matter how thoughtful I am, when a good song comes on the radio and I crank up the volume, my foot automatically pushes the accelerator just a little further toward the floor. It’s even worse if I’m singing along with the song at the top of my lungs.

That may be a problem when I’m driving in the car, but the same is true when I’m exercising, riding my bike or going for a jog. If the song is okay, I’ll go, but probably not that fast. If it’s a great song that I can turn up loud and sing along to, (even if I’m a little out of breath) I go as fast as I can.

I’m sure it looks amusing to the people driving by or those at the gym who see me silently singing along to all of my favorites, but it puts a smile on my face and a skip in my step. I think scientist should research this feeling and put it in pill form, we might end up with the next energy pill, diet plan or maybe just a speeding ticket.

Role Models

Friday, March 6th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Role models

It’s a common fact that when someone is in the spotlight, kids are going to see them as role models and look up to them as an example of what they want to become. That’s why the actions of those role models are so important and often so disappointing.

The recent headlines about the altercation between Chris Brown and Rihanna was one of those horribly tragic and disappointing events, and while many may now find fault with Chris Brown, I have to wonder what kind of example Rihanna is setting for young girls.

Today, new testimony was released, explaining in detail what occurred between the two musicians on the night of the alleged incident. To sum it up, Brown viciously beat Rihanna after she confronted him about a text message from an ex that she found on his phone.

The reasons for condemning Brown are easily apparent. His behavior showed his lack of respect for women, a cruel nature and a scary temper. But today, I also found reason to question the actions of Brown’s alleged victim. Pictures of Rihanna were leaked to the press, showing the extent of her wounds, reportedly suffered at the hands of her boyfriend, but when Brown appeared in court recently, a lawyer for Rihanna said she didn’t want the judge to keep Brown from being in contact with her.

The choice of course is hers and hers alone. It can’t be an easy one and I don’t envy the woman having to make it, but I think the example her actions sets for young women is appalling. It teaches girls to put up with the cruel treatment and physical abuse the singer suffered. No one can blame Rihanna for what her boyfriend reportedly did to her, but by staying in that situation she is not only putting herself in danger, she is also showing a generation of girls that it’s okay to allow this type of behavior.

More on Groundhog Day

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
Jessica Lewis

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the absurdity of Groundhog Day, but at the time, I had no idea exactly how pointless the holiday was.

Sure, it seems to make little sense to base our weather forecast on whether or not a groundhog sees his shadow (especially when he always seems to), but until I spoke with an eyewitness who had actually traveled to Punxsutawney to witness the event, I couldn’t have realized how absurd it actually is.

After I wrote my column, I had a conversation with a college friend who, on a whim, decided to drive to Punxsutawney to witness Phil himself in all his glory. While she apparently enjoyed the experience, I couldn’t help but sigh as she recounted the actually sequence of events that unfolds each year.

According to my friend and former roommate, the event unfolds around a large stage with a fake tree stump on top. When the appropriate time rolls around, the infamous Phil is pulled from the stump, allowed to look around and then “whispers” into the ear of a special groundhog translator whether or not he actually saw his shadow. The translator then announces Phil’s weather prediction to the world.

The only thing that seems crazier than letting a furry rodent predict whether or not we’ll see an early spring, is having a furry rodent “whisper” his prediction to a third party who then is supposed to give that message to us. I’m not a skeptic or a scrooge when it comes to most things, but I think Groundhog Day is now officially dead to me. And so is that translator if he keeps predicting longer winters for those of us on the east coast.

Impressions of a murder trial

Monday, February 16th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Growing up in the peaceful surroundings of the Otselic Valley, you develop a sense of ease. It’s not that you think bad things can’t happen to you, it’s just that living in such a small town, it’s too easy to believe you know who is safe and who is not. I think that’s why the community was so stunned by the death of little Shyanne Somers in June of 2007.

Despite the fact that South Otselic is a small town, I didn’t personally know the Somers family. My sisters knew Shyanne’s brothers and my niece was a member of the same cheerleading squad that Shyanne was on, and although I was never formally introduced to the family, those connections were enough for me to want to see for myself what George Ford, the accused murderer, had to say for himself on Friday in Chenango County Court.

I can’t honestly say that I went into the courtroom with an open mind, or that I believed the strange, random stories originally told by Ford in his statements to police. Luckily for me, I’m not the reporter in charge of reporting the case in a fair and unbiased manner.

I can honestly say, that I hoped seeing the defense’s case and hearing Ford’s story would make me believe that what happened was an accident. I hoped I could believe the man wouldn’t intentionally murder a little girl, the daughter of a friend. I left feeling less convinced than ever that any part of Ford’s story was true.

The prosecution’s case hinges on a key piece of evidence, a GPS tracking unit that Ford’s wife installed in his car because she suspected an affair. The unit showed Ford’s route on the night in question, including a three hour period behind an abandoned house on Will Warner Road in Otselic.

Anyone familiar with the South Otselic area would know that to get from Ford’s summer residence to the Somer’s home would probably take less than five minutes in the worst of conditions. The homes are only about a mile apart on the same stretch of County Route 26. Yet the defense would have us believe that at midnight Ford decided to drive the long way around, going up Stage Road and down Will Warner Road to eventually come back out on 26, a trip that during the best of conditions would probably take an extra 20 minutes.

Ford listed reasons for the indirect route. He wanted to see if a friend was home and the little girl wanted to see his horses. Of course there is no way to verify either reason as Ford passed by his friend’s house, claiming he didn’t see a car outside and the little girl is the only one who could validate the claim about wanting to see the horses. However, I would think it nearly impossible to see much of anything on a darkened road, lined with trees in the middle of the night.

Ford would also have us believe that the only reason the GPS tracking device showed no movement at an abandoned house on Will Warner Road for three hours was because he took it out of the truck, threw it out at the house and then went back to retrieve it after accidentally running over the little girl. Is that possible, sure, but it hardly seems likely. Even if you could find the small device in the middle of the night on the darkened lot, why would you go back to find it, only to try to throw it away at the police station the next day.

Ford cried on the stand as he recounted his version of the story from that night, but I didn’t feel any sympathy for him. I felt sorry for the family of the little girl who went to sleep that night trusting in a friend to keep their daughter safe and woke up to devastation and questions that remain unanswered.

Recycling and state revenue

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

I know I should recycle, and I do it as much as possible. It’s never fun or easy. I hate cleaning out plastic cans of peanut butter or mayonnaise to put in the recycling bin, but I feel a sense of obligation to do it. However, a lot of people don’t. Studies show that recycling rates (especially for non-redeemable beverage containers) are down, so they’re looking at ways to provide a little incentive.

Governor David Paterson has proposed a new bottle recycling bill that could encourage recycling of more materials and provide the state with some revenue for every bottle that goes unredeemed. No that doesn’t mean you’ll get a nickel for every peanut butter jar you clean out, but it does mean that you may start getting some change for previously non-redeemable containers, like water bottles, sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages.

I’m sure there will be some people who dislike the idea of forking over an extra five cents for every beverage they purchase, but frankly I think it’s a great idea. Encouraging people to recycle is always a plus in my book, and in addition, the state could receive a little extra revenue for every bottle that goes unredeemed. If the bill passes, it would require beverage companies to transfer all unclaimed bottle deposits to the state. Initial estimates show that the new bill could grant the state $118 million in a year.

So the bill will either encourage more recycling or give the state a new source of revenue. Probably it will do both. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Bad judgment

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Okay, so it’s 2 a.m., and after a long night of drinking and partying, you start to get the hankering for some fast food. Who hasn’t been in that predicament?I can understand that part. I was never much of a hard core partier, but on occasion I have drank more than my share and had the desire to hit a local restaurant before heading home.Sure, that much is understandable, but I’m pretty sure even at 17, I knew better than to smash the window of said restaurant, break in and try to get what I wanted all on my own. In fact, I think I knew better than that at age 10. The fact that the kid in question left the restaurant with only a few hamburger buns and a couple injuries for his trouble shows you how well thought out that plan was.Unfortunately, that lack of common sense has been demonstrated amongst area youth several times in the past few months. The student at the Norwich Snow Ball who allegedly came to the dance intoxicated showed the same lack of judgment. Not only did the student have to be removed, but she also reportedly spit in the faces of two police officers in the process.In recent months, there have also been incidents with students vandalizing the Chenango County Council of the Arts, the Jewish Center and the Oxford Cemetery among many others, and while reasons weren’t given for all of those incidents, in many cases, it seems like the teens were just bored and looking for something to do.At age 26, I look at these incidents with disgust and disdain, just as I’m sure do most of the residents of Chenango County. I guess when you have free time on your hands, it’s easy to come up with bad ideas and get yourself into a little trouble, but these incidents take normal teenage trouble making to the extreme. I hope that the kids acting in this way, and all of those who possibly could take a minute to realize that these are serious incidents, and they carry serious consequences.

The joys of winter driving

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
Jessica Lewis

I know I’ve complained about bad driving before, but during last week’s snow storm, I think I encountered a few of the worst drivers on the face of the earth. I admit, I’m no master driver myself, but the drivers I saw on my way home last Thursday made me look like Mario Andretti.

It was after dark by the time I started heading home and the snow was falling fast. The roads were covered and everyone was driving slowly to avoid an accident. When I turned onto 16 and started heading toward my house, I noticed an immediate slow down in traffic. The reason was two cars in front of me.

A younger person was driving so slow that a line of five cars quickly formed behind them. The kid was driving a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour. That fact in itself would not be enough to annoy me. Driving in nasty conditions can be nerve wracking, especially if you don’t have much experience.

No, the annoying part was that the car driving so slowly was doing so while traveling in the wrong lane. Saying the car was in the middle of the road would be an understatement of massive proportions. The car was in the wrong lane for the majority of the trip. What made matters worse was the fact that whenever another car came from the opposite direction, the driver of the first car would be forced to slam the breaks and swerve back into the correct lane. (Not a smart move on slippery roads.)

What makes the situation even better was the impatient driver several cars behind me. After following the young driver for several miles, one of the cars at the end of our little caravan decided he’d had enough and tried to pass. Ignoring the other eight cars he would have to drive by to reach the front of the line, the guy flew by everyone, obviously in a hurry to reach his final destination. Unfortunately, when he reached the front of the line, he had to wait for the driver of the first car to hit the brakes and try to swerve back into the correct lane before he could pass.

Watching the way some people drive in winter in makes me want to pull them over and start taking licenses away.