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  Main >  Member Communications > PAnorama > February 2002

PAnorama: February 2002

From the President's Desk
by Ellis Gage Searles

For my President's Desk message this month, I share a copy of the testimony I gave at the Public Hearing on the 2002-2003 Oneida County Executive Budget Proposal on February 8.

The meeting was sponsored by the Honorable RoAnn Destito, Member of Assembly, and the Honorable Herman D. Farrell, Chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Assemblywoman Destito, Assemblyman Farrell, distinguished guests. I am Ellis Gage Searles, President of the Mohawk Valley Community College Professional Association. The PA is an affiliate of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and represents the faculty and professional staff at MVCC.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today on behalf of our membership and, naturally, on behalf of our institution and the other SUNY community colleges around New York State.

First, I'd like to thank you for your strong support of education over the years, in the state as a whole and especially in our region. It has been essential to our ability to respond to the needs of the thousands of students who have enrolled in our classes, to provide the fine programs that our community needs.

This year, of course, presents innumerable challenges, not the least of which will be providing equitable support for the many worthy programs and services that are vying for increasingly less-available funding.

Nevertheless, I urge you to do what you can to ensure that we in the community college can continue to fulfill our special mission.

The Mohawk Valley's struggling economy makes it more critical than ever that quality, affordable education be available to our region's present and future work force. But the 2002-2003 budget proposed by Governor Pataki presents obstacles to that end, as it would surely have a negative impact on MVCC's faculty, staff, and students and, by extension, on the economic recovery of Oneida County.

Several aspects of the Governor's proposal are especially troubling.

First, when considered in light of increased costs, keeping the level of aid to education flat amounts to a cut in funding. Should this come to pass, it will make it impossible for campuses like ours to offer the full range of courses and programs our students need. And this at a time when our overall enrollment is up, reflecting the fact that more of the residents of our region want the high quality education that MVCC has to offer.

Furthermore, a reduction in funding makes it even more difficult for our institution to attract and retain the highly-qualified faculty and staff who create and deliver MVCC's curriculum and student services. Already, current full-time positions are going unstaffed; needed new positions aren't being created.

Second, since last year's "bare bones" budget provided no increase in base aid for community colleges, it is even more important that this year's budget try to close the ever-widening gap. When appropriations from the state are inadequate, it shifts the burden to our local funding source, Oneida County, and to our students themselves.

As everyone here knows, our region has been harder hit by the recent economic slowdown than many others in New York State. Local resources are scarce. Plus, MVCC's students already pay the highest tuition the state allows, and fees are increasing.

Now, when our region needs a well-prepared work force more than ever, we must make sure that educational opportunity does not move out of the reach of the students of Oneida County.

The third troubling feature of the proposed budget also affects student access to higher education. The changes to the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) as proposed by the Governor would have a very negative effect on those enrolled in the state's community colleges, including MVCC. Our mission is to offer a wide range of educational opportunities to students whose goals may or may not include completing a degree. So-called "performance" grants that use graduation as a requirement for a full award would discriminate against a substantial number of community college students. Although the Governor's proposed TAP enhancements would be most welcome, the proposed restructuring would not.

While I am confident that the educators of New York State can count on your continued strong support of our schools and colleges, I know that very tough choices loom ahead. In spite of the fiscal crisis facing New York this year, I believe that increased investment in public higher education is essential.

Community colleges are in a unique position to offer the quality education that the work force of New York State will need to drive our economic recovery.

MVCC is doing this. And the members of the MVCC Professional Association are deeply dedicated to the teaching and student support that make it happen.

So we'll continue to rely on your help. I know you will do everything possible to keep the education of New York State's students a top priority as the Legislature and the Governor work together to achieve a final budget.

Thank you.

New Members Feature: Aaron Board and Sarah Demas
by Cynthia Villanti

For this month's New Member feature, PAnorama is profiling two of our newest artists on campus, both of whom have recently shown off their artwork to great acclaim in the community. The artists currently known as Aaron Board and Sarah Demas both teach in the Art Department.

Aaron Board

Aaron is an Instructor in the Art Department who joined the ranks of MVCC faculty in August 2000. Aaron came to MVCC because of the opportunity to help develop our nascent Fine Arts program with a solid focused vision. He also indicates that his decision was influenced by our proximity to New York City.

Aaron earned his B.F.A. at Auburn University and his M.F.A. at the New York Academy of Art. Aaron currently resides in New Hartford with his wife, Holly, and his daughter, Riley. When not making visual art, Aaron enjoys composing music.

From January 15 to February 8, 2002, a number of Aaron's works were on display at the Central New York Community Arts Council Gallery in the Stanley Performing Arts Center. Attending his reception, the first thing that comes to mind is BIG; Aaron clearly works with scale in mind. In the picture shown here, Aaron stands before his 94" x 142" oil painting titled "The Solipsist."

I asked Aaron why he decided to join the PA. After considering the many reasons for doing so, Aaron said that his primary motivation was so that he could be supportive as well as receive support from colleagues regarding various academic issues. I think that speaks volumes about Aaron as an instructor, as a colleague, and as a creative individual who hopes to contribute to the development and growth of our Fine Arts program.

Sarah Demas

Sarah Demas came to the MVCC Art Department in Fall 2001. Like Aaron, Sarah indicates interest in helping to shape our Fine Arts curricula. She also was particularly intrigued by the newness of the program as well as by the program's emphasis on the figure.

Sarah resides in Utica, has four pet birds, and enjoys skiing and traveling and discovering all that the Mohawk Valley's "Cultural Corridor" has to offer. Having received her B.A. in Art from Drew University, Sarah earned her M.F.A. in painting at the New York Academy of Art. While pursuing her education, she traveled extensively, including Israel, France, and Italy, and a number of places within the United States. Sarah has a wide range of teaching experiences, too, from teaching free arts to abused children to conducting weekly art workshops at a senior-care facility, HIV residence, and foster-care residence in New York.

To add to her numerous awards/exhibitions, in December Sarah won the Mele Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for her oil painting "The Visit" in the 4th Annual Regional Art Exhibition's "Aspects of Women."

I asked Sarah why she decided to join the PA. We discussed the aspects of solidarity, working together for positive changes, wanting to improve education, doing good things in the community, contributing collectively to the success of the college, and many other aspects of union. Considering all of these things, Sarah simply replied, "I decided to join the PA for all of the above."

Recent Political Action activities
by Mike Sewall

Your Professional Association has been active in a number of recent events that are all connected to our continued efforts to increase our visibility in local politics.

While the PA has grown more and more active in local politics in recent years, I don't have to tell you that more work remains to be done. If each PA member participates in some small way--by attending a County Board of Legislators meeting, by participating in the periodic NYSUT phone bank projects, or by writing letters to your county or state representatives, to name but a few--we can better achieve our institutional and organizational goals.

On January 28, I attended a NYSUT reception in Albany for Governor Pataki and his executive staff, presidents of locals, and members and executive staff of the Senate and Assembly. At this meeting, I met and spoke with NYSUT President Tom Hobart as well as State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, Assemblyperson David Townsend, and Oneida County Legislator Ron Conover (R-12). Governor Pataki made an appearance, but was unable to stay long due to ill health.

On January 21, Ellis Searles, Caroline Lewis, and Cynthia Villanti represented the PA at the 18th Annual Mohawk Valley Frontiers' Martin Luther King, Jr., Luncheon. They were joined by NYSUT Regional Director Fred Monaco, Utica Teachers Association President Larry Custodero, and Roger Wratten of the Westmoreland Teachers Association.

Finally, I would like to report that a number of PA members will be representing your interests at the NYSUT Higher Education Lobby Days on February 25 and 26. Those in attendance will include the following:

  • Julie Lewis
  • Ellis Searles
  • George Searles
  • Mike Sewall
  • Cynthia Villanti
  • Bill Zogby

We currently have appointments to speak with Assemblypersons Roann Destito, Bill McGee, and David Townsend as well as Senator Raymond Meier. Have any messages that you'd like us to pass on? You know how to find us.

Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of the PA's consistent presence in local politics. YOU know best what your needs are in providing education and support services to our students; your active participation on behalf of your Political Action Committee will help us gain the funding and support we need to achieve our goals.

Upcoming Community Outreach events
by Luther Riedel

These are our next Community Outreach Committee events! Remember: If you're not able to participate, donate! Sponsor a fellow PA member!

America's Greatest Heart Run & Walk
Saturday | Feb. 23 | 10:30 am
@ Utica College

Join the PA team for the Heart Run & Walk! Register with either Luther ( or Cynthia (, so we can obtain NYSUT pins and PA tee shirts for you. On Saturday, Feb. 23, meet us in the UC Gym for a group photo at 10 am. We'll be the ones with the huge PA banner in the lower parking lot at 10:30. You still can be a part of the PA team if you choose to do an event other than the 5-mile walk, too.

When completing your application form, you'll need the following information:

Team Name: MVCC PA
Team Captain: Luther Riedel
Team Category: Union
Matching Funds: YES!!

NYSUT Matching Funds: NYSUT is offering up to $7,500 in matching funds for the Heart Run & Walk. On your registration form, check Yes for the matching funds question and write in NYSUT. The employer funds do count towards the prizes you can earn based on total pledge amount. If you already have registered, we still can add you to the matching funds list. Just let us know!

Thea Bowman Bowl-A-Thon
Sunday | Mar. 3 | 1:00 pm
@ AMF Pin-O-Rama

The Thea Bowman House provides after-school care for the children of Utica-area families in need. This is a popular area fundraising event, with many local organizations participating and with music, prizes, and family-friendly fun for all.

Register as an individual or as a team with Luther (, so we can reserve the appropriate number of lanes. We'll provide donation receipts by email, so you can start raising sponsorship donations from friends, family, and colleagues today! This is yet another good way to earn your fabulous new PA tee shirt!!

Plus, here's a challenge from last year's champion: Last year, our very own Sherry Kimball (Child Care) was the single individual of all participants who raised the most money for the Thea Bowman House. This year, Sherry challenges you to raise as much in sponsorship donations as possible. See you at AMF!

St. Francis Outreach thanks PA for holiday donations
by Luther Riedel

In January, I received the following letter of thanks from Sister Betty at St. Francis Outreach and thought you might like to see it.

"Miracle on Eagle Street"

To those of you in the Greater Utica area who made [a difference to] hundreds of our dear neighbors in Cornhill this month, we thank you!

A miracle is defined as a remarkable event. We at St. Francis de Sales Church believed that a miracle could happen on Eagle Street this past Christmas. We said, "Let's share a plan with our neighbors in the Greater Utica area to help us make this holiday season special for the 300+ families we serve monthly through our St. Martha's Food Pantry." We need to tell you that the miracle happened!

It happened because of little children, retired folk, and so many individuals in between that are blessed with generous hearts and deep compassion for the most vulnerable in our community. We need to tell you what a joy it has been for us to see so many of our neighbors have tears well up in their eyes caused by joy instead of sadness due to loss of job, inability to fill a needed prescription, or lack of money.

Our staff and volunteers thank you with deep gratitude for bringing us to tears this Christmas. May our loving creator gift each of you in our community who gifted us with the means to help our neighbors help themselves.... Expect miracles! We did, and look what happened!

Elizabeth Giarrusso, C.S.J. (Sister Betty)
Associate Pastor at St. Francis DeSales Church and Director of Outreach

I would like to add my personal thank you to all who contributed money or donations to our Fall 2001 Holiday Charity Fundraiser. Also, my thanks to those who already have registered for the upcoming Heart Run & Walk and for the Thea Bowman Bowl-A-Thon.

For the rest of you, it's not too late! Details on page 6 of this PAnorama. It's important for people in the community to recognize the many ways in which the MVCC Professional Association contributes to the quality of life in the Mohawk Valley. Contact me if you have ideas for future Community Outreach events or suggestions for organizations to which we might contribute.

Urge state reps. to support public education

Tell your elected officials to support public education in New York State!

NYSUT recently sponsored several television and radio ads regarding the current budget negotiations in Albany and is asking members to contact their state officials and urge them to support public education.

Take a few moments from your busy schedule this week to do your share: simply call the toll-free number set up by NYSUT or use the handy fax or email your representatives features on the NYSUT website:

  • by phone: 1.877.255.9417
  • by web:

It's just that easy--and just that important!

7th annual "40-Hour Fast for the Dignity of All"
source: NYSUT's The Bottom Line

The New York State Labor-Religion Coalition's 7th Annual "40-Hour Fast for the Dignity of All" is scheduled for March 5th through March 7th.

Over the years, this action has helped to bring recognition to the problems that many of our workers--especially low-wage laborers--face on a day-to-day basis. These include lack of a living wage, the right to over-time pay, and the need for a legal day of rest.

This year, NYSUT is also paying special tribute to the families and workers suffering because of the tragedy of September 11th.

During the 40 hours, participants are invited to go without solid food for the entire time. However, you may fast for just the time between sunrise and sunset on March 6th, or simply go without solid food for one or more meals. Whichever action you choose, it is important to drink plenty of fluids.

Locally, the Mohawk Valley Labor-Religion Coalition will sponsor an opening of the Fast on March 5th. We would like to see our members participate in both the opening and the Fast for Dignity of All. For more information on the 40-hour Fast for the Dignity of All, contact the NYSUT Utica Regional Office at 768.0131.

PA invites feedback on Annual Spring Luncheon
by Cynthia Villanti

Did you attend the Annual Spring Luncheon on January 18th? If so, we're eager to hear your feedback on the program. Luncheon participants heard from NYSUT Utica Regional Director Fred Monaco as well as our Labor Relations Specialist Susan DeCarlo. From the PA, the following Executive Board members made presentations:

Second Vice President/Internal Communications Committee Chair Arthur Friedberg presided over a vote on a constitutional amendment affecting when officers take office.

Political Action Committee Chair Mike Sewall reviewed his three-tiered approach to further establishing the PA's presence in local politics.

Community Outreach Chair Luther Riedel provided a follow-up of our fall holiday charity event and introduced the PA Team for the American Heart Association's 2002 Heart Run & Walk.

If you were not able to attend, we'd like to know why (advisement? not on campus that Friday?). If you have suggestions for a different date or time on which to schedule the luncheon, please direct your feedback to any member of the Executive Board or to me at, so we can better plan for next year's event.

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