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Students from Cambridge Central School head out on their floating classroom, a 20-foot pontoon boat obtained by teacher Steve Butz with grant funding.

Toys For Tots train trip looks quick and easy

FORT EDWARD — Like a swan gliding in slowly, the annual Toys for Tots train pulled into the Fort Edward Amtrak station just after 10 a.m. Monday, then pulled out fewer than 25 minutes later, leaving Christmas joy behind.

But those who are familiar with swans or toy drives know the grace on the surface is a result of frantic paddling underneath.

“Yesterday was unreal, it went so well, but there have been weeks of planning going into this,” said Staff Sgt. Pat Lurenz, who took over coordination of the Marine Corps Reserve/Dunkin’ Donuts-sponsored train from retired Gunnery Sgt. Vinnie Roman officially this year.

Lurenz had been involved before, but what he didn’t realize was that a budget item that allowed the Canadian Pacific railroad to deliver toys to far-flung points in the eastern upstate region had been left out of the funding.

Lurenz went to 112th District Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, who contacted the state’s local Congressional delegation, which was able to get the train funded.

Even with the threat of bad news, there was good news as well.

This year, for the first time, Hasbro is running a “Be Fearless. Be Kind.” initiative, with which it will match individual toy donations to Toys for Tots up to a total of 1 million toys.

The train stops also serve a dual purpose. The main goal of Toys for Tots is to get toys to social service and other agencies that work with underprivileged families and children, especially in outlying areas and in cities. So, several hundred yards up the track from the 300 or so kids and adults meeting Santa, local social service agencies were packing their vehicles with Toys for Tots donations.

“We do the trip anyway, so why not have a little something for everyone,” Lurenz said. “This part here at the station is for everyone, and people leave happy.”

The Capital Region is one of 800 groups that tap 35,000 volunteers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

The train had started the day in Saratoga Springs and was headed to Whitehall and then on northward.

In Whitehall, the gifts are moved immediately to the Whitehall Fire Company, then distributed by American Legion Post 83 to those who have qualified. As at Fort Edward, everyone who comes to the state also gets a little something.

“It really is a lot of work, but once you do it, you can’t stop,” said Vietnam veteran Bill Nardulillo, a long-time volunteer.

“I really love this. It’s the Marine Corps helping the community,” said Gunnery Sgt. Chris Croteau, who lives near Albany. “It makes sure the kids get a good Christmas.”

Glens Falls Middle School principal honored; is retiring

GLENS FALLS — None of the students at Glens Falls Middle School, and few of those at the high school, were born when Chris Reed became the middle school principal.

In fact, some of their teachers weren’t born when he first started as a guidance counselor at the middle school.

His experience, combined with decades of work with the state work with the state Middle School Association, has earned him state middle school educator of the year honors.

At the same time, the school district is advertising to replace him, as Reed has decided to retire at the end of the school year.

“Chris and I had been talking about this, and about a week ago, he let his staff know,” said Superintendent Paul Jenkins, who noted he is pleased Reed will stay until the end of the school year.

“I think his honor was well-deserved and I think Chris was humbled by it,” Jenkins said. “I am really glad he has agreed to stay on the for the rest of the year.”

In the slick, one-page advertisement for a new principal, the district shows more than a dozen highlights of what it seeks in a new principal, listing specific aspects of school climate and learning and discussion of the district’s leadership team.

The award Reed received last month in Saratoga Springs was the Ross M. Burkhardt Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award.

“I was blown away. I have been on that committee before, making that choice, and it’s a very coveted, ultimate honor.”

At the time, Reed’s colleagues and staff members did not know he was planning on stepping down after almost 30 years.

“Big picture-wise, what a nice way to end my career. This is an honor,” he said.

“He is Mr. Middle School,” said Reed’s assistant principal, Laurie Parker. “He is very committed to the middle school process, he works hard and he puts a lot of time in. He understands there is a wide range of development among middle school students.”

Reed has developed a positive environment at the school, both among students, teachers and staff.

“Kids first, that’s what it all boils down to,” said Tom Philips, executive director of the middle school group. “He is all about ‘Is this good for the kids? Why are we doing this and how is this good for the kids?’” Philips said. “And the thing people do not know about him is how willing he is willing to share his best practices with other schools.”

Reed became principal in 1999, and the school was named to the New York State Essential Elements: Schools to Watch list in 2009, 2012 and 2015.

He has served as a regional director of the group, editor of the In-Transition Journal and chair of the group’s annual conference.

McConnell: No government shutdown this week over immigration

WASHINGTON — Testing the resolve of Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared Sunday there won’t be a government shutdown this week over the question of protecting immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, describing it as a “non-emergency” to be addressed next year.

“There’s not going to be a government shutdown. It’s just not going to happen,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

House GOP leaders unveiled a short-term plan over the weekend to avert a shutdown and keep the government open through Dec. 22. The measure would buy time for bipartisan talks on a bigger budget agreement that would give the Pentagon and government agencies significant relief from a pending budget freeze.

Congress faces a Friday deadline to fund the government through the end of next September.

Democrats and a few Republicans have suggested they may not vote for government funding without the protections for tens of thousands of young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” who are currently protected by an Obama administration program. That program is set to expire in March.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are divided over what programs the government should pay for, and how much.

GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida has joined Democrats on the immigration issue, while Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he received commitments from party leaders and the administration to work with him on restoring “Dreamer” protections in exchange for his vote early Saturday on the tax overhaul bill.

President Donald Trump backs the immigration safeguards despite issuing an executive order reversing the Obama-era protections, officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Talks on a budget agreement are likely to restart this week after a setback last week when top Democrats pulled out of a meeting with Trump after he attacked them on Twitter.

On Sunday, McConnell insisted the GOP-controlled Congress will be able to keep the government running, calling the demand for action on DACA by year’s end “ridiculous.”

“I don’t think the Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a non-emergency that we can address anytime between now and March,” McConnell said. “There is no crisis.”

Still, Republicans are not entirely unified, with GOP conservatives concerned they are being set up for a massive pre-Christmas spending deal they won’t like. That raises the likelihood that some Democratic votes will be needed to approve new funding to keep the government open.

On Sunday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was equivocal about shutdown prospects, but said he didn’t think it would happen even with a “broken” system of spending.

“It’s funny to see now that the Republicans are in charge I think there’s a group of right-wingers in the House who say they want to shut the government down. There’s a group of Democrats who want to shut the government down over DACA. And there’s a group of lawmakers from some of the hurricane states who want to shut the government down until they get what they want,” he said.

“This just sheds light on the fact that the appropriations, the spending system is broken when any little group can sort of hold the government hostage. We need to get beyond that,” Mulvaney added.

The proposal from House GOP leaders also contains a short-term fix to prevent several states from running out of money to operate a popular program that provides health care to children from low-income families. The Children’s Health Insurance Program’s authorization ran out Oct. 1 and states have been limping along using carry over funding since then.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., says the new stopgap funding measure “will allow for additional time for a deal to be reached on top-line spending levels for this fiscal year. Once this agreement is made, my committee will rapidly go to work with the Senate to complete the final legislation.”

Separately, McConnell expressed confidence that House and Senate negotiators will work out differences on the tax overhaul bill after the Senate approved its version on a narrow 51-49 vote early Saturday. Acknowledging the plan won’t provide a tax cut to all middle-class families, McConnell said it was “impossible” to craft legislation that could guarantee that.

“What I can tell you is that every segment of taxpayers, every category of taxpayers on average gets significant relief,” McConnell said.

Trump appeared to inject uncertainty into the tax plan over the weekend, when he suggested Saturday he may be willing to negotiate changes to the corporate tax rate, setting it at 22 percent compared with the 20 percent rate that he has pushed for with House and Senate Republicans.

But on Sunday, Mulvaney downplayed Trump’s comments, saying he didn’t expect “any significant change in our position on the corporate taxes.”

Police chase growing mass of high-profile sex cases

LOS ANGELES — Police in London, Los Angeles and New York are working to untangle an ever-growing mass of sexual assault and harassment complaints against powerful men, creating challenges even for big cities used to handling celebrities.

Most of the cases stem from claims against media mogul Harvey Weinstein — but authorities say they’ve also taken complaints made against other men in power.

“It’s an international phenomenon,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said when asked about investigations into Weinstein. “These ladies were sexually assaulted, harassed, and they acquired psychological damage, so we have to move very cautiously with anyone who comes in — and that’s what we’re doing.”

Unlike cases involving everyday people, pressure from the media and high-powered attorneys create added problems for investigators, and many of the recent allegations date back years, sometimes passing the statute of limitations.

Los Angeles police say they have 27 open investigations into entertainment figures, including actor Ed Westwick and agent Tyler Grasham, in addition to Weinstein. The LAPD has also taken more than 30 other reports of sexual misconduct that occurred in other parts of the U.S. and overseas and referred those cases to other law enforcement agencies.

Separately, Beverly Hills police say their department alone is investigating a dozen allegations of sexual assault involving figures in the entertainment industry.

London police say they are investigating sexual assault allegations from nine people.

In New York, detectives have received more than a dozen complaints from people who reported being abused by entertainment industry figures around the country, and they say most of those cases involve Weinstein. At least 75 have made allegations in the media against him that range from rape to inappropriate comments, but not all of the women have gone to police.

Police have not said exactly how many active cases they have except for one, an allegation by actress Paz de la Huerta that Weinstein raped her in her New York City apartment in 2010. Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce has said the agency had a credible case against Weinstein and was gathering evidence to refer to the Manhattan district attorney’s office for possible charges.

The methods by which the claims are investigated remain the same whether someone is famous or not — detectives are seeking business records, phone records, putting together timelines and tracking the movements of both people. Each case has to be separately investigated in each local jurisdiction and built from the ground up.

But the older the allegation, the more difficult the investigation. And unlike cases involving everyday people, pressure from the media, leaks, and high-powered attorneys create added problems for investigators.

Plus, police may believe they have enough evidence to arrest someone, but it’s up to the local district attorney offices to decide whether to prosecute.

In New York, Manhattan prosecutors haven’t yet decided whether to proceed with de la Huerta’s claims after she called the hotline on October 25 to report the assaults. The delay has prompted the actress’s attorney to publicly put the pressure on.

“We threw down the gauntlet on behalf of our client,” attorney Carrie Goldberg said in a statement, “and urged DA NY to convene a grand jury by the end of next week (the week of Dec. 3) or expect the protests to begin.”

Weinstein’s lawyers have said he denies any nonconsensual contact. He has not been arrested and his whereabouts are unknown, though his company was headquartered in New York.

Los Angeles police detectives already have closed some of the investigations related to entertainment figures that were launched in recent weeks, including a case involving actor Corey Feldman, who said he was sexually abused as a child actor in the 1990s. Investigators said the case was closed after detectives determined the statute of limitations had expired.

The open criminal investigations in Los Angeles include an allegation by an Italian actress and model who said she was raped by Weinstein in 2013 and allegations that Weinstein committed lewd acts in 2015. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has said investigators are working closely with New York City detectives.

Los Angeles prosecutors launched a task force this month to evaluate cases that are referred by police for criminal prosecution. But so far no cases have been referred to the district attorney’s office.

The alleged offenses occurred between the early 1980s and 2015. All involve the same alleged attacker, whom the police have not identified, but was widely reported to be Weinstein. British police usually do not name suspects until they have been charged.