NYRA president placed on leave, Occupy Albany planning "re-emergence," holiday restrictions on Schenectady County alcohol sales removed, Herkmier diamonds pitched as state mineral

NYRA's president and general counsel have both been placed on leave as the racing org's executive committee looks into allegations that NYRA knowingly withheld millions from bettors (it had previously said the withholding was an unintentional oversight). Said a NYRA exec committee member: "We as a board couldn't be more embarrassed and sorry to have had this happen on our watch." The state report alleging NYRA officials knowingly withheld the money cites an email from from NYRA president Charles Hayward to the Daily Racing Form in which Hayward says NYRA was going to disclose the problem earlier "but political forces intervened" and the org held off because it was being "smacked around by Cuomo." Andrew Cuomo said yesterday the report is "shocking." NYRA operates the Saratoga Race Course, as well as Belmont and Aqueduct. A lot of the money owed to bettors is apparently still stuck in the system and getting it distributed could be complicated. [TU] [State of Politics] [Saratogian] [Daily Gazette] [State of Politics] [Fox23]

The Cuomo admin has formed a commission it says is "bringing together nationally-recognized education, community, and business leaders to recommend reforms to the state's education system in order to improve performance in the classroom." It will be headed by former Citibank and Time Warner head Richard Parsons. At the announcement, Andrew Cuomo argued that an ongoing focus on education funding had warped the education discussion, calling it "a debating-society-meets-lobbying-society." Said Parsons: "We're going to be trying to figure out: How do you make excellence systemic reality across the board, as opposed to the exception?" [Cuomo admin] [TU] [NYT]

Occupy Albany is planning a return today to Academy and Lafayette parks in Albany with events ranging from noon until midnight. The group is touting the events as a "re-emergence." Albany Police chief Steven Krokoff says the department plans to enforce the 11 pm curfew in Academy Park. [Occupy press release] [TU]

A car crash into a power substation in Menands temporarily knocked out power at the Empire State Plaza this morning -- and caused the power to flicker in parts of eastern Albany County. [WNYT] [TU]

The state Senate passed a bill that would criminalize the sale of synthetic marijuana. (Its sale has already been banned in the state.) Similar legislation in the Assembly is still in committee. [NY Senate] [TU]

The state Senate passed a bill that would New York schools to expand curricula to include material aimed at preventing sexual abuse. The law is named after Erin Merryn, who was abused as a child and has been pushing for the legislation across the nation. She was at the Captiol yesterday. [TU] [Fox23] [News 10]

The State Liquor Authority has given the OK for Schenectady County remove its restrictions on alcohol sales on holidays. [WNYT]

Albany County legislature chair Shawn Morse is expected to announce this week that he will primary fellow Democrat Neil Breslin for the state Senate. [TU]

The controversial indoor rec facility proposed for Niskayuna's Blatnick Park is now on hold. Town supervisor Joe Landry says the hold will allow a look at financing and design options for the $650k project. [Daily Gazette] [TU]

Troy police say they've arrested two people for allegedly robbing a grocery with a kitchen knife in south Troy Sunday night (map).The duo's alleged score: 8 packs of cigarettes. Police say the store clerk chased off the robber by throwing a chair at him. [Troy Record] [TU] [Fox23]

An Albany con man was convicted for the 19th time (twice). The most recent crime: scamming his landlord out of $6,000. [TU] [News 10]

A Schenectady man has been convicted of arson for setting fire to the door of an apartment on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady last summer (map). [Daily Gazette]

The State Police Training Academy swore in its first class of new troopers in new four years. [TU]

The Albany Newspaper Guild says it's reached a settlement with the Times Union in which 11 laid off employees will be paid back pay -- and three of them will return to the paper. The paper's management had said previously that bringing back employees would prompt other layoffs, but the guild says there appears to be open spaces for the trio. [Albany Newspaper Guild] [Daily Gazette]

Almost 400 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and family members got respite trips to Saratoga coordinated by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. [TU]

The state Senate has a passed a bill that would designate the Herkimer "diamond" as the state's official mineral. [News 10]

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I've found that anecdotes from neighbors, friends, or internet "strangers" can only take you so far. If you haven't already, I strongly recommend you get out there and visit these schools during the school year, during the school day to get a feel for things. In the last few months, my wife and I have made a series of visits to our local elementary, middle + high-school. During those visits, we had the chance to talk to multiple teachers and see the kids "in action". It was very VERY telling in a lot of ways - both good and bad.

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