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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 4, 2006


Mistrial for Burnell

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After unprecedented delays and the admittance of controversial fingerprint evidence, Hashim Burnell’s murder trial was declared a mistrial by Albany County Judge Steven W. Herrick on Monday.

Burnell, who was on trial for the shooting death of Todd Pianowski at his Guilderland apartment last May, will be remanded to Albany County’s jail until next September when a new jury selection will begin.

The high-profile murder trial started early last month, then was suspended on April 6 after 11 witnesses had testified over four days.

The trial did not reconvene until Monday, May 1, as Herrick contemplated admitting newly discovered fingerprint evidence. The defense’s original case relied heavily on the assertion that there was no physical evidence linking Burnell to the murder scene.

All of that changed after State Police admitted to making a mistake and told prosecutors that the two previously-unidentified fingerprints found at the murder scene were now positively identified as belonging to Burnell.

The two prints found were from the same finger, according to Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael McDermott.

Herrick allowed the fingerprints to be admitted as evidence last Friday, three days before the trial was to resume.

Pianowski was shot in the head and torso on May 5, 2005 with a .40 caliber handgun; he was 22 years old and attending Hudson Valley Community College. Pianowski’s girlfriend, Laura Parker, returned to the apartment they shared at 1702 Western Ave. and confronted the killer, Guilderland Police Chief James Murley told The Enterprise at the time.

Murley said then he believed the shooting was a "drug-for-money deal." A massive search by several agencies ensued and Burnell was apprehended that night. The defense, since Burnell’s arraignment, has maintained that he is the wrong man and is innocent.

Jury worry

The unsequestered jurors were sent home for nearly a month, potentially exposing them to damaging media coverage and private comments despite Herrick’s explicit warnings against such sources. Herrick told jury members to judge fact from courtroom proceedings and not from what they may hear from various sources at home.

The jury consisted of nine women and five men; two of the 14 were alternates.

Once the trial reconvened, and Herrick ruled on the fingerprint evidence, he had to determine whether or not the jury members’ understanding of the case had been compromised.

Before calling the jury into the courtroom on Monday morning, Herrick called juror number eight, a middle-aged white woman, to his bench along with prosecution and defense lawyers. Burnell asked the judge to come to the bench and be a part of the discussion.

"I think it has to do with a child or family member," Herrick said before allowing Burnell to come to the bench.

The issue dealt with juror number eight’s ability to serve on the jury because of a family member’s involvement with an ongoing district attorney’s case. After a lengthy 10-minute discussion with juror number eight, and an additional five-minute discussion among themselves, Herrick told her to remain on the jury.

"I don’t think it’s appropriate for the court to ask the jury to anticipate and speculate on evidence they have not seen," Herrick said. "I will ask them if they have seen anything, in that they can no longer serve."

Herrick called the 14 jurors into the courtroom and asked them about their ability to serve on the jury after the three-week adjournment.

"Has anything occurred to any of you to cause you to feel you can no longer serve as a fair and unbiased jury"" Herrick asked the jury members. He told jurors to raise their hands if they saw or heard anything about the Burnell trial outside of court. None of the jurors raised their hands and several shook their heads no as Herrick questioned them.

The jury was then told about the fingerprint evidence, which Herrick referred to as a "legal matter" when they last spoke in April.

"The legal matter is evidence"which was not known until April 5th," said Herrick, "The evidence in this case has and will come from the court"What weight you will give that evidence is up to you to determine."

Burnell’s attorney, Joseph Muia, asked Judge Herrick to speak with his client in chambers before the court proceeded any further.

"There is an issue at this point in time"the issue of a mistrial," Herrick told jurors.

Mistrial

Before Herrick called the jury into session, he discussed the possibility of a mistrial with the lawyers on both sides.

"It’s not a secret"that these fingerprints were discovered on April 5th," Muia told the court. "There was a discussion in chambers about a mistrial in this case."

"I don’t think that a mistrial should be a trump card for your client," Herrick responded.

Citing issues of evidence and client-attorney privilege, Muia said, "It’s not intended as a trump card. I want to see if we have a jury."

"With all due respect, you have had plenty of time," said Herrick, referring to Muia’s request for a private-chambers meeting with Burnell to discuss mistrial options and ramifications. Herrick warned Muia that a decision must be made whether or not he and his client would seek a mistrial or waive their mistrial rights.

After a short recess, Burnell and his attorneys returned to the courtroom. Burnell’s parents, who were sitting with other family members and friends in the partly-filled courtroom, became visibly upset after speaking with one of their son’s lawyers.

Muia, in talking to the judge, began with a long list of grievances about his clients case, including: right to counsel issues at the start of the trial; a three-week trial delay; the court’s admission of fingerprint evidence four days into the trial; a jury member’s failure to be removed after learning a family member is a part of an ongoing district attorney’s case; and accusations that the State Police were induced by the prosecution to offer the new evidence.

All of these reasons were grounds for a mistrial, Muia argued.

"We are extremely prejudiced at this point," said Muia. "Mr. Burnell cannot get a fair trial.

McDermott protested the claims for a mistrial, saying that the prosecution had done nothing to compromise the case and that there were no "intentional evidentiary circumstances" created.

"There was no bad faith on part of the prosecution," said McDermott.

Herrick said the trial would be placed back on the court calendar for jury selection at a later date if a mistrial were granted.

New trial

Burnell asked the court if he could speak with his parents before making a final decision on a mistrial submission.

After a brief and emotional meeting, Burnell decided to proceed with a mistrial application.

"You understand that I will be placing this back on the court calendar," Herrick told Burnell. "Until I speak with your attorneys, I will not be able to determine a court date"until September.

"There is no double-jeopardy here," Herrick said, adding that Burnell will be retried with a new jury.

After Burnell and his attorneys agreed to the conditions, Herrick declared the case a mistrial and set a Sept. 5 date for jury selection. Burnell was then taken back into custody and removed from the courtroom.

Herrick then called jurors back into the courtroom.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you will note that Mr. Burnell is not present," Herrick said as he told the jury a mistrial was granted.

"Your service as jurors is now concluded. I want to thank you for your patience and your service," Herrick continued, "You may speak to anyone you want about this case, but you are not obligated to."

Herrick apologized to jurors for the lengthy ordeal, saying that, compared to other legal systems around the world, the American legal system is the best despite its occasional flaws.

"I would like to apologize on behalf of the criminal justice system," Herrick told both families, saying he knows it must be a very difficult time for the families.


Loyal Enterprise reader helps nab jewel robber

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A faithful Altamont Enterprise reader in North Carolina helped Raleigh police identify a serial jewelry thief.

Ells Probst, who retired from the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation and used to live in Altamont, read a Dec. 8 article in The Enterprise about a jewelry theft.

The article, written by reporter Nicole Fay Barr, described a larceny of two diamond rings, worth $45,000, at the Northeastern Fine Jewelry store on Western Avenue. Fay Barr took a photograph of surveillance camera footage, which showed a suspect asking for directions at a local gas station, to run with her story.

From that photo, Probst made the connection between the Guilderland larcenies and the man Raleigh police were looking for, who committed very similar thefts.

"All I did was call the police"Boy, it’s making some big waves right now," Probst told The Enterprise this week.

Probst said he called the police in Raleigh and told them about the jewelry thefts in Guilderland and said they might be looking for the same person. Raleigh detectives then called police in New York and Boston, discovering they were all looking for the same man: 51-year-old Carl J. DiNatale.

"They only had a composite (of DiNatale). I called them up and told them the Guilderland police have a photograph," Probst said. "Of course, the Guilderland police always do a good job."

Public information officer, Jim Sughrue, of the Raleigh Police Department, contacted The Enterprise last week, saying that Probst and Fay Barr’s article played a key role in identifying DiNatale, who is still at large.

"He’s not a young guy anymore, it’s going to be harder and harder for him to outrun people," Probst said about DiNatale.

Probst, who was modest about his role in the case, said that he has garnered quite a bit of media attention after an article about his discovery ran in The News & Observer in his new hometown of Wilmington, N.C.

"One radio station designated me as an official police expert"I really fail to see what everyone’s so excited about," Probst said. "I’ll make an anonymous phone call next time!"

No stranger to the Capital District, Probst retired from the state BCI in 1982 and then opened a private investigators firm in Voorheesville. His wife, Edie, is also a former town clerk for New Scotland. The couple moved to Wilmington in 1998 and enjoy their new home.

"I go fishing every day and golf every day. I don’t know why I didn’t retire years ago," said Probst. "Next week, the Spanish mackerel will be coming in, and life is worth living again."

When asked why he continues to subscribe to a New York newspaper, Probst said "I still do some deer hunting up there; it’s nice to keep up with the local news."

He added that he also reads The Enterprise to keep up with wedding announcements and obituaries. "It’s embarrassing if someone passes away and I ask a family member how they’re doing," said Probst.


Thomas makes offer
Senior center for zone change

By Jarrett Carroll
and Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Jeff Thomas has plans to build two senior-housing complexes and has now proposed a third. He asked the town board on Tuesday for a re-zone at the former Bavarian Chalet site on Western Avenue.

During his presentation to the board, Thomas offered to create a public senior-citizen community center for the town’s use if he is allowed to go forward with the project.

A public hearing on the project was unanimously approved by the board and is scheduled for June 6.

"I would recommend that the town board consider a conditional re-zone," said Jan Weston, the town’s planner, in a memo sent to board members. Weston’s memo also stated, "I do have some reservations regarding the density and the site plan."

"A larger density will allow us to dedicate a portion of the property as a town community center," Thomas told the board.

"We need to keep an open mind on the density issue in exchange for the benefit we will receive," Supervisor Kenneth Runion responded.

"The applicant is proposing 6.65 units per total acreage," Weston said on her memo. "We calculate density based on usable acres, which would bring the average density to 7-8 units per acre, plus the community center.

"Recent town board re-zones have only allowed a maximum of 6 units per buildable acre so this proposal is pushing that envelope. However, the fact that these units will be restricted to senior housing will help mitigate some of the density concerns."

She went on to say she had reservations about traffic issues and wrote, "Also, the design of the access, stormwater management areas, buffering, etc. require a closer look that may reduce the overall density."

Runion, citing a great need in Guilderland for senior housing, called the proposed community center in Thomas’s site plan a "substantial benefit." Runion did add that the housing would need to be affordable.

"We’re looking for housing for the common senior citizens," said Runion.

Thomas’s project calls for 86 units. The apartments will have two bedrooms or two bedrooms and a den. "Seniors like two bedrooms in case they have a guest over," Thomas told The Enterprise.

The Western Avenue entrance to the senior-housing project at 5060 Western Turnpike will be rerouted to Frenchs Mill Road, said Thomas at Tuesday’s meeting.

His clientele will be "local seniors — Really, any seniors at all, 55 [years] or up," he said. The units, which will be only for sale and not for rent, will be priced at the market rate, Thomas said, and aimed at those with a "middle income." He hopes to have solid prices by the hearing in June.

The town board asked Thomas what the current market rate is, but Thomas said he did not have solid figures with him at the presentation. The market rate is in constant fluctuation because of unstable material costs resulting from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, he said.

Runion told Thomas that he would need solid prices when he returns for the June 6 public hearing.

"They seemed to have some good input," Thomas told The Enterprise about the board members after Tuesday’s meeting. "There’s a great need for senior living facilities, especially in the west end."

"The Bavarian Chalet site is perfect for that," Thomas said. The 13-acre site includes "a beautiful pond, a hollow, a picturesque view of the Helderberg escarpment, and the Bavarian Chalet building," he said. The site is zoned for local business. The chalet was a 300-seat banquet facility, Thomas said.

"This is pretty neat," he said. His plans for the project include walking paths, a pool, a bocci court, and various gathering centers. The site will have "its own community, its own village feel," he said.

Thomas, the owner and founder of Weatherguard Roofing, lives just above the village of Altamont on the escarpment in Knox. He is planning to build a senior-housing complex in the Hilltowns, in the hamlet of Berne.

Over a year ago, Thomas proposed a 72-unit senior-housing project, located on Brandle Road, just outside the Altamont Village line. The Guilderland Town Board quickly approved a re-zone for that project in the same meeting in which it adopted a building moratorium for western Guilderland. The Brandle Road project, however, had been stalled by litigation over village water.

"What I’ve found, being involved [with seniors] the last five years is that they want to downsize, not deal with lawn mowing, shoveling, or painting the hallway," Thomas said.

"We have renderings already. We’re playing off the stone of the chalet. It’s got a Queen Anne flair with stone and wood," Thomas said.

Asked if he expects the units to be sold out soon, Thomas said, "I do. There’s a large demand for this. There’s not a lot of senior living centers in the area."

"Most towns have senior centers. Ours doesn’t," Thomas said of Guilderland. Other centers are "institutional — very sterile," Thomas said. He described the chalet site as "one of the most peaceful, calming, soothing" places.

"We’re hoping it’ll be a six-month approval process. We’re at the mercy of the town of Guilderland. That might be optimistic," Thomas said.

Board member Paul Pastore, reiterated that the town board is not the planning board or the zoning board, but that certain structural aspects would have to be cleared through those boards before the project could commence.

"Once appropriate density is determined by examining the environmental and site restraints, a final rezone could be recommended based on that approved site plan," said Weston in her memo.

Other business

In other business, the town board unanimously:

— Applauded Rosemary Centi for her certification from the New York State Town’s Clerk Association, making her a certified registered municipal clerk.

In order to receive certification, she had to attend various courses and be a town clerk for at least five years. Centi was presented her certification and a bouquet of flowers from the deputy town clerks and was congratulated by the board.

— Considered a presentation by New Visions on plans of a group home at 2 Maynes Ave., converting a building on the site now into a residence for three women with disabilities.

The home would have 24-hour supervision with little traffic impact, according to New Visions. New Visions, based at 334 Krumkill Rd. in Slingerlands, serves adults, 21 years old and up, with disabilities, helping them find employment, teaching them various life skills, and assisting in providing them permanent housing;

— Adopted a resolution authorizing the supervisor to submit three grant applications for funds from the New York State Department of Parks. The grants applications are for a $293,000 renovation of the bath house and pool apron at Tawasentha Park, $97,450 for the creation of a passive park surrounding the former McKownville Reservoir property, and $105,100 for the purchase of the "Battle of Normanskill" property.

"These are three projects we’ve been contemplating for a couple of years," Runion told The Enterprise. "We’ve been applying for the Normanskill property since the mid-1980’s." According to Runion, the town wants the property, which is adjacent to Tawasentha Park, to keep as a natural preserve, and the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy is also interested in the property;

— Approved various transfers and releases of escrow funds pursuant to the request of the Department of Water and Wastewater Management;

— Appointed election machine custodians and representatives for the 2006 primary and general elections. Those named were evenly distributed between the Democratic and Republican parties;

— Approved the order and stipulation of settlement for two tax proceedings at 4770 Western Ave. and 3905 Carman Road; and

— Appointed Collin Gallup to the position of town park foreman. Runion applied to the Albany County Department of Civil Service to have the position approved, and it was classified as non-competitive by the county, meaning no Civil Service exam is required.


District seeks reasons behind budget vote

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district here wants to understand the "why" and "how" behind the budget vote this year.

After voters cast their ballots on the $79 million budget proposal May 16, they’ll have a chance to fill out an exit poll provided by the district.

Filling out the survey would be both optional and anonymous.

School board members had mixed reactions on reviewing a draft survey last Tuesday.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala presented a one-page draft with 10 questions that could be answered by checking boxes. Voters would be encouraged to write additional comments on the back.

The first two questions asked how — yes or no — the voter cast his or her ballot on the budget and bus propositions.

The third question offered a list of reasons to be checked off for a "yes" vote on the budget and another list for a "no" vote.

The fourth question asked voters to check off their sources of information, and the fifth and sixth questions asked specifically about the district’s newsletter and website.

The next three questions focused on demographics — which town the voter lives in, age of the voter, and whether the voter has children in the school district.

The final question asked the voter to rate the overall quality of education in the district — A, B, C, D, or F.

Mixed reactions

Board member Richard Weisz said he had no problem asking people about the quality of information or where they got information on the budget, but it is "intrusive" to ask how they voted, he said.

Board member Peter Golden questioned the statistical significance of responses and warned about "people quoting it as scripture."

He said he’d be more comfortable with a survey away from the polls.

Board member John Dornbush said the length of the survey would discourage people from filling it out and that, to insure confidentiality, the district would need to provide tables and chairs away from the voting booths.

"We’d be prepared to do that," responded Aidala. "We think it’s very important to protect confidentiality."

"I think it’s worth doing," concluded Dornbush. "If you don’t ask the questions, you aren’t going to have any information."

Board Vice President Linda Bakst objected to the final question, grading the quality of the schools. "That one gives me pause," she said.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo questioned the need for separate questions on the district’s newsletter and website.

Board member Catherine Barber criticized the length of the draft, saying it would take four times as long to fill out as actually voting.

"I think the survey is a good idea," said board member Colleen O’Connell. "This is one of the few times we kind of have a captive audience."

Aidala said he’d present a revised version of the exit poll at the board’s May 9 meeting.

Other districts feel the information they get from such surveys is helpful, he said. Students could get involved in analyzing the information as part of "instructional practice," he added.

"I think the fact that we even offer to do this is a good thing," said board member Thomas Nachod.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard Timothy Burke, a member of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee who had been critical of the budget draft, express support for the final proposal.

"I’m going to support this budget and ask that people in my community support the budget," he said of the $79 million spending plan.

While Burke continued to oppose "excessive" spending, he said he appreciated the "change of conversation" he has heard at school-board meetings.

He singled out board member Golden for praise, citing his work on containing health-care costs, and he complimented Bakst, who is retiring from the board at the close of her term in June.

"I often disagree with your perspective and philosophy but no one is better prepared for these meetings than you are," he told Bakst, stating discourse will suffer with her absence;

— Heard that the PTA will host a Meet the Candidates session on May 3 at 7 p.m. to be broadcast on Channel 16. Five candidates are running for three seats.

Their names, chosen by random selection, will appear in this order on the ballot — Timothy Forster, Denise Eisele, Richard Weisz, Hy Dubowsky, and Raymond McQuade. (See related story.);

— Honored 51 staff members for being awarded tenure;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that students in third through 12th grades will be given the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire during the week of May 22.

The district, which launched an anti-bullying campaign several years ago, based on the Norwegian Olweus model, first administered the survey in 2003 and will use the results of the current survey to measure the effectiveness of the bullying-prevention efforts.

Elementary students will be given the survey in class with their teachers. In the middle school and high school, students will complete the survey in English classes.

Parents will receive a letter about the half-hour-long survey. If they do not want their children to participate, they may contact the school principal. Andress said that the surveys will be filled out anonymously;

— Heard from Andress that a recent workshop on Internet safety was attended by about 75 parents of middle-school students, who listened to advice from the two school resource officers, police officers who work in the high school and middle school.

Weisz said the district should "devote resources to teaching kids" about Internet safety since it is a "problem of such proportion and so many parents are unable to give guidance to their kids.

"It’s clear this generation of children don’t perceive it’s risky to put personal information on the net," he said.

"It looks like the Internet is becoming the shopping mall of the next generation," Weisz said, meaning it is a meeting place for kids. "Time at home with the computer is a public time," he said, adding that many parents were surprised to learn how intrusive and invasive it can be.

Weisz concluded that the district needs a comprehensive program at every level;

— Heard congratulations for Altamont Elementary fifth-graders who carried on a 15-year school tradition by performing one of William Shakespeare’s plays in its original Elizabethan English. This year’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was performed on April 10 and 11.

Students were involved in every aspect of the play — acting, costuming, designing sets, lighting, and publicizing. The students worked until 4:30 p.m. on most school days for two months, Andress said, preparing for the performances.

Christine Saplin, an educational consultant from the New York State Theatre Institute, helped them as did fifth-grade teachers Steve Freeman and Alan Lockwood;

— Heard congratulations for Farnsworth Middle School physical-education teacher Frank Cacckello, who was selected by Suburban Council athletic administrators to chair girls’ basketball for 2006-07;

— Learned that the butterfly house will return to Farnsworth Middle School this summer after a two-year run at Pine Bush Elementary while the middle school was under renovation.

The program, founded by science teacher Alan Fiero, is in its eighth year; it features free student-led tours of a native-plant garden filled with home-grown butterflies. The tours and related activities will be offered from July 5 through Aug. 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.

This year, the program is funded through Learn and Serve America, the PTA, and the National Audubon Sanctuary Program sponsored by Pine Haven Country Club;

— Heard that a workshop, "What Parents Need to Know About Youth Safety and Gangs in Suburban Communities," will be held on May 8 at Farnsworth Middle School from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Senior gang prevention specialist, Ron "Cook" Barrett of the Capital Region Gang Prevention Center in Albany, will lead the workshop, which is open to the public;

— Learned that the Guilderland High School student newspaper, The Journal, under the direction of advisor Aaron Sicotte, won first place for General Excellence in the New York Press Association’s 2005 Better High School Newspaper Contest.

Also, Katie Matthews won third place for News Story for an article on the budget process.

The combined points from those two awards put The Journal in fourth place in the overall competition of New York schools;

— Heard from O’Connell that the Wellness Committee is going over its final draft for presentation to the school board. Federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires a plan be adopted by July 1, 2006, she said;

— Accepted the donation of a percussion kit and stand, a clarinet and two folding music stands from Patty Buss. The percussion kit will be used at Westmere Elementary School and the clarinet at Farnsworth Middle School; and

— Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Employees’ Association and the Guilderland Office Workers’ Association.


In Guilderland
Five run for three school board seats

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Five candidates are vying for three Guilderland School Board seats in the May 16 election.

One incumbent, Richard Weisz, is running as are four challengers — Hy Dubowsky and Denise Eisele, who both ran last year, too, and Timothy Forster and Raymond McQuade, each making their first run.

Eisele and Dubowsky are campainging together, but stop short of saying they are running on the same slate as some Guilderland school-board candidates have in the past.

The three-year posts are unpaid and the three highest vote-getters in the at-large election will serve on the nine-member board.

The Enterprise asked the candidates to comment on six topics:

— Role of a school board member: Candidates were asked who they serve. Particularly if there is a crunch — for example, because of economic tough times or because of a controversy over personnel issues — would their primary allegiance be to the students, the taxpayers, the parents, the teachers, or the superintendent"

Certainly each school board member strives for balance but candidates were asked if, for example, they had to choose between creating a shared supervisor’s post at the high school for English and social studies, as the administration recommended this year, or continuing to spend the extra money, about $85,000, to keep separate posts, which would they advocate" Or, similarly, if they had to choose between combining a social worker post at the smallest elementary school with one at the middle school, again to save money, about $58,000, as the administration initially proposed this year, would they"

(In the end, neither of those cuts were made, although other cuts — of 25 teaching assistants and the two assistant principals at the elementary schools — were made for next year’s spending plan.)

— Budget support: Candidates were asked if they support the $79 million budget, with an estimated tax-rate hike of 4.2 percent for Guilderland residents, and why or why not. They were asked if there were specific items — such as a proposed primary program for teaching Spanish — they would have liked included, or if there were specific items they thought should have been cut.

The candidates were also asked what course the school board should take if the budget were to be voted down on May 16. Last year, Guilderland went through town-wide revaluation, raising the assessment of an average home an estimated 60 percent; this year, both Bethlehem and New Scotland (towns that are partly served by the district) have gone through revaluation.

The state allows for a second school budget vote of the same or a revised plan before a state-set cap is imposed on spending. This year’s budget proposal is below the state-set cap. While it’s technically correct that the school board, faced with a defeated budget, could move to adopt the slightly higher capped budget, a State Education Department spokesperson told The Enteprise that is not the point of the cap; the capped budget was meant to give voters relief after they defeated a budget.

Candidates were asked, if the budget is voted down, which course they would recommend — a re-vote on the same plan, cutting the proposed budget and voting again, or moving to a capped budget"

— School security: After much debate, the school board this year decided to keep the front doors of the elementary schools unlocked but to hire part-time monitors to sit near the front doors, getting visitors to sign in and issuing them passes. Additionally, surveillance cameras have been or are being installed in all the schools.

Some members of a subcommittee who advocated a buzz-in system, with locked doors, at the elementary schools were disappointed in the compromise while some parents criticized spending the additional funds on security rather than academic programs. Candidates were asked if more or less should be done for school security or if they are pleased with security as it is.

— Teaching to the test: Candidates were asked if there is a conflict between "maintaining the richness" of Guilderland’s instructional programs, as one of the district's priorities puts it, and integrating state and federal standards. If a choice must be made between teaching to the test so students fare well on required exams, or allowing faculty more freedom to pursue different approaches, candidates were asked which they would do.

In recent annual school report cards, Guilderland students with disabilities have fallen below the government-set mark in some tests. Only 1 percent of students are excused from the testing and the National Council for Exceptional Children is lobbying to raise that percentage.

Guilderland’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress has said she doesn’t want special-education classes to become test-prep classes.

— Alternative sources of revenue: For years the school board has debated, but never acted on, formalizing the acceptance of non-public funds for the district. This year, a committee was formed to discuss the matter.

Should Guilderland allow a foundation to raise funds for the school; should the district sell pouring rights, contracting with a beverage company to serve just that company’s drinks; or should the district sell in-school advertising as a way to raise funds"

— Health insurance: Should health-insurance coverage or the method by which it is decided be revised" The school board has focused on the issue this year as annual costs for health-insurance coverage at Guilderland have doubled in the last five years to $8.2 million. Health-coverage proposals come to the board from a district-wide committee made up of representatives of the different bargaining groups. The board recently agreed to set up a business-practices committee to be formed after the May 16 election.

— Length of the school day: Should the school day be reconfigured" A transportation study, commissioned by the district, recommended lengthening the elementary-school day to save money on busing. Some proponents have pointed out Guilderland has a shorter elementary-school day than other comparable districts and lengthening it would allow for more instruction, perhaps the study of foreign language.

Also, there has been discussion on the state level of requiring schools to offer full-day kindergarten. Currently, Guilderland offers a half-day program, and many parents place their children in full-day programs elsewhere. Should Guilderland move to a full-day kindergarten program"


Dubowsky profile

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Hy Dubowsky, campaigning door to door, spoke to a Prescott Woods resident who said that he annually pays $30,000 in property taxes — more than his parents paid to buy their Guilderland home in 1972.

"He was very upset," said Dubowsky. "My whole push in public service is just to make it better."

Dubowsky, who holds five academic degrees, works for the state’s Department of Labor as the economic development director.

He and his wife, Carol Kaelin, a partner in a news service, have three children — Meg and Ryan, Guilderland High School students, and Eric, a Guilderland graduate who works as a bond trader in New York City.

As a school-board member, Dubowsky said his first priority would be to serve the district’s residents.

"I’ve talked with a lot of people campaigning," he said. "It’s an elected position. You’re elected by voters, by the taxpayers. That’s who you have to serve."

He added, "Obviously, I love the kids and I’m all for education."

On the campaign trail, Dubowsky said, he tells people with complaints about taxes the truth: "Change is incremental," he said.

You can’t devastate the school district with a sudden slashing, he said. "You have to make smart budget choices...I promise them that, at the very least, I will bring their needs and concerns to the board and the administrators."

He concluded, on the role of a school-board member, "You represent the people."

He said of this year’s budget-making process, "I absolutely applaud their efforts to change the culture...It’s the first time in many years we made a smart consumer decision. We shopped health care."

Dubowsky went on, referring to the district’s superintendent, Gregory Aidala, "I think Greg, the board, and the budget folks made a tremendous effort to put together a balanced budget that starts to reflect the angst the public has. There is a lot of angst."

If the budget were to be voted down on May 16, Dubowsky would recommend putting it up for another vote. "It would be silly to recommend the cap, which is higher," he said.

One item he would have liked to have seen included in the budget, which was not, is teaching Spanish at the elementary schools.

"We’re entering into an era of free trade with our neighbors to the south," said Dubowsky who is conversant in Spanish and plans to study Chinese.

"It shows respect for an individual and it makes communication a lot freer," he said of learning other languages.

On teaching language at a young age, he said, "It enables our kids when they’re sponges to learn holistically."

He concluded of the budget, "Baby steps were taken and I think bigger steps will be taken next year."

On school security, Dubowsky said, "We live in a problematic world. I don’t think one size fits all the schools."

Westmere Elementary School, he said, giving an example, is near Crossgates Mall, "a high-crime area for Guilderland," said Dubowsky. Altamont Elementary School, on the other hand, he said, "is more secluded in more of a country-esque setting."

He suggested security decisions might be made individually though the cabinets at each school to suit each school and its community.

On teaching to the test, Dubowsky said, "Guilderland isn’t Scarsdale; we can’t just ignore the required standards."

He went on, "There’s a need to have some measurement of basic educational achievement. The problem with the testing is it limits creativity in the classroom. It pushes the competitive need to play the numbers game....

"What is important," Dubowsky said, "is enabling children to learn and succeed. Testing is an after-the-fact measurement...We would be better served by ongoing overall assessment that goes beyond spatial skills."

To address the question about testing for special-needs students, Dubowsky referred to a conference for entrepreneurs he recently attended where he listened to Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s, a nation-wide chain of copying stores.

Orfalea has attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, reads on a third-grade level, and was advised in high school that he might be able to get a job laying carpet, Dubowsky said.

"He said, ‘Hyperactivity is creativity.’ He squiggled out of choices made for him. Now he’s a gazillionaire," said Dubowsky.

While he conceded this might be a rarity, Dubowsky said, about special-needs students in general, "We’re condemning any kid who doesn’t get it to a life of mediocrity if we continue to press them into cookie-cutter molds."

Dubowsky chaired the district’s committee on alternative resources which is expected to submit a report to the school board this spring.

He says he favors using alternative revenues for funding ancillary programs or one-shot expenditures.

"We’re unlikely to bring in enough money to offset the need for recurring tax revenues," he said. He cautioned against using outside funds for core programs. "If the funding dries up," said Dubowsky, "you then have to fund the program through taxes or cut it."

He said of the projects that would be suitable to fund with outside sources, "You get to do the enhancements."

Dubowsky went on, "I would move towards a foundation...It gets your alumni involved."

He also supports sponsorships allowed within the law and said, for example, that revenues from vending machines in the schools could be maximized.

On health insurance, Dubowsky said, "I absolutely applaud and support the district’s efforts to seek the most cost-effective way to provide insurance for our staff. It’s a win-win."

He went on, "The real tragedy of this is the health-care crisis is not the board of education’s responsibility....People are very angry. The problem is people look at the benefits offered [by the school district] and compare it to what they can afford in the private sector. They scratch their heads and say, ‘Why do they get it"’

"The benefits are the result of collective bargaining. I think there are more efficient ways to decide on health insurance than what we have on the table today...You have to dig very, very deep and look at that expense."

He concluded of the board’s focus on health-insurance this year, "It was a real culture change for this board...It was only when the public outcry became so loud that they found ways to save $500,000. Health care needs to be decided more smartly."

On lengthening the school day for kindergartners and elementary students, Dubowsky said, "Both relate to questions of contract...We could talk all we want, but it’s contractually driven."

Pressed for what he’d recommend, if he were on the board and deciding on what to negotiate in contracts, Dubowsky said, "Efficiency is great in transportation, but that wouldn’t be my driving force in deciding on the length of the day. It would be education. When you expend tax dollars, you better have the program outcome at the end of it."

He went on, "By lengthening the school day, I’d want to make sure learning takes place." He said the district would have to explore whether more instructional time would be useful."

He also referred to research that shows high-school students do better if they sleep longer and start the day later.

About kindergarten, Dubowsky said, "I would endorse full-day kindergarten if the outcome is educational. If we’re talking about extending day care, I think we could put the money somewhere else."

He concluded, "It has to move towards our mission and vision — empowering all students to succeed in the 21st Century."


Eisele profile

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Denise Eisele believes there is a communication gap between the elected school board members and their constituents.

"I would like to have the board be more receptive to opinions," she said. "In talking with people, I’ve heard they feel they weren’t listened to. They feel the board sits back from issues...I want to be a face of openness and a face of approachability."

Eisele ran for the school board last year, too, using her experience as the mother of six children to inform her candidacy.

Eisele lives on Stafford’s Crossing in North Bethlehem with her husband, George, a physician, and their six adopted children, who range in age from nine to 15 — Stephen, Jacob, Meg, Paul, John, and Doug.

Eisele works part-time as a nurse for the Early Childhood Education Center. She has served as president of the PTA at Farnsworth Middle School and on the building cabinets at Westmere Elementary School and Farnsworth.

As a school board member, she said, "I would support everybody, but my primary support would be to the students."

She used the example of the proposal to cut a social worker to explain her stance.

"A social worker is terribly important in the schools," said Eisele. "So many issues come up with the kids and so many have trouble adjusting.

"In one of my children’s classes this year, the father of a classmate died suddenly. The social worker was right there at the school. The social worker went to the viewing....The social worker talked with all the kids about what they could say to her and how they could help her.

"Social workers work with the teachers and parents; they are there for the kids. I would strongly oppose a cut to any social worker position."

On the proposed $79 million budget, Eisele said, "We need to look at where spending is going. For example, when the board really started looking at health insurance, they discovered they could get the same services and save $500,000."

She went on to say, about health insurance, that "probably the method" the district uses should be changed. "We need to look at where the money is being spent while keeping the services," she stressed.

On budget-making in general, Eisele said, "The board needs to say, ‘Let’s look at our spending to see if money can be saved without cutting services.’ We need to see if we can be smarter with our funding."

Eisele served this year on the district’s alternative revenues committee. "I learned there are many different ways," she said. "For example, if I felt passionately about [teaching] foreign language in elementary school — and I totally agree you can’t just raise taxes to add what you want — there are other ways.

"Sometimes all we hear is, ‘We can’t raise taxes.’ But let’s see what we can do. We need to be creative."

Eisele opposes pouring rights for the school. "We’re trying to make our kids healthy," she said, indicating that pushing certain drinks would run counter to that.

She thinks a foundation is worth exploring. "The idea behind a foundation is funds could be funneled from the community or from corporate donations," she said. "It would provide a vehicle to disseminate this money."

As far as advertising, Eisele said, "If a corporation wanted to donate a scoreboard, I see nothing wrong with having that company’s name on the scoreboard. I don’t see a problem with that. They donated it."

On school security, Eisele said, "My first question would be who or what we are protecting our children from."

Eisele also said, "I’ve never been an advocate for locked doors. I don’t want my kids locked in."

While Eisele said it is "appropriate to monitor who is coming and going" in the school buildings, she went on to say, "You either do it right or you don’t do it."

She continued, "I have children in several schools. Each school is doing it differently....Each school is saying, ‘That is the way it should be.’ There is some confusion."

Last Friday was a busy day at Westmere Elementary School, she said, as young authors were celebrated. Many parents had been invited to watch their children read book reports, or perform in other ways. Eisele came to the school to see two of her sons.

She described the front-door monitor as "a nice woman" who was "absolutely overwhelmed by the volume of parents" that day.

"The line snaked into the parking lot," she said, as parents waited to sign in. "They had to hold things up. Some things had to be shortened....It was just chaos — absolute chaos."

On teaching to the test, Eisele said the issue is separate for special-education students.

"For the kids with special needs, I would like to lobby the State Education Department," she said, so that more students are exempt from the required testing.

"It has nothing to do with how well the teachers are doing," she said; it is simply inappropriate for some children to be tested.

"There have to be more lobbying efforts," said Eisele. "The board has a voice; they could speak on it."

When it comes to the students who do not have special needs, Eisele said, "I support teaching to the test. It holds districts accountable for what kids are learning."

She went on, "I have discovered so many parents are thrilled with the tests because they point out where their children have weaknesses...Parents learn if their children are struggling with reading or writing. All of a sudden now, kids are getting extra help in school...You can never give children enough reading and writing help."

Eisele turned to her own family for examples. "In my children, deficiencies in certain areas have shown up," she said. "It still leaves tons of room for creativity" in teaching, she said.

She gave the example of her fourth-grade son who recently took the part of a Revolutionary War patriot in a "living museum" presentation at Westmere Elementary School.

"He had to investigate everything, even what type of clothing to wear; it was just marvelous," said Eisele.

Eisele would like to see the elementary-school day lengthened. "They are home by quarter after two," she said of elementary-school students. While she enjoys her children’s company, Eisele said, a longer school day would allow more time for learning and creativity. "You’re not frantically trying to get everything in," she said.

And, Eisele thinks the district should move to a full-day kindergarten.

"A full-day kindergarten is appropriate," she said. "So many kids are in pre-school."

While her own children weren’t in day care, she said they attended a pre-school program that was longer than Guilderland’s kindergarten day.

"That doesn’t make any sense," she concluded.


Forster profile

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Timothy Forster, making his first run for school board, says he has no set agenda.

"I’m not going in to take over...I’ve looked at the meetings. I have a lot to learn," he said. "We should all be learners."

Forster, who owns his own business, went on, "I have the ability and desire to make sure things get done right. I’m not in a hurry. I want to listen and learn so I can be effective.

He has learned from his campaigning, Forster said. "I’m encouraged to find out the community really cares and they’re paying attention...The parents and taxpayers are really concerned about where their money goes. They want to hear board-of-education members have good heads on their shoulders."

Forster is both a taxpayer and a parent.

He owns a public-information research company and his wife, Laura, works for the state’s Office of Children and Family Services. They have six children and "one on the way," said Forster. Their children range in age from eight to 20 — David, Rebekah, Travis, Valerie, Trevor, and Tabetha.

Forster said he’s not putting up election signs. "I don’t want to become like a politician," he said. "I just want to talk to the people in my community."

Asked who he would serve as a school-board member, Forster said, "The function of the school board is to oversee the administration, to be sure its moving in a direction to benefit the students."

He went on, referring to the superintendent, "Dr. Aidala is doing a superb job, leading the school district to where it is today. I would support the superintendent."

Forster also said, "The responsibility of the board is to indoctrinate our students as life-long learners, and to encourage our teachers and our staff. That sort of makes the taxpayers into the engine to drive this. The fuel is the money. I believe in making the most of our resources."

He concluded, "We have to keep our eye on the ultimate goal — to indoctrinate our students to be American citizens who are respectful and involved...These things have become the responsibility of public education. We can’t rely on parents; we’re all so busy."

On the proposed budget, Forster said, "The people I’m hearing from say the budget is so big...I believe it will pass, though. People are concerned because that’s a lot of money. I’d like to see something quantifiable...With education, that’s not easy to do."

If the budget were to be voted down, Forster said, he would recommend "resubmitting it for a second vote, maybe with some alterations."

Also, Forster said, at the middle-school level, he’d like to have children work more on defining career paths. "They do aptitude testing, but they should do more," he said. "Choices in high school should be directly related to long-term goals."

He also said he is a firm supporter of teaching foreign language at an early age.

But, Forster said, "My main concern in the school district is the physical security of the buildings...I’d like to see physical security ramped up, not in a fear-mongering way but to keep us safe from random events, from threats within and without."

He went on, "We need better and more security — not passive security....Cameras are not much of a deterrent. We need an active deterrent, someone there at each door."

He concluded, "Spending a lot of money on passive deterrents sounds good but is not very effective. Spending it on active deterrents — locked doors with a monitor — would be better."

On teaching to the test, Forster said, "I’m opposed to it; it’s a dumb thing to do. It’s a disservice to every student out there. What students need are critical thinking skills.

"Standardized tests are an inextricable part of schools today but we shouldn’t ignore the wealth of knowledge out there to get the test scores up. Test scores are not the golden barometer....

"Broad-based knowledge is what we need as citizens...The cookie-cutter mentality is no good for Americans; it’s why we’re falling behind," he said of competing globally.

On alternative revenues, Forster said, "Outside funding is a mistake. It has to be looked at carefully because you’re allowing outside agendas, outside influences — whether it’s Pepsi or Fox News. It’s a way the school-district is giving the green light. It’s the wrong way to go....That kind of revenue is insidious."

He concluded, "I like the idea of a foundation to act as a buffer between the money and the students....Extra money may be nice — but at what cost" It can’t be at the cost of the students’ right to get an education free of bias, free of outside agendas. We’ll raise our children to Guilderland standards."

On health insurance, Forster said, "The committee process is probably the best."

While Forster said it would be "out of place" for him to offer opinions on specifics the board has decided upon, he did say, "Obviously, health insurance is an important benefit for our staff and teachers. It says, ‘Here’s how we value you. We want you here to enrich our students.’

"We have to make sure the coverage is adequate or better than adequate...It’s very important the staff knows they’re valuable to the school district...We have to take care of them if they’re sick or injured."

Forster said he "definitely supports full-day kindergarten."

"The children are in a safe learning environment...a gentle, loving environment," he said of being in a Guilderland kindergarten class. "It gets them prepared for 12 further years of this schedule."

On the elementary-school day, he said, "It should be longer, yes, but not extraordinarily long. I’ve always felt the elementary days are a bit too short...They should go till at least 2:30 — a six-hour day. That’s not asking too much.

"The busing is a big issue in Guilderland. It’s a big budget expense. It’s hard to get drivers who are reliable. Lengthening the school day might make it a lesser burden, and take pressure off the busing staff."


McQuade profile

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Raymond McQuade says a lot of people have told him that serving on the school board is "a thankless job."

He is making his first run for the post nevertheless because he believes his business expertise would be valuable for the board.

"I would be sensitive — coming at it from a business viewpoint," said McQuade. He went on to give an example of how a businessman’s perspective would work.

With the Campaign for Fiscal Equity winning its suit, requiring New York City schools to receive more funds, the Guilderland schools should plan ahead, in case the governor’s appeal is unsuccessful, McQuade said.

"New York State is on the losing end of a billion-dollar settlement," said McQuade. "Should the challenge not be successful...either our payroll taxes will go up or money will be shifted from upstate.

"We should be thinking about contingency plans should that occur," McQuade said, alluding to the $500,000 in additional state aid the district received this year.

"My view of the board of education is similar to the role that a board of directors would play in a privately-held company," said McQuade. "The board represents the investors in that company. The CEO serves at the discretion of the board...It’s not the board’s role to run the company.

"The board of education is the watchdog....We need to hold the administration accountable," he said of the role of school-board members.

Commenting on which constituency he would primarily serve as a board member, McQuade said, "There tend to be two camps — supporting the administration or reducing taxes....Seldom do you hear the most important piece — that’s the students. Unquestionably, if I had to choose, it would be the students."

McQuade owns a technology company and his wife, Laura, works in data processing. They have been Guilderland residents for 30 years and live on Woodlawn Drive near the town hall.

The McQuades have two children, both in Guilderland schools — James is at the middle school and Kathryn is at the high school.

In return for the education of his two children, McQuade said, "I feel I owe something to the school district."

McQuade, who served this year on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, said he supports the $79 million plan.

A number of the changes he advocated — such as cutting both elementary assistant principals next year or reinstating the social worker — were adopted by the board in the final plan, he said.

"I would have liked to have seen some of the teaching assistants restored, but I understand why they were not," he said.

"They did work hard to get the budget down to 4.2 percent," he said of the increase. "Getting an additional $500,000 in state aid allowed them to drop the increase."

If the budget were to be defeated, McQuade said, "I would go right to the contingency." He said, since debt service isn’t counted in figuring the state-set cap, Guilderland, with its recent $20 million expansion project at Farnsworth Middle School, is likely in upcoming years to again have its budget be lower than the state-set cap.

"This is all the more reason for the board to have business-minded people to insure the money is spent wisely," said McQuade.

On school security, McQuade said, "I wouldn’t want to see more than has already been put in place." He also said, "I wouldn’t want to come up short....It’s a sign of the times," he said of school security.

He added, "To buzz people in seems to me to go overboard."

And he asked, "Unless someone is looking at the video monitors, what purpose do they serve""

On teaching to the test, McQuade said, "This falls under the category of finding a balance point. There is not a clear cut between the two."

In relation to special education, he said, "Teaching to the test does not necessarily prepare people for the outside world."

He went on to say, about students in general, "Colleges are looking for test scores...The testing also provides standards for the district to meet, which is not a bad thing. You let the administration run with that and you hold the administration accountable."

About alternative revenue sources, McQuade said, "This is going to be important in the next 12 months. You have to look at alternative sources to be thorough."

He went on, "I’m not sure I could support advertising...School is not the appropriate forum."

He said, though, that he could probably support pouring rights and a foundation.

On health insurance, McQuade said, "I’d like to think the board took some of my advice."

During discussions at the citizens’ advisory sessions, McQuade said, he was the first to use the term "Cadillac plan," to describe Guilderland’s coverage, a term which was reiterated frequently.

"I reviewed policies with independent brokers I deal with to see why it was higher than what I pay as a small businessman," said McQuade. "I suggested an employee buyout for those who do not need insurance, to entice them to drop out."

He went on to say, "There are things that could be changed. The committee does need to alter its format. It did a disservice to employees," McQuade said.

Since Guilderland employees pay 20 percent of their health-insurance costs out-of-pocket, they were hurt by the "high-end" plans that offered services they didn’t need, McQuade said.

"I definitely think that changes could be made to benefit both the district and its employees," he said.

McQuade said that, while serving on the budget advisory committee, he heard contrasting opinions on lengthening the school day. "It’s not as simple as a longer school day to save on buses," he said. "There will be other expenses.

"I would want to do a fair amount of research with the board, the administration, parents, and teachers. I would reserve my decision," he said, while advocating research.

On full-day kindergarten, he said, "If the state requires it, of course we would follow suit....I’m not sure that full-day is warranted."


Weisz profile

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Richard Weisz, who is seeking his third term on the school board, said, "A number of people are very frustrated with the cost of education. That’s a fair point of view."

But, he said, he would ask those people to compare Guilderland to other districts. "Our tax rate is in the middle...We have a very rich program," he said.

The discussion, Weisz said, should be framed around larger issues: Are property taxes a fair way to pay for education" Should schools have to pay for unfunded mandates, like heart defibrillators" Should costs for special-needs students, three times the cost of regular students, be seen as the state’s responsibility rather than paid for locally" Can the state-required pension payments, at 10 to 12 percent for the near future, be changed"

"I would like the community to reflect on if the solution is not at the local level," he said.

Weisz, a lawyer, is married to Diane Rosenbaum-Weisz, who works for Parsons as director of the Child and Family Guidance Clinic. They live on Mohawk Trail, and have two children — Jessica and Joshua — both Guilderland graduates, currently at university.

When making decisions on the school board, Weisz said, "My first thought is: How would it impact the children" My second thought is: How would it impact the taxpayers""

His goal, he said, is to offer a "quality education" while respecting those who are paying for it.

Weisz supports the $79 million budget for next year, and is already looking to the years ahead.

"From a program point of view," he said, "I’ve asked the administration to begin rethinking on how to prepare our children for a more international and multi-cultural world than I grew up in."

He said this would include teaching foreign language to elementary students and combining social studies and English courses at the high school, tackling integrated subjects.

"We need to prepare our students for the world they are going to face," he said. "We need to look at what kind of programs we’re going to add."

Weisz also said some tough but wise budget decisions were made this year, such as locking into debt payments on the Farnsworth Middle School expansion and renovation project. "We could have postponed it a year," he said.

He went on to say, "We’re always looking for ways to be more efficient on delivery of services. The budget cut out some positions. That’s a sign we’re working to reduce spending. We also did a transportation study to see if we can be more creative....And the insurance committee came in with proposals that brought savings."

If the budget were defeated at the polls, Weisz said, he would recommend cutting the budget and putting the new plan up for a public vote.

"I think it would be disappointing for the budget to be defeated," he said. "It’s a good budget; it’s a fair balance between the needs of students and taxpayers."

But, if it were voted down, he said, "We would have to take the message seriously and see where we could do better."

He concluded, "It is ironic that we have a budget below what the state sees as relief...That reflects the hard work that went into making a fair budget."

On school security, Weisz said, "The first thing to ask is: What do the kids need""

He went on, "The drift I’m getting from parents, teachers, and staff is this system is workable...People are comfortable with it. If you have people complaining on both sides a little bit without being really upset, you’re doing the right thing."

Weisz then went on to discuss security in a context broader than locked doors. He talked about a program at the middle school he just attended on Internet bullies and predators. "We’ve been teaching about this," he said. "And this week, there’s a program for parents on gangs."

The district has an anti-bullying campaign; a Healthy Choices program; and it has school-resource officers, from the Guilderland Police Department, stationed in the middle school and high school, Weisz said, concluding these all add to security at school.

"Security is more than locking a door," he said.

"Do I see the need to spend additional money for security now"" he asked, answering himself, "No. But we’re always trying to do better."

Weisz sees no conflict between teaching to the test and offering a rich curriculum. "You don’t have to choose," he said. "There is no conflict. I’m for our rich program. We need to prepare the kids for a challenging world.

"I never thought that expertise meant you don’t know the fundamentals," said Weisz, explaining that the required tests examine students on the basics and teachers can go beyond that.

"The test itself has peculiarities," said Weisz. "Many parents, including myself, enrolled our kids in SAT programs to prepare them with test-taking skills. We owe it to our kids to give them the test-taking skills."

Weisz went on, "The tests help us evaluate if our teaching is getting through to the kids. It’s a time burden and an emotional burden, but the reality is: Tests are here. We can use the results to tell us how we’re faring. You begin with the fundamentals and push to the next highest level."

On testing special-needs students, Weisz said, "Our special-education program is exemplary...I don’t know why our scores are not at the normative.

"Guilderland is perceived rightly as a positive atmosphere for children with special needs and parents select this district perhaps disproportionately... Maybe the test is not a fair measure; it’s something to look into. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water."

Weisz, for years, has pushed the district to consider alternative funding.

"I’m definitely in favor of alternative revenue sources and I’m definitely in favor of a foundation," he said. "I personally don’t have a problem with pouring rights. We’re selling soft drinks anyway," he said, and the district may as well make a profit from it.

Weisz said, however, if there were a recommendation to evaluate whether the district should sell soft drinks at all, he "would participate in the evaluation with an open mind."

On in-school advertising, Weisz said, "Kids are bombarded by advertising. I don’t think it would corrupt them." However, laws in New York State limit advertising in school, Weisz said; he would support "honorific things" like selling bricks with names on them or placing plaques on auditorium seats.

"We have to walk before we can run," Weisz concluded.

On health insurance, Weisz said, "We have failed to really educate the community on how wonderful and mutually beneficial our system is." The current system, with representatives from the different bargaining groups meeting as a committee to make recommendations to the school board, "solves things in a consensus way," said Weisz.

Referring to the portions of insurance paid by the district and by the employees, Weisz said, "The 80-20 split puts a substantial burden on the individual...We’re focusing on keeping the cost of insurance smaller. I know health insurance costs have soared everywhere. I have yet to be convinced there’s a better system."

He praised the initiatives pushed by board member Peter Golden this year and concluded, "The insurance committee worked harder. I think the system is working."

Weisz said he favors lengthening the elementary-school day. "I recognize that will involve a whole host of issues," he said, naming use of time and staff, and added costs.

Weisz is not in favor of full-day kindergarten before the state requires it.

"The district would face some real space and program issues," he said. "Our community is rich in the opportunities it offers for full-day with other sources.... Some parents like choosing the half-day program. I don’t think Guilderland needs to push for it."


Simply Fit
Tracy Hilt opens Altamont’s first gym

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — A new gym on Main Street may help the village get in shape.

Tracy Hilt hopes her Simply Fit, which opened Monday at Altamont Corners, will bring in excercisers who, otherwise, would have to drive far out of the village to work out.

"That’s one of the things I’ve heard most from people, that it’s so convenient," Hilt said.

The brand-new hydraulic-resistance equipment provides even more convenience, she said, hence the name, Simply Fit.

"It’s actually a pretty simple workout. The equipment is pretty easy to use," Hilt said. "It’s a 30-minute circuit, so it’s like getting an hour workout in half an hour."

The equipment uses fluid to smoothly provide resistance. It creates an intense but low-impact workout, eliminating soreness, Hilt said.

"There are no stacks of weights or anything like that," she said.

There are also two treadmills and an elliptical machine at the gym.

Hilt moved to Altamont eight-and-half years ago, she said. A year later, she said, her husband became ill and died. That’s when her interest in health began.

Opening a gym, she said, is something she’s wanted to do in a long time.

"It’s kind of where my passion is," Hilt said.

She and her three-person staff are fully trained to provide instruction on the hydraulic equipment, Hilt said. Those looking to lose weight will be able to participate in weight-management programs, working with the gym to set goals and keep track of their progress.

Simply Fit is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays.

For a single person, Hilt said, a membership costs $32 per month, with a 15-percent discount for married couples. Senior citizens are charged $25.50 per month. Yearly memberships are also available.


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