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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2007
Plan revised 15 times
Fine-tuning Glass Works Village
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND As plans for the $100 million Glass Works Village move forward in Town Hall, the design has been changed while some neighbors cite traffic concerns.
The biggest development in town since Crossgates Mall, Glass Works is being billed as a mixed residential and commercial "walkable community" that will connect local amenities like the Guilderland Public Library and the YMCA.
It is to be built off of busy Route 20 and the heavily developed east end of town.
Developers Atlantic-Pacific Properties, Platform Reality Group, and DRA of Troy unveiled new plans during last Tuesdays town board meeting. It is the 15th revised plan created to date, they said.
The changes include moving garages behind homes, incorporating new storm-water management features, removing a corridor from the villages green space, and cutting the height and density originally planned near Chancellor Drive.
"It’s just a different design type; it has nothing to do with functionality"it’s a preference," said Daniel O’Brien, president of Platform Realty Group. "It gives it a more village feel from 100 years ago."
Joseph Sausto, also from Platform Realty, told the town board that the project will "lessen the reliance on the automobile," and Dominick Riniri, of DRA, said Glass Works Village is "designed around the human experience."
John Behan, of Behan Planning Associates, added that the development will generate money for Guilderland.
"Economics are not only going to be direct, but beneficial to the whole town at large," he said. "We have the chance to build a whole new place here."
The board was also told that Glass Works Village will be "more like Stuyvesant Plaza rather than Crossgates Mall," and that models and planning are being designed around similar plazas with similar uses.
Developers say the "New Urbanist designs," and the "traffic calming devices" will mitigate possible traffic concerns. New Urbanism seeks to re-create traditional villages with businesses and homes in close proximity, creating community and reducing car use.
Some neighbors at the meeting werent so confident.
"We had some very frank discussions"I am within 75 feet of Winding Brook Drive," said Michael Kurz, referring to his law firm on Route 20. "Since opening in 1999, I have seen a significant increase in traffic flow"At peak traffic times, it’s virtually impassable."
Kurz told the board that, although he is not opposed to the project if it is "done properly," he sees car accidents on a regular basis and said traffic mitigation needs to be a top priority when reviewing the project.
"We’re a traveling society. Realistically, very few people will live there and work there," Kurz said. Saying that he is the sole provider for his family, Kurz added, "If I can’t do business, I have to move out of this town, it’s as simple as that."
Board members of the Guilderland Public Library also attended the meeting and spoke about traffic concerns.
"We didn’t hear any reference to the library, and that really bothers me," said library trustee Merry Sparano after the developer’s presentation.
"What we want to know is how we will we be affected by traffic"" she said. "What are the potential alternatives""
Sparano said the proposed road between Windingbrook Road and Mercycare Lane would affect the librarys new Literary Garden, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to build. Although the proposed road was designed to reduce traffic from busy Route 20, Sparano said the heavy trucks and constant traffic would ruin the new garden.
"As a library trustee and interested and concerned citizen of this town, there is nothing approaching a full and detailed discussion," said Brian Hartson, vice president of the library’s board of trustees.
Sparano added that the library is "kept out of updates."
"It seems to me, it runs counterproductive to a wonderful project," Hartson told the town board. "It could be a wonderful addition to the town."
Some others spoke at the meeting, expressing similar concerns.
The Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Association sent an official letter of endorsement for the project to the town board.
"This is exactly the type of development envisioned for this hamlet’s planning," the letter said.
Supervisor Kenneth Runion has told The Enterprise on several occasions that he has gotten some "very positive feedback" on the project and that it "utilizes the Smart Growth concepts," which are endorsed by New York State.
Councilman David Bosworth sided with residents and said traffic concerns need to be seriously looked at and he said he wants to make sure the board is looking at the "whole picture."
"There’s not going to be any bell towers, or water slides, or anything like that," he said. "I’m being facetious, of course"but we want everything up front before we move forward."
OBrien said he is aware of the traffic concerns.
"It’s certainly a concern and we certainly want to address it," he said. "They were all very good points made at the meeting that night."
Continuing, OBrien said that the project has over 10 consultants working on the planning for Glass Works Village along with 15 community-based groups.
"I think if there were more of these projects, it would cut down on a lot of traffic overall," O’Brien told The Enterprise. "We think we’re somewhat part of the solution," he said of developments that combine homes with businesses.
The development is planned for 57 acres of land bordering Winding Brook Drive and Western Avenue. Most of the construction is planned for the southeast corner of the intersection.
As for the public elementary school across Route 20 from the proposed site, OBrien said Glass Works will contain large numbers of condominiums and not draw as many school-aged children as other developments.
"We don’t envision a host of people crossing Route 20," he said. Plans call for a crosswalk to be installed at the Winding Brook Drive intersection, as well as turning Winding Brook into a boulevard with a round-about.
However, according to the projects draft environmental impact statement, an estimated 135.8 school-aged children will live at the Glass Works Village. The plan estimates that 15 percent will attend private schools, leaving 116 children for the Guilderland public school system to educate.
The impact statement also says 22 acres of the development will remain "usable open space" and 12 acres will be landscaped areas, leaving 24 acres for development.
Glass Works will consist of 228 condominiums, 72 townhouses, and 27 residential cottages, the proposal says. The development will also contain 180,000 square feet of commercial space for retail stores, offices, and restaurants, and an additional 10,000 square feet for day-care facilities.
OBrien told The Enterprise that if all the permits and variances are in place, he hopes to break ground by this fall.
"There is so much interaction between consultants, groups, and the town," he said, "but we hope to get started by the end of year."
At the very latest, OBrien said, construction is slated to begin by early spring of 2008.
Residents and business owners have until May 7 to submit written comments to Town Hall on the proposed Glass Works Village. All comments will be used in the developers final draft report for the town to review.
"We’ve had at least 50 people call, trying to look at the site and pick out lots," said O’Brien. "We met last week with five people who wanted to come in and get some more information, but we don’t have an offer out quite yet."
Guilderland library proposes $2.6M budget, with 4-cent tax hike
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND As the library gears up for its 50th year, its trustees are presenting the public with a $2.6 million budget.
"Our goal is to meet the community’s needs," said Barbara Nichols Randall, director of the Guilderland Public Library.
Over the last half-century, the library has grown along with the community; the town now has 34,000 residents.
"We have about a thousand people a day coming through the door," said Nichols Randall. About 1,700 items circulate each day, and about 337,000 people came to the library last year, she said.
If the Glass Works Village, a $100 million New Urbanist proposal, geared for people to walk rather than drive, gets built next to the library, the impact could be immense, said Nichols Randall. "There’s no other walkable neighborhood to us," she said.
Of planning the 50-year celebration of growth, Nichols Randall said, "It’s fun; we’ve been looking back and finding things some of us working here didn’t even know. It really makes you feel a part of history...We’ll have quirky, interesting, and exciting events."
Overall, Nichols Randall said, "The important thing is we constantly try to make the library a place for everyone."
This includes programs that range from consumer health to teaching English as a second language.
Close to 100 people have been trained through Literacy Volunteers to teach English, a program under the direction of librarian Maria Buhl.
"I believe you should share what you have and others will share with you," said Nichols Randall.
She cited several partnerships with the National Library of Medicine, used for information from expensive data bases; and with local museums, such as the Shaker Museum or the Albany Institute of History and Art, where library patrons can sign out free museum passes.
Nichols Randall also pointed out that, in addition to being used for library events, the building is used for meetings of various community groups.
"People use us as a community center," she said. "We have to turn people away sometimes, the demand is so great."
If voters in the Guilderland School District approve the budget on May 15, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value for Guilderland residents is estimated at 90 cents, up 4 cents from this year. This means a Guilderland resident with a $200,000 house would pay $180 in library taxes next year.
A public hearing will be held on the budget on May 10 at 7 p.m. in the librarys Normanskill Room.
Voters will also be able to cast their ballots for two trustees Douglas Morrissey and Carroll Valachovic; both are currently members of the librarys board. Valachovic came in third in a four-way race last year, and so earned a one-year spot on the board. Douglas Morrissey was appointed to the 11-member board several months ago when a trustee resigned.
The third vacant seat will be filled through board appointment unless someone mounts a write-in campaign. "A large number of people took information about running," said Nichols Randall, but only two turned in their petitions, due last week. "People get intimidated by elections," she said.
Ten of the trustees voted in favor of the $2,601,498 spending plan; longtime trustee Merry Sparano voted against it.
Her dissenting vote, Sparano told The Enterprise this week, was because an item, an electronic sign, was placed in the budget without the board having first discussed it. "My feeling is things should be discussed by the board before being put in the budget," she said.
Sparano stressed, "I have no problem with the budget. It’s a matter of procedure," which, she said, can erode without vigilance.
The biggest increase in spending at Guilderlands library, as with most schools and libraries, is for salaries and benefits up 5 percent or nearly $100,000 to $1.9 million for next year.
The Guilderland library has 54 workers, about half of them part-time, said Nichols Randall. The increase is because of a negotiated pay raise with the union; 47 of the workers are in the CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) while seven are in administration, said Nichols Randall.
The contract that the board negotiated over a year ago adjusted salaries so that they are closer to other libraries in the county, she said last year. The starting annual salary for a librarian at Guilderland is in the $40,000 range; all librarians have masters as well as bachelors degrees.
"They have to come from the Albany County Civil Service list," said Nichols Randall this week. "We haven’t had anyone turn down jobs because of the salary as they have in the past," she said.
Another reason for the increase is that the library will expand its Saturday hours this summer, due to public demand, said Nichols Randall. The library will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. as it is the rest of the year.
Costs for materials will increase from $325,650 this year to $335,420 next year, mostly to keep pace with inflation, said Nichols Randall.
A video game collection was added this year, which is very popular with kids. The library has close to 130 games which are hardly ever on the shelves, she said.
Tech manuals that go with the games are popular as well, she said, and the youth services librarian, Trevor Oakley, is flagging "read-alikes" or books with themes that relate to the games to inspire the game enthusiasts to read as well, said Nichols Randall.
Other materials added recently include e-books and down-loadable audio books.
Total materials at the Guilderland library number 182,000, which includes 95,000 adult books; 57,000 childrens books; 27,000 tapes, videos, and CDs; and 2,000 electronic media items such as journals through websites.
The collection fits in the library, Nichols Randall said, because "people keep taking things out." She went on, "If everything came back, we’d be in trouble." The library has only about 10 empty stacks, she said.
Costs for programming and planning will increase from $24,450 this year to $38,375 next year.
Some of the increase will pay for consultant and planning work, said Nichols Randall.
A group of citizens, called Growing for Generations, will present the trustees with a report, making recommendations for the library’s future. "They have looked at our strategic plan to make recommendations to the board. We’re in the fourth year of the plan and have to ask: Is it still valid""
Some of the money will also be used for special programs celebrating the librarys 50th anniversary in 2007.
Services that have recently been added will also be maintained. This includes outreach to the far ends of the age spectrum. In partnership with Borders, the library has been holding story times at Crossgates Mall, attracting about 40 children and adults weekly.
To serve the other end of the age spectrum, librarian Eileen Williams delivers programs to older adults. "She has been getting to know the activities directors of the assisted-living facilities and has held book discussions on site," said Nichols Randall. Also, a lending library of large-print books will be made available to those who may not visit the library.
Costs for the physical plant are to increase from $192,425 this year to $202,425 next year, primarily because of the increased cost for utilities, said Nichols Randall.
She said, too, "We’ve put a little more money into contracting work out."
The library employs three full-time and one part-time maintenance worker but they are so busy inside, cleaning and setting up meeting rooms, said Nichols Randall, that the library has gotten "a little shoddy" outside.
Equipment costs will increase from $49,185 this year to $53,685 next year.
The library will purchase two new Internet computers. "I don’t know how many computers we would have to have to have vacant computers," said Nichols Randall. "They’re in use from when we open to when we close...A lot of people don’t have computers at home. And a lot do, but come in for the fast connection."
The library is WiFi connected so many patrons bring their laptops from home and use them in library, she said.
The lions share of library funding comes from the local tax levy $2.6 million.
Other sources for income include gifts and donations at $10,000, investment income at $45,000, reserve funds at $55,000, and miscellaneous income at $84,750.
The library is counting on close to $10,000 more in miscellaneous funds next year. Nichols Randall said this is both from grants and fines. The library charges 10 cents a day for overdue materials. "We have found the number of fines has gone up," she said.
The library has difficulty securing grants, she said, because many are geared for rural areas or areas with high rates of poverty.
The library has gotten some gifts, she said, that it will use to set aside an area for "tweens," patrons between the ages of 9 and 12 who feel too old for the children’s section and have their own literature to read.
The library has budgeted $10,377 in state aid for next year, up from $8,890 this year. "We didn’t know what we’d get from the state until April," said Nichols Randall. "It’s based on the 2000 census, rather than the 1999 census."
The Guilderland library is still lobbying, along with other libraries, for more state aid. "The amount of money the state puts toward libraries compared to the number of citizens who benefit is disproportional," said Nichols Randall.
She also said that Albany is one of the only counties in the state that doesnt give money to its libraries.
Nichols went on to say how grateful she was for the librarys Friends and Foundation, which raise funds.
The library follows the boundaries of the school district for taxing purposes. While the town of Guilderland accounts for most of the district, small parts of three other towns are included as well.
If the budget passes, the tax rate for Bethlehem and New Scotland residents is estimated at 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, up from 72 cents this year. The rate for Knox residents is estimated at $1.16, up from $1.10.
Referring to the rate increase for Guilderland resident, Nichols Randall concluded, "I really think 4 cents per $1,000 is a bargain for what we’re going to add. The trustees are cautious; we try to give value rather than just take."
Rescue workers honored
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND Many firefighters and rescue workers sacrifice their time, and their own safety, to serve our community often without recognition.
The St. Peters Hospital Foundation will honor both the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad and the Guilderland Fire Department at next months annual benefit.
Following what administrators deemed a "professional and organized emergency call" during last winter’s carbon monoxide leak at the Our Lady of Mercy Life Center, as well as previous years of service, the foundation decided to honor the two organizations.
In January, during one of the coldest nights of the year, a boiler malfunctioned and leaked carbon monoxide into the nursing homes basement, threatening the safety of 160 mostly immobile residents. The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad was on the scene in minutes and helped to quickly organize nearly 50 mutual-aid ambulances from five counties in preparation for a possible mass-evacuation.
The Guilderland Fire Department responded to the incident as well and ventilated the building once the leak was stopped and a major evacuation was avoided. The fire department also had handicap-accessible buses on hand to keep people warm and help with the transport if necessary.
"They have really been critical for our patients," said Shannon Haughney, association director of development for the St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation. "They are just so great with the patients, always very personable and professional"and that’s very important."
The event will take place Wednesday, May 23, at the Our Lady of Life Center Nursing Home in Guilderland, on Mercycare Lane off of Western Avenue. Each year, St. Peters Hospital Foundation honors the dedication and services of individuals or groups that makes a difference in the community.
"We plan to take a couple of hours that evening to honor these two incredible groups," Haughney told The Enterprise.
This will be the foundations eighth annual benefit; a variety of restaurants will provide food for the event. It will be open to the public free of charge.
"They are always just willing and waiting to work with us," Haughney said about the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad and the Guilderland Fire Department. "There has been a very good connection between us."
In years past, the rescue squad, the fire department, and several other area emergency crews, have all responded to calls and have been on standby for potential emergencies or evacuations at the Our Lady of Life Center.
"They are honoring us for our volunteer role in the community and we are certainly honored for that recognition," said Guilderland Fire Department chief, Curtis Cox. "We really do appreciate this recognition for all of the efforts of our volunteers who work so hard at what they do."
The rescue squad was just as flattered.
"As an agency that prides ourselves on community involvement and ‘neighbors helping neighbors,’ we are honored to be recognized by Our Lady of Mercy Life Center in this fashion," said chief of operations for the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, Howard Huth. "We have shared a wonderful relationship since their inception and we look forward to continuing to provide stellar patient care to our community in the years ahead."
Kennedys life like a great American novel
By Jarrett Carroll
CLIFTON PARK The life of Verna Brown Somers Kennedy reads like the great American novel. From surviving the Great Depression and owning a Model-T Ford, Mrs. Kennedy went on to see the first credit cards used and was able to watch the most important thing in her life grow the family who loved her.
Following a lengthy illness, she died on April 17, 2007, at Schuyler Ridge Residential Health Care. She was 98.
Since Mrs. Kennedy was a caretaker her entire life, her family did not hesitate when it was her turn to be cared for.
"I really miss her so much. It’s like a big black void not having her around," said her daughter, Patricia Kennedy. "We would go for rides together and every time any of my friends would come over they would say, ‘Where’s your mother"’ Everybody just adored her."
Born on the Fourth of July in 1908, in Albany, to the late Jason and Mary Somers, Mrs. Kennedy was a proud descendant of the Rev. Peter Nicholas Sommer, the first permanent Lutheran minister to New York.
"She used to think her father took the day off of work just for her birthday when she was really little and that she was the most special little girl around," Patricia Kennedy said of her mother. "She didn’t know it was a holiday."
Patricia Kennedy said that her mother, a long-time Guilderland resident, was a woman who "overcame trepidation" her whole life and had a "powerful will to live." Mrs. Kennedy nearly died as a teenager and was the widow of the late John P. Kennedy, who died in 1966.
"She overcame a ruptured appendix at the age of 15 and her family was surrounding her bed by her side. They thought she was going to die," said Patricia Kennedy. "Then she woke up and asked why everyone was around her, crying, and went on to live for nearly 99 years."
As a graduate of Albany High School, Mrs. Kennedy began working when she was 16 in the payroll department of Williams Press in Albany. After marrying, she stayed at home for 10 years to raise her daughter, and then returned to work in retail. First she worked as the assistant credit manager at Denbys and then later worked as a credit manager at Wells and Coverly, both department stores in Troy.
"She was around for the first credit cards when they used to notch them by hand," said Patricia Kennedy. "She had a Model-T Ford and lived through the Depression"She was like a walking history book."
During the time Mrs. Kennedy was a credit manager, she was an officer in Credit Womens International. She left retail credit for the payroll department at the New York State Department of Health, from which she retired in 1975.
"When she retired from the state, they had a big party for her and gave her a music box that played Shadow of Your Smile. She loved that song," Patricia Kennedy said about the 1965 Tony Bennett song. "She listened to it all the time."
Mrs. Kennedy suffered from a paralyzing stroke three-and-a-half years ago, but Patricia Kennedy said her mother would not give up.
"After the stroke, they said she would never talk again"but I decided that she would talk again," she said. "She and I would go for rides together all the time; she liked going for rides. We would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts every time because she just loved their coffee."
Patricia Kennedy said she would leave the television on with captions so that her mother could read the words as she watched the news and her favorite shows like Law and Order.
"I kept doing that and then, one day, I went out and got some coffee and put a cup on her tray in front of her. She looked up at me and said, ‘Dunkin’ Donuts.’ I couldn’t believe it. I just thought ‘Thank God, I knew she was still with us," said Patricia Kennedy.
On the way to Mrs. Kennedys funeral service, her daughter and other family members and close friends stopped at Dunkin Donuts and used coffee to toast the woman they all knew and loved.
"I think she would have really liked that if she saw it," Patricia Kennedy said. "She would have been very proud and honored I think, and she would have gotten a big kick out of it, too."
Mrs. Kennedy was a very gentle yet strong mother, said her daughter, Patricia.
"She’s such a great mother. She was so gentle and kind, yet strong and assertive, but she was never overbearing and always supportive," said Patricia Kennedy. "We used to say she went to college with me. She went to every single play, to everything really. She saw me at every school I went to, no matter where it was.
"I still look back and say ‘Boy, how’d she do all that"’"
In a tribute to Mrs. Kennedy, her family wrote, "Verna lived a long and full life, remaining alert to the end, and always deeply interested in the people and events of her world and beyond, and delighted by animals. She was a loving wife and mother, always loyal to family and friends.
"What will surely remain in the memories of her daughter and all who loved her is her powerful will to live, and her beautiful smile that lit her eyes and warmed us all."
Patricia Kennedy said that her mothers curiosity and love of the news never faded.
"She loved to watch the news and she always read The Altamont Enterprise every single week," her daughter said. "She used to read it cover to cover because she said she couldn’t find those stories anywhere else."
Patricia Kennedy said her mother will be deeply missed by everyone who knew her.
"I don’t know anyone who didn’t love her," she said. "She always said to take good care of the people you love while they’re here, and then you’ll be able to move on."
Mrs. Kennedy is survived by her daughter, Patricia Anne Kennedy, of Clifton Park; her nieces, Jacqueline Savoca, Sue Bushey, Carol Hoefer, Nancy Reaulo, and Linda Wilson; her nephews, Donald, Thomas J., Wellington Jr., James, and Gerald Somers and her close friend and caregiver, Ann Marie Leifer.
In addition to her husband, John, her sisters, Mildred Wallace and Gladys Walter; brothers, Merton and Wellington Somers; and two infant siblings, died before her. Molly, the cat she loved, also died before her.
A funeral service was held Saturday, April 21, at the Bowen Funeral Home in Latham, with interment in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 4 Northcrest Dr., Clifton Park, NY 12065; the Schuyler Ridge Resident Council, 1 Abele Blvd., Clifton Park, NY 12065; or to the Animal Protective Foundation, Inc., 53 Maple Ave., Scotia, NY 12302.
Guilderland School Board
Five run for three seats, hold varied views on issues
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Five candidates are vying for three Guilderland School Board seats in the May 15 election.
Incumbents Barbara Fraterrigo and Colleen OConnell are running as are three newcomers John Fraher, Carolyn Kelly, and Gloria Towle-Hilt.
All support the $82 million budget on which voters will also decide on May 15.
The three-year posts are unpaid and the three highest vote-getters will serve on the nine-member board.
The Enterprise asked the candidates to comment on six topics:
What is the 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 keeping separate English and social-studies supervisors as the faculty wanted, or combining the posts to save $65,000 as the superintendent recommended this year, which would they advocate"
Budget support: Candidates were asked if they support the $82 million budget, and why or why not. They were asked if there were specific items such as funding for full-time front-door monitors to increase school security, or re-instating some of the teachers aides for special education cut last year, or a writing lab proposed by the English and social-studies faculty they would have liked included, or if there were specific items they thought should have been cut.
New superintendent: The school board will be hiring a new superintendent before next fall when Gregory Aidala retires. Aidala has said he considers himself to be a non-voting member of the school board.
Candidates were asked what qualities the new superintendent should have and what his or her role should be in relation to the school board.
Teachers contract: The teachers’ contract will be negotiated in the upcoming year; salaries and benefits make up the largest share of the district budget. The superintendent has said, "To reduce salary cost, you have to reduce staff."
Several members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee have said that contracts are not a mandate and raises for teachers should be reduced to control costs. Candidates were asked for their views on this.
Should Guilderland’s reading curriculum be reconsidered" Four parents complained to the school board this year about the failure of the district to teach their children to read, echoing concerns raised several years ago by a group formed by Melissa Mirabile, Guilderland Parents Advocate.
(The GPA has endorsed school-board candidates since 2004. GPA-endorsed candidates who have been elected include: Barbara Fraterrigo, Peter Golden, Denise Eisele, and Hy Dubowsky. The GPA will announce its endorsements for this year next week, said Mirabile.)
The president of the teachers’ union said comments made by some board members in response to the parents’ complaints "sent a chilling message of distrust and has provoked fear in teachers and staff." He said the board seemed willing to substitute its judgment of an academic program for that of its professional staff.
The faculty has defended the program, presenting data showing the overall success of the reading program and explaining how learning is tailored to meet individual needs of struggling students.
Candidates were asked for their views on the reading program and the boards role in it.
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 said this would allow for more instruction.
A committee studied the matter, but reached no conclusion. The superintendent has said there must be a clear priority before there can be change. Candidates were asked if they had such a priority.
Also, there has been discussion at 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"
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND "I’m a proponent of good governance," said John Fraher, a certified public accountant, making his first run for school board.
Fraher, who grew up in town, now has three children in the Guilderland schools two at Farnsworth Middle School and one at Guilderland Elementary School.
Fraher said he has been involved with boards both as a board member and on the management side, and he was critical of information being withheld from school-board members who had requested it.
"I believe a board of directors should be allowed to review anything," said Fraher, adding there might be stipulations that the review would be in a private setting or that board members not be allowed to have copies.
"I have a concern when management doesn’t allow a board to look at information," he said. "Then who really has the governing role, who really has the authority to make changes"" he asked.
On the boards he has served, Fraher said, "I have a pretty free voice and express what I want and I’m not criticized or told that’s not my issue."
If he is elected to the school board, Fraher said, "My first allegiance is to the students and, secondarily, to the teachers."
He went on, "We also have an obligation to the taxpayer...We should give a lot of attention to making sure we’re getting the best for our dollars."
About the budget, Fraher said, "I support the fact there’s a small increase in the tax levy but the budget did go up 4 percent...$82 million is a lot of money."
He went on, "I’m concerned the board didn’t take a more global approach to re-allocate money to the classroom."
Fraher also said, "I go by the 50-50 rule...Put half [of additional money] into the classroom and give half back to the taxpayers."
Of the superintendent’s role, Fraher said, "The superintendent is a paid employee. He or she is part of management. A superintendent is accountable for implementing procedures and programs, all subject to review" by the board.
He also said, "The board of directors must be independent of management. If not, who then would be accountable""
Fraher went on, "The superintendent needs to be responsive to the board’s ideas and needs to understand his or her role....In all the boards I sit on, time is allotted to explain who has what responsibility. Time should be allotted for training and re-training."
Asked about his views on the teachers’ contract, Fraher said, "I would have to study that matter further."
About the reading curriculum, Fraher said, "I’m aware there may be a larger population [of those with problems] than the parents who came forward."
He went on, "A student’s ability to read impacts all subjects. We may have a problem. We ought to do a couple of things."
He listed: Understand the extent to which problems exist; identify what has worked and what has not; and make plans for change, if needed.
"We should have measurable data to make that determination," said Fraher.
He noted there was "some negative reaction" to several parents’ speaking out and to some board members’ reactions.
"Anyone has the capacity to come to the board and voice issues; anyone should be heard," said Fraher.
"I heard there was some uneasiness with it," said Fraher. "We should not ignore the issue; we should give it full attention."
On full-day kindergarten, Fraher said, "I’m not sure the Guilderland School District has the space to do that but I’ve talked to a number of parents with small children who both work" and would welcome a full-day program.
"I would want to go in a direction the majority of family members would support," he said.
Fraher said he wasn’t prepared to give a "solid answer" on the length of the school day. "It needs more review," he said.
He did comment, "If the length of the school day would allow teachers to do more, perhaps it is time to look at extending the school day."
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Barbara Fraterrigo, who has served on the school board for a decade, is seeking another term.
She told The Enterprise earlier that she is most proud of the improvement in communication with the public during her tenure.
"We started televising the meetings and added an extra [public] comment period. We started having an early meeting on the budget," she said of a citizens session in the fall. "And now we have coffee klatches," she said of a recent initiative where pairs of board members talk to the public at a diner or a library.
Asked why she is running again, Fraterrigo said, "I enjoy trying to do everything we can to keep kids on the right track and be mindful of the taxpayers. I just love doing it."
Asked about her goals, Fraterrigo cited collective goals: The board this year set two priorities to start foreign-language instruction in the elementary schools and to enhance technology education.
"We proudly proclaim we’re preparing our children for the 21st Century," said Fraterrigo, referencing the district’s slogan. "We’re on the right track. We may be slow and plodding, but we have our eye on the prize."
Pressed for her own personal goals, Fraterrigo said she would like to see community involvement with curriculum, perhaps having citizens serve on cabinets. "My father always said two heads are better than one," said Fraterrigo. "I like to hear from people and gather ideas."
Fraterrigo, who works as a manager of a doctors office, is a mother and a grandmother.
She was out of the country this week and could not be reached for comment. The Enterprise will run her comments on the issues after she returns.
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Gloria Towle-Hilt, a middle-school social-studies teacher at Guilderland since 1971, said, "I want to use that experience to solve problems...This is not about me saying I have the answers. I want to work with other people who are passionate about education to solve some of the problems we are faced with these days."
She went on, "I believe we have a wonderful district and I want to contribute in a new way."
Towle-Hilt, who has two grown children, both Guilderland graduates, will be retiring in June.
Asked who she would serve as a school-board member, Towle-Hilt replied, "For me, all of us serve the students."
She described training she recently took in curriculum mapping during which the instructor placed an empty chair in front of the room as a reminder of the student everyone should keep in mind.
"Our children need to be the center of attention," Towle-Hilt said. "From that, we all benefit."
Being a social-studies teacher herself, Towle-Hilt said she was disappointed the supervisors’ posts were being combined at the high school. She said she understood the value of a supervisor for each subject and stated, "If you serve the teachers, you serve the students."
But Towle-Hilt didnt want to comment on specific changes she would have liked to see in the budget.
"I support the budget," she said. "We’ve developed a process that speaks highly of the district and the community." She praised the process that allows citizens to review, question, and criticize the budget.
"You get a sense of where people are coming from...People come out of it with an I-can-live-with-this attitude." In the end, she said, "It’s something we can all get behind."
On choosing a new superintendent, Towle-Hilt said, "The number-one quality is communication. The superintendent needs to be able to listen and encourage people to come forward and talk and know they’ll be heard."
And, Towle-Hilt went on, the superintendent has to have "an ability to lead the staff and be a curriculum leader....The experience is going to be critical. We have high standards in this district."
Asked about the superintendent’s role, Towle Hilt said, "In my mind, the school board sets the direction. The superintendent and staff, their job is to put that vision into practice and make it real."
She went on, "The board uses all the resources around them, but they’re in charge of setting the course, of visioning."
On the teachers’ contract, Towle-Hilt said, similar to budgeting in a household, "You have so much money and you have to spend to get the best kind of benefit."
She also said, "We go in with good faith with the bargaining units. We can’t put constraints on from outside."
She went on, "We have a collective bargaining process. I remember it was very confrontational in the ’70s. We’ve come so far. We’ve developed a positive relationship. Both side have been working to bring costs down, looking at health care."
Towle-Hilt concluded, "I don’t see it as us against them...I’m part of the community, too. We want to provide fair and equitable salaries; everyone wants that."
On the reading-curriculum discussion, Towle-Hilt said, "First of all, there’s a real failure of communication on both sides."
She went on, "I understand and accept the fact members of the public, when dissatisfied, have the right to come forward. People were sharing their own personal stories," she said, and the board couldn’t respond because it had to respect student confidentiality.
She also said that parents may not have gone through all the appropriate avenues. "It kind of jumped right to the board," said Towle-Hilt. "My own experience has been, when a parent comes and says something isn’t working, people bend over to solve it."
She stressed that children learn differently. "Are we going to succeed all the time" No. I spend hours trying to find ways to reach children," said Towle-Hilt. "We’ll keep trying."
About the reading curriculum, she said, "I don’t see it as a program. There are a lot of pieces, a lot of ways reading is taught. The program has to be varied. What works for some kids may not work for others. I don’t think we can have a [single] method or program for all students."
On the length of the school day, Towle-Hilt said that, because Farnsworth Middle School lets out later than many other area middle schools, Farnsworth students involved in sports often have to leave early, missing class.
"Trying to alleviate that might entail switching other school schedules," she said.
She noted, though, that the committee that studied the length of the school day found no simple solutions.
Towle-Hilt said that, since she arrived at Guilderland in 1971, school schedules had been the same. "Maybe there is something to change that would be more fiscally responsible," she said. "We have to look at the possibilities."
On kindergarten, Towle-Hilt said, "My own personal feeling is we need to look at moving to full-day kindergarten. The community needs are there. We need to look at what changing it would entail."
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND "If I’m elected to the school board," said Carolyn Kelly, "I’m truly going to listen to what the community has to say."
Kelly, an auditor with three children, said she realizes that, as just one member of a nine-member board, she couldn’t promise action. "But I can work with the other members of the board to help them understand a community member’s or parent’s ideas," she said.
As a board member, Kelly said, she would serve the students "first and foremost."
"I really love kids and I really want to make sure they get the best education possible," she said.
Kelly went on, "Certainly we have to take a look at how much things cost."
Speaking to the example of combining the social-studies and English supervisors’ posts, Kelly reiterated the views she had expressed while serving on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee. "I advocated keeping the separate posts," she said. "It’s important to keep professionals within their own levels of expertise. I was disappointed they’ll be combined. That’s a lot of work for the English supervisor."
Kelly said she "definitely" supports the $82 million budget. "Certainly, it’s always a compromise," she said of the budget-building process. She has served on the advisory committee since 1999.
She named among items she "maybe would have liked to see handled differently" the new position for a technology supervisor.
"I understand that was one of the board’s goals," she said of technology education. "I just don’t know if we have the infrastructure in place...if we’re still having trouble just getting the computers to work the way they’re supposed to."
Kelly said the new superintendent "should be a person who is very happy working with students." And, she went on, he or she should be "someone who really wants to listen to ideas our staff has, our parents have, and from the community at large."
Being superintendent, Kelly said, is "a very difficult job, a balancing act. The superintendent has to have a lot of energy," she said and she would be interested to learn how candidates for the post had handled problems in other districts.
Kelly does not believe the superintendent is a non-voting board member. "The board is the voice of the community and the voice of the taxpayers," she said, "and the superintendent reports to the board. I don’t see the superintendent as a member of the board. He certainly has to give a lot of information to the board, but he’s not a member of the board."
On the teachers’ contract, Kelly said, "I think the board needs to bring in an outside contract negotiator."
She said this suggestion had been made at a citizens budget committee session, where it was stated people who live in town with this expertise may volunteer their services. Kelly recommends forming a committee of community members who have expertise.
"Our teachers need a good salary," said Kelly. "They have a difficult job and are asked to do many things. Their benefits need to be on a par with the rest of the community," she said, adding that, in general, "Benefit costs have gotten out of control."
As far as salary increases for teachers, Kelly said, "I haven’t heard any numbers yet...State employees aren’t getting 5-percent increases. I don’t know what type of percentage increase we should be looking at."
She concluded, "I definitely want our teachers to be happy and well paid and have excellent benefits but we have to be sure the taxpayers are respected also."
About the reading curriculum, Kelly said, "I think the reading program still needs to be addressed. I don’t think the teachers should have been overly upset with the board asking for more information.
"The parents who came forward had a lot of good information....
"Even after the meeting where the staff presented the reading program, I still had questions and I’m still concerned. We have wonderful teachers and no one said they are not doing a good job. People are just asking what more can be done.
"We definitely have a problem," she said, citing figures on state-wide tests that show a third of eighth-graders score below state standards in reading. She said scores in other subject areas are higher.
"It seems to be, as the content gets more difficult, students that don’t have the needed skills aren’t able to succeed," said Kelly. "That tells me some other methodologies need to be incorporated."
On the length of the school day, Kelly said the length is appropriate at the middle school and the high school. "Everybody has gotten through it," she said of the early start at the high school.
"I wish the committee made more inroads for high school," she said. "I understand there are many components," she said, citing times set for interscholastic sports competitions as a factor over which the district has no control.
"At the elementary school, I’ve always thought the day was much too short," said Kelly. "It doesn’t seem like a full day," she said, stating that mothers from other districts were often surprised by the 1:50 p.m. dismissal.
"Our school day is the shortest in the area," said Kelly. "I definitely think it should be lengthened. There’s so much we have to pack in. I don’t think we have enough time."
On full-day kindergarten, Kelly said, "I think it would benefit the students". It could help children with their reading and readiness skills for first grade."
She added that it may soon be mandated by the state and concluded, "I have always fully supported full-day kindergarten. It will be expensive but, if we roll up our sleeves, we can find the money to do it at a reasonable cost."
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND "I’m very proud of my attendance at school board and committee meetings, citizens’ budget sessions, and as a liaison to PTAs," said Colleen O’Connell, who is running for a second term on the school board.
"I believe that I am well prepared, that I ask fair but probing questions, and that I have made measured decisions in my voting."
The mother of three who worked as a trial attorney said, "I’m fortunate to have the time, the energy, and the passion for public education and this office. I’d be privileged to serve another term."
She also said, "I’m one of the few people on the school board who has younger children," which she said is an important perspective. Her children are in fifth, eighth, and ninth grades.
Students come first for her, said O’Connell when asked who she serves as a board member. "The students are primary," she said. "We pride ourselves in being a child-centered district."
O’Connell went on, "Advocacy for children is why I ran for the board of education. I view my role as advocating for all the children in the district."
Speaking to the example of the combined supervisors’ post, she said, "I wrestled with that question and stated I would prefer two. Then, listening to my colleagues who suggested trying it for a year and saving some money, I was persuaded."
She concluded about the role of a school-board member, "I do feel I can serve more than one master at the same time."
"I absolutely support the budget," said O’Connell. "I was very pleased we could keep the tax-rate increase to 2.48 percent....I thought what the school board guided the administration to do was really terrific."
She noted that the school board could have used the additional $400,000 in state aid to add programs or staff. "We didn’t," she said. "We kept the tax rate low."
OConnell said she is happy that foreign language study will now be starting at the elementary level. And she added that she is pleased the school boards goal for technology education is being met by having a sixth-grade technology class and by hiring an enrichment teacher for technology, science, and math at the middle school.
In her three years on the board, O’Connell said, Farnsworth Middle School parents "have repeatedly asked for more enrichment opportunities at budget input sessions."
She went on, "I love the fact that, if this position is funded, we can have non-competitive enrichment offerings for students at all levels, not just gifted and talented.
"I also support the Bridges program, offering those first- and second-graders who need it, reading help over the summer as well as transportation to the program."
For the new superintendent, O’Connell said, the qualities that are most important go "hand in hand" being in touch with curriculum and having "a very good budget sense."
"We’ve been blessed with a superintendent in Dr. Aidala who brings both to the district," she said.
About the superintendent’s role, she said that he or she "has to be a leader into the future and not a steward...A true leader takes a school district forward and maybe into a direction we don’t even know right now."
About the teachers’ contract, O’Connell said, "Our staff contribute 20 percent of health-insurance premiums, which is fairly unique in the Capital District."
She went on, "We’ve seen that the cost of living [increase], except for gas, has not been that high. We’ll have to look at that and what other districts are doing.
"While I want to keep raises reasonable, I want to keep the best teachers. We need to be competitive."
O’Connell concluded, "I see teachers and staff as partners with the school board and community...I have every confidence we will find something our teachers can live with."
On the reading curriculum, O’Connell said, "When I describe the reading program to people, I call it a multi-faceted approach."
She went on, "As a parent who watched three children who all learn differently learn to read, I believe that is accurate. I’m always open to listening to new ideas....
"As a school board member, I have to trust the people we have hired who are educated in these areas. I don’t believe the reading program is static. I’ve seen it evolve and change."
O’Connell also said, "I’m a special-education parent. I have one child who does have an IEP [Individual Education Plan]. The district has done an excellent job addressing that child’s needs."
O’Connell concluded, "I don’t think there’s a silver bullet for reading curriculum. We need to be open to new ideas."
On the length of the school day, O’Connell said, "I do not have the eureka solution. If I had to set the priority, it would be to lengthen the elementary-school day."
She went on, "I didn’t realize until the committee report that the issue was so complicated. It’s like a child’s toy where, when you move one part, the other parts move, too."
One thing she learned from the committee’s report, O’Connell said, was that Guilderland’s reputation for having the shortest elementary-school day is "not really true" since other area schools include activities such as intramural sports, band, chorus, or recess as part of their school days.
"The words you use are very important," said O’Connell. "Not everyone is saying the same thing. I hope the district continues to look at the issue."
About kindergarten, O’Connell said of the current program, "They certainly pack a lot of learning and fun into a half day."
She went on, "I can support full-day in theory."
One of the items that needs to be examined, she said, is facilities. "Does that mean we’d have to lose some tenants"" she asked, citing, as an example, classrooms rented by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services for special-education students. "What kind of revenue would be lost""
"I would support a task force looking into it," she concluded of full-day kindergarten. "I suspect there would be community support for it."
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