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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 26, 2008

“We don’t have a cookie police”
Board concerned over unhealthy school foods

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As the district moves towards serving healthier foods at school, some board members still expressed concerns at their meeting on Tuesday night.

“My concern is the drinks available to kids,” said Gloria Towle-Hilt as the board prepared to award seven bids to vendors for the school lunch program.

“It worries me when I see Gatorade...just the amount of sugar kids are ingesting,” she said.

Food Service Director Linda Mossop conceded the schools still serve Gatorade and Vitamin Water but went on, “We’ve gotten rid of juices not 100 percent and eliminated ice teas and lemonade.

“We are looking at tweaking beverages,” she said, adding that, eventually, the district will probably be required to serve 12-ounce beverages or less.

“We are going in the right direction, but slowly,” concluded Mossop.

Towle-Hilt said she liked the idea of instituting a swipe-card system so parents could monitor students’ purchases.

About childhood obesity, Towle-Hilt said, “This is a real crisis in this country and we shouldn’t provide it.”

Board member Peter Golden asked what affect the rising price of fuel, needed to transport food, had on prices.

Mossop replied that more than fuel prices are driving up food costs. Grain products, she said, have gone up 35 percent since last year and eggs are up a whopping 65 percent.

Mossop said she’s kept labor and health-insurance costs down, so school lunch prices have only gone up a nickel to cover the rise in the cost of living.

An evaluation on pricing will be made Friday, she said.

Board member Colleen O’Connell, who serves on the district’s wellness committee which two years ago drafted a federally-required wellness policy for the district, said the policy was supposed to be self-imposed. (To read an article on the policy, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com under archives for Guilderland on June 7, 2006.)

“We don’t have a cookie police,” she said.

She bristled that an unnamed elementary-school PTA sells cookie dough as a fund-raiser.

“We’ve got to start policing what PTAs sell,” said O’Connell, stating her opposition to raising money by selling high-sugar, low-nutrition foods.

“The adults at some point have to set an example,” she said.

Board member Denise Eisele asked Mossop if she preferred to buy food locally.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders responded that, by law, the decision has to be based on price.

Mossop named local farms where she buys school foods and concluded, “I do like buying local whenever possible.”

Mayor requests tax abatement

Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, requested that the school district along with the town and county, reduce taxes on 28 acres it owns on Brandle Road. The property, the site of two wells, is just outside village limits in the town of Guilderland.

“We paid almost $6,000 in taxes,” Gaughan told The Enterprise, of school, county, and town taxes combined.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders had asked if, in return, the village could reduce water rates for Altamont Elementary School. Gaughan told the school board that, by law, rates cannot be adjusted for an individual customer.

After Gaughan left, Sanders told the board that Altamont’s three parcels were assessed at $218,300 for which the village had paid $4,376 in school taxes.

He also said the district had never had such an exemption request before and that the law allowed it only for parcels owned by a municipality outside of its own boundaries.

“I don’t understand why we would do this,” said board member Peter Golden. “Everybody would like some sort of exemption to save them money.”

The school board will vote on the matter at its next meeting, July 1.

Radon reduction

The board passed a resolution to declare radon reduction at Guilderland High School as an emergency action and contingent expense.

Tests last winter in half of the high school showed that the auditorium, the media office, a few science classrooms, the wrestling room and the coaches’ room all had readings above federal guidelines. (For a detailed account online, go to www.altamontenterprise.com, under “archives” for June 19, 2008.)

Superintendent John McGuire stressed Tuesday that the readings were nowhere near numbers that would require evacuation.  Sanders said they indicated an action level, not a health-hazard level.

Radon, an invisible radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium in the ground, is believed to have caused lung cancer in miners.

The resolution allows the district to spend up to $50,000 for such things as sealing cracks, ventilating, and de-pressurizing the soil by inserting a tube to draw out the gas.

Other business

In other business, the board:

—  Approved an agreement with the Rensselaer-Columbia-Green Board of Cooperative Educational Services to provide internal auditing services for the 2008-09 school year;

— Heard an update from Sanders on the current $27 million construction project, which will renovate the five elementary schools, improve technology across the district, and move the district offices to the high school.

The architects, CS Arch, have had extensive meetings with staff, he said, and are laying out plans.

The project, he said, is “still on schedule.” By the end of the summer, plans should be submitted to the State Education Department and bids will be awarded in February and March with a goal of completing the project by the fall of 2010;

— Awarded property, auto, and liability insurance to New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal.

The decision, said Sanders, was based on four criteria — price, experience with school districts, risk-management services, and litigation.

Even though the NYSIR premium was higher, said board President Richard Weisz, its coverage was broader;

— Approved annual updates of three state-required plans‚ for professional development, safe schools, and academic intervention services for struggling students;

— Celebrated the Mastermind team and the girls’ lacrosse team;

— Heard Weisz thank board member Peter Golden, who was not re-elected, for his service on the board over the past three years. Weisz thanked Golden, in particular, for his work on the business practices committee. “You toiled long and hard, he said, “not on camera.”

Weisz presented Golden with a certificate and a plague;

— Heard that eighth-grader Brianna Phillips won the Albany County George Roe Athletic Achievement Award, nominated by her teacher, Kim Buckley;

— Learned that Nick Constantino, a senior in Meredith Best’s advertising and design class won a Nori award, sponsored by the Albany-based Ad Club, for his poster design;

— Accepted a donation of photo paper from Don Tripp; and

— Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland School Administrators’ Association, to talk about a personnel issue, and to get a negotiations update on Technology and Communications Personnel and on the Guilderland Teachers’ Association unit on teaching assistants.

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