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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008

BKW looks to meet state regs on gym class

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — The school board here is looking at ways its elementary students can get the exercise the state requires.

Currently, Berne-Knox-Westerlo elementary students are in physical education classes for 80 minutes a week while state regulations require 120 minutes.

Brian Corey, the elementary principal, referred to a presentation he and the middle- and high-school administrators made in June, about the gym gaps and called the 40-minute elementary gap the “biggest discrepancy.”

He presented the board with four ways to close the gap.

The first was to have a physical-education teacher work with classroom teachers, who would lead their students in exercise 10 to 15 minutes each day. The second was to have instruction via the Internet or TV that kids would follow in their classroom for 10 to 15 minutes each day.

The third and fourth options involved hiring a full-time or part-time physical-education teacher to either teach kids outside during recess, a pull-out-model, or to use a push-in model where the teacher would come to the classrooms on a rotating basis.

Next, Corey said, he planned to work with the school’s shared decision-making committee to come up with more options.

School board President Helen Lounsbury asked about a short-term solution, to be in place when school opens. She said she was concerned about the district being noncompliant.

Corey said that he had researched eight other similar schools and found only Schoharie — with two gyms and two full-time physical education teachers — was compliant.

“All of our physical-education teachers have a full schedule,” said Fred Marcil, middle-school administrator, to meet the state requirement, he said, “It doesn’t have to be physical activity; it can be knowledge.”

“Are the teachers willing to take 10 minutes out of their day?” he asked.

“To be legally compliant?” asked Lounsbury.

“Are they qualified?” asked Superintendent Steven Schrade.

Lounsbury said she had visited an elementary school where exercise was part of a daily morning program.

“We meet once a month for our morning program,” said Corey, adding that 453 students exercising in the gym at once would be quite a problem.

Michelle Fusco, the board’s vice president and a past president of the Parent-Teacher Association, said that the PTA first brought the discrepancy to the district’s attention three years ago.

“I don’t have the physical space to run a program,” concluded Corey. “I’d love to have a new gym and a physical-education teacher.”

Searching for a principal

Schrade told the board that he has been looking for an interim high-school principal. The board placed Mary Petrilli on paid administrative leave on Aug. 11 after she was arrested at her home for menacing and possession of a weapon. She had returned to her $73,000-a-year job last month after nine months on medical leave.

Schrade told the board he had been in touch with Charles Dedrick, district superintendent for the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and his staff.

“They are helping guide me through the process,” said Schrade, who has said he would like to have a principal in place for the opening of school.

The per diem rate could range from $250 to $500, said Schrade.

He had talked with one candidate on Monday who was not available, and Schrade said he would talk to another on Tuesday. Yesterday, he said, he’d still had no luck in finding a candidate but has placed advertisements online and with school administrators’ organizations.

The state’s education commissioner has put “tighter restrictions” on hiring retired administrators, said Schrade. This happened after the attorney general accused some retired school administrators of “double dipping.”

“We have to present our circumstances to the State Education Department once we’ve found a suitable candidate,” said Schrade.

He told The Enterprise he does not know when the school’s internal investigation of Petrilli will be completed, but he expects “to have information compiled” by the Sept. 15 board meeting.

Shared services

The school district and town are looking at services they might share.

Timothy Holmes, BKW’s business administrator, reported to the board on a meeting he and Peter Shunney, BKW’s supervisor of buildings and grounds, had with Berne’s supervisor and highway superintendent.

They discussed purchasing larger tanks for fuel storage than either facility now has. This would allow both the school and the town to buy fuel more cheaply and to purchase when the market is down, said Holmes.

“We’d have to build a whole facility,” he said. “Our tanks are old and need replacing; I think their tanks are in worse shape than ours.”

They also discussed shared recycling, although, Holmes said, “Our waste cost is very low.”

He thinks having the town plow school lots is a good idea. “It takes us quite a few hours with our trucks,” said Holmes. The town could do it in half-an-hour, he said.

A shared garage and bus wash would involve a capital project, he said. “Our facility is old and small,” said Holmes. “It’s worth looking into.”

The lack of a washing bay leads to rust on the buses. (See related story.)

Using methane gas for energy was also discussed, although Holmes said, “It sounds like science fiction to me.”

Administrative expenses

Several citizens complained to the board on Monday about administrative expenses.

Parent Mary Jane Araldi urged the board consider “a time study” for administrative jobs, where workers’ duties and the time they spend on them are tracked.

“I feel administratively our school system is top heavy or front loaded,” Araldi said, citing several local school districts, which she said had fewer administrators.

The board discussed appointing a part-time clerical assistant, questioning if another worker could handle the job or if services could be shared with another office.

Asked what would happen if the clerk weren’t hired, Schrade said, “School would start…It’s a slow eroding type of situation.”

“It’s tough,” said Holmes, “to get someone working full-time to pick up extra duties….Nineteen hours is the limit; over that, we have to pay benefits. We’re lucky to be able to find a local person that fits our requirements.”

Four board members — Lounsbury, Fusco, and Sean O’Connor — voted to appoint the clerk for 19 hours a week.

Jack Harlow was absent and Maureen Sikule abstained after raising a question about needs assessment.

Lounsbury polled the four board members present and said it was the board’s consensus that there should be a needs assessment for administrative appointments.

Carol Anderson, who identified herself as a taxpayer and a grandmother, said she agreed “totally” with Sikule and wished she had voted no, instead of abstaining. She said it would be prudent to assess every position.

Leo Bartell spoke from the gallery in accord and warned against “administrative overload.”

Schrade yesterday made a distinction between clerical staff and administrative staff.

“There are just six of us,” he said of administrative staff. This includes the superintendent, business administrator, assistant superintendent for elementary and special education, and the high-school principal, elementary-school principal, and middle-school administrator.

“That’s the same number we had in the ’90s,” he said. “In 2000, when we had financial difficulties, two administrators retired and we hired one replacement.”

Parents and teachers at the elementary school then registered concerns, Schrade said, because the administrator was spending so much time on special education, the school was falling short. BKW has 200 special-needs students out of a total enrollment of 1,100, he said, which is a higher percentage than the statewide average.

“One year, we had 45 move in who were already identified” as special-needs students, he said. Asked why so many, Schrade responded, “It could be because we do a good job and word spreads.”

A sixth administrator was added back so the elementary school now has a principal dedicated just to the school.  Schrade also acknowledged that increased state and federal requirements for data and test-passing has increased the burden on administrators. Schrade said similar-sized local schools have similar administrative structures.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Discussed whether information referred to in board minutes should be posted on the district’s website.

Ed Ackroyd, a former board member, suggested videotaping the school-board meetings.

Lounsbury said the board would look into it;

— Heard from Schrade that the only major new curriculum initiative for this school year is a pre-engineering program, which he described as a “hands-on, higher level, technically based program for students exploring the possibility of going into engineering.”

Over 20 students have signed up for the program, he said, and the two teachers, who spent 10 days being trained in Texas, are “very excited”; and

—  Heard from Schrade that there is a vacancy for a citizen to serve on the budget advisory committee. The district is looking “for people with some financial expertise,” he said.

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