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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 30, 2008

“Bloody cutting” or seizing new opportunities?
Budget building begins at GCSD as board members weigh in

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — While most of Guilderland’s school board members advised cutbacks or at least caution constructing next year’s budget in light of the current upheaval on Wall Street and the state’s financial crisis, Hy Dubowsky urged the board not to retreat but to “wisely move forward.”

President Richard Weisz agreed. “Let’s not start the retreat — yet,” he said at the end of last Tuesday’s session.

All nine board members gave their views while Superintendent John McGuire took notes. The administration will draft a budget proposal that will be reviewed by a citizens’ committee before the board adopts it. The voters have their say in May.

The current $84 million budget passed easily.

Dubowsky described his view as “totally opposite of my colleagues.” He suggested such initiatives as teleconferences and using distance learning, offering such courses as Chinese, career planning, and grammar boot camp by partnering with other schools.

He’d like to expand the music program into the community and establish “an institute for academic excellence.”

Dubowsky said of Americans, “We were some of the smartest people around” with intellectual capital that drove the economy. He concluded, “I would not want to back off...As the budget moves forward, are there opportunities we can seize?”

The session started on a more cautious note as Gloria Towle-Hilt spoke first. “The current economic climate is one in which I feel we can’t take on new initiatives,” she said. Towle-Hilt wants to maintain current programs, continue to cut costs, and look at the three-tiered system for busing students with an eye to change for savings.

Colleen O’Connell agreed but wants to continue to send Guilderland students to Tech Valley High, the regional school that is serving as a model for modern educational methods. Guilderland sent a freshman to the first class and this year is supporting a freshman and sophomore.

As a member of the committee that has spent a year and a half studying full-day kindergarten, O’Connell urged the board to be open to that. Guilderland currently offers half-day kindergarten.

O’Connell also praised an initiative at Guilderland Elementary School to save paper by designating one child in a family to bring home backpack mail.

Finally, she pointed out that, while current high-school classes number almost 500 students, the younger grades have 350 or 375. Staff has to be cut accordingly, she said. “The demographics are changing,” said O’Connell. “We need to be mindful of that.”

Judy Slack also advocated no new initiatives although she supported looking at all-day kindergarten and continuing support of a new high-school engineering program, Project Lead the Way.

“I don’t think the community should be asked to give any more...Times are tough,” said Slack, who added Guilderland should continue to provide quality education.

Catherine Barber said she was “a little bit scared” with the current economic upheaval. She advocated “being more efficient” and said, with an upcoming analysis of supervisory staff, it is important to “make sure everyone is working together for a common goal efficiently.”

Barber said that, while music and art are “worthy of support,” extra support could come from alternative funding like a foundation.

Denise Eisele said that, while her initial reaction was to “not raise taxes,” the district has a responsibility not just to the taxpayers but to the students.

She said the district needs to continue with its “professional development,” referring to training for staff, to support its excellent teachers.

Eisele, who heads the board’s communications committee, also said, “We need to make a commitment as a district to look at how we communicate.”

She also said, “I just don’t think we’re doing enough with diversity,” suggesting, for example, a local mosque could give programs on Islam.

“We know what the state demands...We go well beyond that,” said Vice President John Dornbush.

Long a supporter of the district’s technology initiative, Dornbush repeated this sentence twice: “We are teaching our children today for jobs that don’t even exist.”

He said the school district was not a “top-down organization.”

“We believe in...shared decision making,” said Dornbush.

He suggested incorporating lessons from Tech Valley High School.

“We can do creative, exciting forward-looking things that will really prepare students for the 21st Century, which is our motto, at the same time without burdening the taxpayer,” he said.

Dornbush said he thinks income tax is a more fair way to fund education than the current property tax system used in New York. “If you can’t afford your taxes...it doesn’t matter if we have an increase...We’re at the breaking point,” he said. “Next year’s going to be a heck of a lot worse...We’re going to have to start doing some cutting, some bloody cutting.”

Barbara Fraterrigo said the district had made a commitment to a safe and respectful environment and said, when it comes to programs fostering acceptance of diversity, “We sort of have to put our money where our mouth is.”

She also said that the physical education program should be brought up to state standards, with more exercise time for students.

Like several other board members, she said she wants to continue the district’s support for a two-year-old program teaching Spanish in the elementary schools. And she recommended “flex time for teachers on a voluntary basis” so students could study music and art after school.

Weisz, who gave his views last, advocated continuing the foreign language program at the elementary schools, continuing Project Lead the Way at the high school, and continuing to send students to Tech Valley High.

He noted that the board had kept a million dollars over the state-set requirement for fund balance in order to be prepared if state aid should be cut.

If the district has to pare, Weisz recommended doing it when it knows what the numbers are.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Agreed unanimously, after a long and sometimes heated discussion, to accept McGuire’s recommendation to hire the Capital Area School Development Association to conduct a study on the district’s administrative-supervisory model.

McGuire said the study will cost $4,000 and the report should be complete by Jan. 31, 2009 so its findings can be part of next year’s budget.

Fraterrigo said she was “uncomfortable” that the district hadn’t put out requests for proposals. “When you get people in the same situation, new thoughts and strategies sometimes don’t surface,” she said.

The board first requested the report in the spring and Fraterrigo maintained there would have been time to look at other offers.

McGuire said that CASDA was linked with schools across the state.

“There are many unique aspects to our district...shared decision-making is more real...than in any district in the state that I’m aware of,” said McGuire;

— Was recognized for its service. McGuire called being a school-board member a “thankless job” that is “sometimes very stressful.”

Two high-school students provided board members with books they were to inscribe, which would then be placed in school libraries.

“I can’t think of a more fitting way of thanking us for our service,” said Weisz;

— Praised Susan Tangorre, the assistant superintendent for human resources, who was attending her last board meeting. She is retiring; Lin Severance will fill the post.

McGuire told Tangorre she is “a person who has earned the respect of everyone with whom you’ve worked.”

“Working for Guilderland has been one of the real joys of my life,” said Tangorre;

— Heard congratulations from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton for Christine Kuzdzal, recognized for her work in the Advanced Placement Program.

In June, she worked with high school and college calculus teachers in Kansas City, Mo. to score AP exams;

— Heard Weisz mourn the death of former board member Joseph L. Cohen.

“He fought the good fight and won and has now passed on to his reward,” said Weisz, stating that Cohen, who served on the school board from 1976 to 1985, had “contributed greatly to the country and the community”;

— Accepted a violin from Elizabeth Bone;

— Awarded a bid for 840 cases of copy paper — which Sanders described as “a tractor-trailer load” — to Ricoh Corporation, the lowest bidder meeting specifications, for $22,990.80. The district gets a similar quantity four or five times a year, said Sanders.

Dornbush asked how much more recycled paper would cost. Sanders said  about $2,000 for this one purchase, totaling $10,000 for the course of a year; and

— Met in executive session to discuss tenure recommendations, a personnel issue, and negotiations with the Guilderland Employees’ Association.

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