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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 20, 2008
Public input sought
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND The governor’s proposal last week for mid-year school-aid cuts, which sent shock waves across the state, left leaders of this prosperous suburban district cautious but not panicked.
No one in the district should be in a “panicky mode,” Superintendent John McGuire told the school board Tuesday night. “The district has been prudently managed,” he said. “We will continue to be prudent and not draw down rainy-day funds.”
He said residents shouldn’t be anxious about programs being decimated. The district will continue to balance students’ needs with being accountable to taxpayers, McGuire said.
Governor David Paterson last Wednesday released his two-year $5.2 billion deficit reduction plan, calling for cuts this school year of $836 million in aid and suggesting districts fill the gaps with reserve aid. The announcement was greeted with a flurry of protests from unions and the New York State School Boards Association. This Tuesday, the State Legislature met in special session but took no action on the cuts.
If the governor’s proposal were to be enacted, Guilderland could lose 10 percent of its aid, said McGuire, taking in $911,000 less than its state aid last year.
Voters last May handily passed an $82 million budget. Guilderland was allotted about $23 million in state aid, which is just over a quarter of its revenues.
President Richard Weisz reminded the board that last month, on learning the school district was a million dollars over the state limit for surplus funds, it had decided to ignore the requirement and keep the money available for “a mid-year correction.”
Guilderland’s unreserved, undesignated fund balance of $4.4 million was outside the limit set by state law; the rainy-day account is not supposed to be greater than 4 percent of the district’s budget for the upcoming school year. Guilderland has $1,020,876 over the state-set limit, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise earlier.
In the past, when Guilderland has been over the limit, as it has in recent years, the school board has put the money into reserve funds, allowed by law. This year, all eight board members present at the Oct. 7 meeting agreed flexibility was more important than following the law.
Weisz said Tuesday that the important question now is, “What are we going to do next year?”
Governor Paterson has said he will present his budget proposal for 2009-10 on Dec. 16, a month earlier than is traditional.
The district will hold a community meeting on Jan. 13, Weisz said, to share information and solicit input.
This is ahead of the traditional citizens‘ budget review process; a committee of volunteers meets in the spring in a series of televised sessions to review the budget proposal and give opinions.
McGuire on Tuesday called Guilderland’s budget process “very open and transparent” and said it was “a source of pride in the community.”
In other business at its Nov. 18 meeting, the school board:
Accepted delinquent tax rolls totaling $1.6 million for 2008-09 and agreed to turn the rolls over to Albany County for reimbursement.
“We’re held harmless,” Sanders said;
Heard from Sanders that the district had decided not to pursue Walgreens’ assessment challenge in court. (See related story.)
“It’s far more likely we could spend more [in litigation costs]...than the potential tax loss,” he said;
Accepted from Bruce Weeden 55 tickets to various University at Albany women’s basketball games for members of the Guilderland girls’ basketball team;
Appointed volunteer Michele Stevens, a district resident, to notify families of students living on the Helderberg escarpment when bad weather forces dismissals.
“The weather conditions are very different than down here,” said Weisz;
Heard a reminder from Weisz that the district has a hotline where people can report instances of financial abuse. The hotline has been used just once since its inception, Weisz said, and it was not for a financial matter;
Heard from Catherine Barber, who chairs the board’s policy committee, that Linda Bakst, a former Guilderland School Board member and policy committee chair, who is now deputy director of policy services for NYSSBA, spoke to the committee.
Many of Guilderland’s policies have not been reviewed for years, said Barber, and NYSSBA offers services ranging in cost from $9,500 to $12,500 to provide a comprehensive review.
McGuire obtained an estimate from the Erie 1 BOCES for a similar service that would cost less because of the state aid that comes with Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
The policy committee will review the proposals;
Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that the Farnsworth Middle School organic garden has contributed 2,347 pounds of produce to the Regional Food Bank.
He commended the students for their “bountiful harvest” and generosity, “especially during a time [when] we are struggling economically”;
Learned that Marie Eoff, RN, the school nurse at Westmere Elementary, was recognized by the New York State Association of School Nurses for her active involvement on its board of directors;
Heard congratulations for the fourth- and fifth-grade chorus at Lynnwood Elementary School and director Michelle Jantson along with the high school chamber choir and its director, Rae Jean Teeter, for being selected to sing in WMHT’s “Music for the Holidays 2008”; and
Met in executive session to discuss an administrative performance review, negotiations, and personnel issues.
After meeting in closed session, the board reconvened, McGuire said yesterday, and voted, 8 to 0, to fire two employees at Guilderland High School.