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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 22, 2009

School board prez invokes Obama’s call to service to recruit citizen budget advisors

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, the president of the school board here invoked Obama’s “call to service” in recruiting members for a citizens’ budget advisory committee.

The district, which handily passed an $84 million budget for this year, is facing a cut of $2.7 million in state aid, proposed by the governor, for next year.

Guilderland currently gets about 27 percent of its budget from state aid and about 68 percent from local property taxes.

The committee is slated to meet four or five times in March to listen to administrators explain their budget proposal and give suggestions.

Recent Guilderland budgets have increased less than inflation, said school board President Richard Weisz, but this year, beating inflation won’t be enough, he said.

Weisz said he hopes the citizens who volunteer — a dozen have already signed on — will “make recommendations about how we can do it better.”

Residents can call or write the superintendent or sign up online at the district’s website. The first televised session is on March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the high school, with an orientation for new members at 6:30 p.m.

Superintendent John McGuire praised the “30 diverse members of the community” who attended a forum last week to help the school district define its budget priorities.

While the forum provided positive feedback, McGuire said, “It didn’t answer any of the tough questions.”

McGuire reiterated his statements that his proposed budget for next year will not eviscerate any one program but, rather, will be uniform in its approach. The goal will be to provide the best education possible without passing the burden of the $2.7 million proposed cut on to the taxpayers.

Weisz said that board members, at their next meeting, will share their impressions of the forum.

He also suggested that, in case federal or state funds become available after March, that the district decide ahead, with input from the citizens’ committee, on how such funds would be spent.

He said, too, that he thought the format used at the forum — where residents broke into small discussion groups, could be more useful than the budget committee’s usual format where, at the last session, each member gives his or her views.

The first five or six make meaningful statements, said Weisz, then the others say, “Me, too.”

“We all benefited by hearing some give and take,” said Weisz.

In another budget-related matter, McGuire told the board that he reconvened the committee that had met for a year and strongly recommended Guilderland move from its current half-day kindergarten program to a full-day program. McGuire had initially backed the recommendation and planned to incorporate it in the budget proposal for next year. The school board, too, had backed the full-day plan, if finances allowed for it.

In light of the looming cuts in state aid, the committee agreed to let McGuire “off the hook,” he said. Each year, the recommendation will be brought forward at budget development time, he said.

“Sometimes even good ideas aren’t timely,” he said.

Board member Colleen O’Connell who served on the committee, commended its members for their generous attitude. She detailed their hard work, including extensive research and site visits and said, “This wasn’t just some little pet project.”

O’Connell said she was “very touched” and that the committee members didn’t want full-day kindergarten to become a “lightning rod.”

Facilities reports

All of Guilderland’s school buildings are in at least satisfactory condition, according to state-required reports the school board accepted Tuesday night.

The state requires three annual facility reports, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the board.

A visual inspection has to be completed by a licensed architect or engineer every five years, said Sanders. In intervening years, like this one, school staff complete the report.

While all of the buildings overall received at least satisfactory ratings, several of the 40-odd systems received unsatisfactory ratings. This includes roofs at Altamont, Guilderland, and Westmere elementary schools as well as at the high school and district office. Also, electrical and drainage systems at the district office, located on the middle school campus, were rated unsatisfactory.

The “unsatisfactory” rating, said Sanders, means the roof has “exceeded its useful life or requires more than routine maintenance.”

He went on, “The good news is the roofs and the district office will be addressed with the upcoming capital project.”

In November of 2010, school district voters passed a $27 million project that will renovate the five elementary schools, improve safety and technology districtwide, and build a new district office at the high school. The project is slated for completion in the fall of 2010.

The state requires a five-year capital facilities plan “so facilities don’t fall into a state of disrepair,” said Sanders.

The annual report requires the district to rank needs on a scale of 1 to 5 and to outline priorities for building repairs. Sanders said, again, that the construction project, approved by voters last year, would address many of the priorities.

First priorities districtwide in round figures total $13 million; second priorities total $6 million; third priorities total $2 million; fourth priorities total $3 million; and fifth priorities total $1 million — for a grand total of $26 million.

The only district building for which goals are not listed is a 19th-Century cobblestone schoolhouse on a three-acre plot in Guilderland Center, the only remaining one-room school in the district. It is registered as a State Historical Site and a new wood shake roof was put on in 2003.

It has no heat or electricity and the wainscoting on the walls is delaminating.
“Other interior concerns such as lead paint and ceiling mold present the district with a challenge in utilizing this property in a conducive, educational way,” the report says.

Finally, a school facilities report card for this year gives a “snapshot” of the other two reports, which is easy for people to look at, said Sanders.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Heard from McGuire that the district will begin advertising this week for a new elementary school principal and a new high school principal. Deborah Drumm is retiring from her post as principal at Westmere Elementary School, and Brian McCann was appointed as interim principal at Guilderland High School after Michael Paolino was put on administrative leave last year. Paolino settled with the district and was recently hired as an interim principal at Troy’s middle school.

Candidates for both posts will be screened following the February recess, McGuire said, and “very participatory interviews” will be conducted in March;

— Accepted a three-year agreement with the town of Guilderland to pay a share of the salaries for two Guilderland Police officers who are stationed in the schools — one at the middle school and the other at the high school.

If the school resource officers are not included in the district budget, the agreement won’t apply.

Currently, the district pays $25,000 for each officer as well as overtime related to SRO work.

The agreement calls for the district to pay the same amount next year, with a 4-percent increase for each of the two following years;

— Agreed to standardize on the Best lock system, the master keying system now used throughout the district, “for reasons of economy and efficiency.”

This way, Sanders explained, levels of keys can be granted so that, for example, a high school principal would have access to all rooms in the school while an individual teacher would have access just to his or her own classroom;

— Set non-resident tuition rates for the 2008-09 school year at $3,636 for half-day kindergarten, $6,936 for grades one through six, and $10,786 for seventh through 12th grades;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that two Guilderland High School students were invited to participate in all-Eastern Ensembles. Nick Tariello will play vibraphone with the jazz ensemble and Sean Teeter will sing with the mixed chorus.

The honors ensembles will perform on March 15 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Additionally, Rae Jean Teeter, high school choral director, will present a session at the conference, sharing tips on vocal pedagogy in a session entitled “The Functional Choir — Building Aural Musicianship”;

— Heard that the Tri-M Music Honor Society will induct 31 Guilderland High School students today, Jan. 22.

David Griggs-Janower will be presented an honorary membership. He is the director of choral activities at the University at Albany and choral director of Albany Pro Musica and has been a musical mentor to many students, teachers, and community members;

— Learned that work by Deb Escobar, Farnsworth Middle School enrichment teacher, has been accepted into the New York State Archives.

Her project called “La Escuela Electronica,” Spanish for “The Electronic Schoolhouse,” is a documents-based resource on Latino history written in both English and Spanish;

— Learned that high school students Anthony Leininger, Nicholas Gecsedi, Jessica Marini, Sarah Spinelli, Beatrice Malsky, Ivan Betancourt, Adam Hart, Matthew Masto, Amy Branchini, and Kirstyn Desrosiers are participating in the Emma Willard High School Invitational for art. Their work will be on display in the Deitel Gallery on the Emma Willard campus in Troy through Feb. 28;

— Heard that several Guilderland students were chosen to be New York State Honor Band members, based on their scores from the New York State School Music Association competition.

Patrick Verrilli will play the trumpet and Robert Grant will play the tuba with the Middle School Honor Band.

Matthew Walsh will play the clarinet with the High School Band; and

— Met in executive session to review the superintendent’s contract and to get an update on litigation involving school personnel.

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