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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 23, 2009
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Allan Simpson, an accountant making his first run for the school board, has a clear goal: “No tax increase for a couple of years,” he said. “Let’s live with what we have to maintain.”
He does not support the $85 million budget adopted by the school board, and urges district residents to vote it down on May 19. He says the slight tax increase estimated at .58 percent is too much.
“I’m an accountant. I like to manage it like a business,” he said of the schools, “within the means of what people can afford. The community can afford a zero-increase budget.”
Simpson, who had 19 years of experience in private accounting with a manufacturer in Watertown, N.Y., moved here to work for the state insurance fund.
He moved for “quality of life,” he said, wanting to have more time to spend with his family. He and his wife, Renata, a teaching assistant at Guilderland Elementary School, have two children Tyler, a freshman at Guilderland High School, and Ashley, a fifth-grader at Lynnwood Elementary.
They live in Windmill Estates.
“In the 10 years we’ve lived here,” said Simpson, “taxes have almost doubled. My wages didn’t double.”
Simpson went on, “I’d like to better understand why costs are going up, and come up with some solutions to bring costs under control.”
A second reason he’s running, said Simpson, is because his children have received an “excellent education” at Guilderland. “It’s always good to give back to the community,” he said.
Asked who he would primarily serve if elected to the board, Simpson said, “You have to look at every issue.”
He went on, “As a board member, you’re part of management. You have to be able to listen...and work through solutions to find common ground.”
Asked how the protests should have been handled last summer, Simpson said, “I don’t know enough about it to comment.”
He went on to speak in general terms. “If there’s a personnel issue, it’s the board’s responsibility to listen to comments,” he said. “But it’s also the board’s responsibility to do it discretely in executive session. You’ve got to dance a fine line there.”
Simpson also said, “You have to look at the terms of the contract” and follow the process for relocating teachers. “There’s a whole process to go through before it escalates with everybody in an uproar.”
On tolerance, he said, “Nobody should be bullied. I commend the district on having a policy.”
He also said that students who are harassed “need to come forward and make complaints so it can be investigated and [transgressors] can be disciplined if called for.”
Also, he said, lessons to prevent bullying have to be constantly re-enforced. “If you don’t keep a focus,” Simpson said, “things seem to slip. You need to keep it present in everybody’s eyes.”
On the proposed $85 million budget, Simpson said, “I’m against any budget with any increase in taxes even 11 dollars” per $100,000 of assessed value, as proposed.
“Too many people are going through hard economic times,” he said. “When things are tough, we need to control our costs. The right budget should not increase one penny. This budget should be voted down and a clear message sent to the board.”
Simpson, who served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, said the district should not keep a fund balance higher than the 4 percent of the budget allowed by the state. “I’m an accountant; I’m into compliance,” he said.
He also found it frustrating that the committee was presented with a greatly revised budget at its last session. (This was because new aid figures had just been released by the state that day.)
If the budget were voted down, Simpson said, the board should come back with a plan “with a zero-percent increase.”
Simpson also commented on the school board’s deliberations before adopting the final $85 million proposal. Most of the board members said they did not think the budget should include full-day kindergarten because of financial concerns. Referring to the school board president, Richard Weisz, Simpson said, “Dick changed every one of their minds. How much conviction do they have?”
On teaching assistants, Simpson said, “Yes, Guilderland has more than any other school system in the Capital District.” But, he went on, “In the other school districts, do they have more teachers per student?” He said the cost of teaching assistants has to be weighed against the cost of teachers.
“There are two sides to the coin,” said Simpson.
Referring to Superintendent John McGuire, he said, “Mr. McGuire says we have more than anybody else. Who is doing those tasks at the other districts? You might find our model is very cost effective...You need to know more before you go and hack those off.”
Simpson also said, “You’re taking the least paid professional person and they’re bearing the brunt...of most of the reductions the administration is seeking to get. All the administrators at CBAC said it wasn’t going to reduce the quality of service we’re offering. They never gave substantial evidence to prove it. They need to look at all the models used in other school districts to come up with the right blend of teaching assistants and teachers.”
On negotiating new contracts, Simpson said, “We need to scale back the cost of education to make it affordable for all of us.” He said that could mean holding the line on raises or changing the classroom model with larger class sizes if raises are given.
“We can’t always say we can afford more,” he said.
Simpson mentioned several others areas that could be considered such as a new pension plan where teachers retire at 62 instead of 55, or changes in health insurance such as increasing the co-pay.
“All sorts of options are available,” he said. “You’ve got to think outside the box. There are opportunities to take cost cuts without bodies. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit.”
On full-day kindergarten, Simpson noted it was not included in the original budget presented to the advisory committee by the superintendent. The full-day program was seen as “not fiscally prudent and an unnecessary tax burden,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s back in with the federal stimulus money.”
He went on, “We’re in tough economic times. Is this a prudent thing to do?” The federal funds were not meant to start new programs, Simpson said, stating, “We went in the opposite direction of the spirit of the law: Don’t put in infrastructure you can’t pay for.”
On correcting inequities in student performance, Simpson said, “if it’s important to the taxpayers and the community, it needs to be looked at.”
He said it was important to track Guilderland graduates to see if they had completed college in four to six years. “Or do they drop out and work at Hannaford?” he asked. “College is the key to success in today’s world.”
Simpson himself earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Le Moyne College and a master’s degree in business at the State University of New York College at Oswego.
He went on, “We need a report card that measures kids’ graduating from college...What are we doing to get our kids ready for their journey post-high school to retirement? Without a college education, the road becomes rough and bumpy.”