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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009
Three run for two VCSD seats
By Saranac Hale Spencer
VOORHEESVILLE Two school board members C. James Coffin and Cheryl Dozier are defending their seats and one challenger Justin Brusgul is making a run this year.
Last spring, voters overwhelming supported an initiative to shorten the term from five years to four in an effort to attract more people to run.
The Enterprise asked the candidates six questions:
Allegiance: What is the role of a school board member who do you serve, especially in a crunch? Students, taxpayers, parents, or teachers?
Budget: Do you support the $22 million budget? Are there things that you would have liked to have seen included or cut?
Full-day kindergarten: The idea of changing from half-day to full-day kindergarten has been discussed in several area schools; are you in favor of extending the kindergarten day?
Cyberbullying: Earlier this school year, a high school student at Voorheesville was a victim of cyberbullying, which has grown increasingly common with the use of the Internet. Should the district be responsible for things that happen off of school grounds?
Code of conduct: Last fall, several football players were taking performance-enhancing drugs and the only guidance offered by the district’s Extra-curricular Activities Code of Conduct is this: “Student involvement in the extra-curricular program shall be deemed to be an acceptance of a lifestyle which supports the philosophy that a student should have a sound, healthy mind and body and the responsibility and commitment associated with this philosophy.” Nowhere does it mention drugs or alcohol. Should the district policy be tightened on who can participate in extra-curricular activities?
Merger: Enrollment is down and is projected to continue going down. Should Voorheesville consider merging with a larger district?
The longest serving member of the school board, James Coffin, 66, is making his fifth run for a seat. He has retired from a career with the State Education Department and has two grown children who graduated from Voorheesville.
“The bottom line is, under the Constitution, we have to provide an education to children,” he said in answer to who he serves.
Coffin “absolutely” supports the proposed budget, he said, noting that it hasn’t gone up from the current budget.
“We were prepared to cut $800,000,” he said of the portion of the budget that the district would have had to cut due to the loss of state money before the federal stimulus funds were announced. “The pain is still out there; it’s just been delayed two years,” he said, referring to the federal money, which won’t be given to schools after next year.
Asked what the district will do to deal with the fiscal situation in two years, Coffin said, “We would have to involve the community… in discussions of the budget.” The federal and state governments are assuming that, in two years, the economy will be back on track, which is not a view Coffin shares, he said. “Wall Street provides 20 percent of the cash to run the state,” he said. And there’s “no chance that’s coming back.”
A big chunk of the country’s gross domestic product used to be manufacturing, he said, but the last 20 years have seen a shift to a service economy and that requires a better education for children. It’s a “big job to gear up our children for this future,” he said.
On full-day kindergarten, which the Guilderland School Board recently voted, 5 to 3, to put its budget, Coffin said, “The jury’s out in my mind.”
Programs with whole-day kindergarten have been around for decades, he said, but he added, “The research is thin” to make a case that every district needs it. The demographics in Voorheesville don’t necessarily require it, he said, noting that full-day programs are well suited for urban and rural districts.
“In a district like ours, you’ve got to make a case for it,” Coffin said.
When asked whether the school’s responsibility went beyond school grounds, Coffin answered, “absolutely not.” He went on to ask, “How much more of a burden can you impose on school employees?”
Dealing with situations like the cyberbullying case is part of a parent’s role, he said, adding, “That’s one that you cannot shift to public schools.” If it happens on school grounds, though, the district should be involved, he said.
Among the instances in which the school should be involved is drug use among athletes, he said on the issue of tightening the district’s code of conduct. “This is a work in progress, quite frankly,” he said.
The board is aware of drug issues, Coffin said, and added, “I’m in favor of discipline. People need to understand rules.”
As for the possibility of merging with a nearby district, Coffin said, “We looked at it back in my first term,” and the board decided against it after doing research. If the community wants to look at it, the board would, again, evaluate a merger.
He concluded, “I don’t think there’s a need.”
Justin Brusgul, 52, is making his first run for office.
He believes that working in that capacity means serving the public. “I am of the mind, if you run for public office find out what your constituency wants,” he said. “That’s why you’re there.”
Brusgul is a private-practice lawyer with a daughter in the elementary school.
He has “reservations” about the budget, he said, mostly because he thinks the federal stimulus money is a Band-Aid on an “$800,000 hole in the budget.” The board needs to re-think its spending because it won’t have the stimulus money in two years.
He doesn’t favor cuts so much as changes, Brusgul said when asked what he would take out of the budget. “Let’s re-think how things are done,” he said of getting the public more involved and making the board more accessible to the public.
A program he’d like to see added is foreign language instruction in the elementary school. Brusgul speaks several languages and sees a value not only in its practicality, but in the way it affects a student’s approach to learning other subjects. Brusgul also sees potential for the district to improve by learning from the Tech Valley High program. Not only by having students attend the Board of Cooperative Educational Services program, but by having teachers observe it and bring some things back to Voorheesville’s classrooms.
As for full-day kindergarten, Brusgul said, it’s “putting too much on 5-year-old kids… People say kindergarten is the new first grade I don’t buy it.” He also cited the cost of the program and the fiscal situation that will likely face the board in two years.
On the issue of the school’s responsibility for things that happen outside of school grounds, like cyberbullying, Brusgul said, “Off of site, it’s not wholly responsible,” but the school should address things that it’s aware of.
Largely speaking, he said, it’s a social issue and “social issues don’t end at the door.” Also, he said, the school is part of the community and, “If it happens around town, it happens at the school.
Along those lines, he said, if things happen at school, they shouldn’t be brushed under the rug, but dealt with openly. “If it happens, it happens,” Brusgul said. “Let’s address it.”
On the extra-curricular code, Brusgul said, “The school policy, I think, dodges the issue.”
If a student is taking performance-enhancing drugs, he or she should be off the team, he said, but added that the district needs a program, not a policy. It should try to avoid the problem to begin with, not just deal with it after the fact.
While he’s been campaigning, Brusgul said, he’s heard from several people about how the centralized school districts formed and thinks that Voorheesville, at this point, fairs well. If there were a drastic decline in enrollment, he said, the district should consider merging, but he believes that, with the new residential developments that are on the table, the student population will stabilize.
Cheryl Dozier, 49, is making her first run for the board, defending the seat that she was appointed to last September when Paige Pierce resigned. She is an assistant professor at the University at Albany and has three children in the Voorheesville schools.
“You serve the children of the district,” she said of her role as a school board member.
Dozier supports the budget, she said, adding that it’s always a balance of financial issues and educational needs in the district. “No budget is perfect,” she concluded.
On full-day kindergarten, Dozier said that it should be studied to see how it would fit with the district and stressed the need for “curriculum coherence.”
As for the district’s responsibility for goings-on off of school grounds, as with the cyber bullying issue, Dozier said, “We have to look at how does it impact their time within the schools.”
She also cited the importance of educating the public on some issues, saying, “This is something that’s brand new for everyone.”
The board can review policies any time, Dozier said when asked about the district’s Extra-Curricular Activities Code of Conduct. “With community awareness,” she said, “I think that the policy can stand as it is.”
Voorheesville offers good programs and is a good size, Dozier said when asked about the idea of a merger. People often move to the district because of the school’s reputation, she said, concluding that the board should weigh what would be gained and what would be lost.