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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 15, 2009

New hires for GCSD with $1.75M in federal funds

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district will be using some of its $1.75 million in federal stimulus funds this year, as planned, to pay for the move to a full-day kindergarten program.  Guilderland will also purchase some other services and hire additional staff beyond what was included in the $85 million budget.

The federal funds are expected for two years only.

“It’s a great opportunity to do some enhanced work…with a slight reduction for taxpayers,” Superintendent John McGuire told the school board at its Oct. 6 meeting.

After deep cuts had been proposed by the governor last fall, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stabilization funds allowed Guilderland to maintain its programs without raising taxes.

“We only had nine or 10 days,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders of the timeline for submitting the application for federal funds. “The system was operational on Sept. 21 and the deadline for filing was Oct. 1, he told The Enterprise. “It was tight,” he said. “We filed on Sept. 29.”

Spending for more than half of the federal funds — $1,047,992 — were discussed by the school board as part of the budget process. The remaining $706,766 was decided on by the district’s administrative team, McGuire told The Enterprise this week, explaining the team consists of the building principals, the three assistant superintendents, and himself.

The biggest chunk of the federal funds — $639,110 — is paying for 10 new full-day kindergarten teachers. The school board members had agreed that the move from part-time to full-time kindergarten was good educationally but hesitated because of the costs. Ultimately, the board went ahead with the program because of the federal funds. Another $115,039 will pay for special-area teachers for the kindergartners.

The $85 million budget, which voters passed in May, also included the restoration of five teaching assistants — their salary and benefits will be paid with $102,110 in federal funds; a teacher for at-risk Farnsworth Middle School students, at $63,911; and two third-grade teachers, at $127,822.

New initiatives that were not part of the budget and are now being paid for by the federal funds include five math specialists at $319,553; an English-as-a-second-language teacher at $63,911; two-and-a-half literacy assessment specialists at $159,777; and $50,000 to pay for substitutes when teachers are getting training along with $113,525 for new services including  $71,140 for Pathways software used by the guidance department and $42,385 for software that will help keep track of at-risk students getting individualized help.

McGuire told The Enterprise that the five new math teachers will work in the elementary schools with students who are struggling. “It’s mandated for those who don’t meet state standards,” he said, adding, “We want to get out in front of a cycle of failure.”

Guilderland currently has about 130 students who speak English as a second language, McGuire told The Enterprise. They are instructed by six ESL teachers, said Sanders.

“The issue is not only the number of students but the level of service,’ said McGuire, indicating that many Guilderland ESL students are brand new to the country and the language.

McGuire told the school board last Tuesday that the job for the new ESL teacher had already been posted. He said it was a mandated service, much like special education and that there is a “burgeoning need” to teach English to students who come to school speaking another language.

Some of the other new teachers will start mid-year, he said.

Board President Richard Weisz asked why the federal funds hadn’t been provided before the start of the school year.

“It’s the trickle-down theory,” responded Sanders.

Asked about providing new services that may only last two years if the district can’t afford to keep them up, McGuire said, “The only alternative is to say ‘no thank you’ to this money.” He went on, “We hope it doesn’t dry up…At least we’re helping those children for the time we have it.”

Board member Colleen O’Connell asked if the positions would be advertised as temporary or probationary.

“Probationary,” responded McGuire, adding, “Even tenured positions are not immune to being cut.”

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Sanders about the eight-month process to develop the 2010-11 budget. The process started on Oct. 6 with public input. On Oct. 20, board members “will weigh in with some of their thoughts,” Sanders said. A committee of citizen volunteers will review the superintendent’s proposal, beginning Feb. 25. The board will adopt a plan in March, and the public will vote on May 18;

— Heard from just one resident, Donald Csaposs, on recommendations for next year’s budget. Csaposs, a long-time member of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, said he’d like to see a “wider group of people” — rather than only parents concerned with preserving programs or taxpayers who just say no to every dollar spent by the district — to give “thoughtful input.”

Csaposs also said that many educated people are “drowning in debt” and recommended that the school district “enhance financial literacy”;

— Heard from Brian Ladd, the father of a high school student, that he was struck with how low parking fees are. He said that, in the private sector, costs for the land and for constructing and maintaining a lot are divided by the number of spaces to come up with a fee. Ladd asked if the public should subsidize students’ parking and driving at the high school or if the money should be used in a different way;

— Adopted a fee schedule for the use of school district property. The fees hadn’t changed since 2005, Sanders said. The new fees, which will go into effect on July 1, 2010, represent about a 5-percent increase. Fees range from $35 for a classroom to $145 per hour, with a minimum of four hours, for the high school gym;

— Approved six applications for 2009 tax roll corrections. Sanders said they were due to “clerical errors” and had already been submitted to Albany County He said it was the third year in a row that the state hadn’t applied the correct equalization rate to utility companies;

— Appointed Kathleen Hoffman, a certified public accountant, as a community representative on the school board’s audit committee. “We interviewed four outstanding candidates,” said audit committee member O’Connell, thanking the other three;

— Approved two new co-curricular clubs at the high school — the Short Club, in which students will learn how to make short videos, and the Shakespeare Society, which is to celebrate, study, and perform the works of William Shakespeare;

— Heard from board member Gloria Towle-Hilt that the business practices committee is looking at the cost for a title search on the historic cobblestone schoolhouse in Guilderland Center. “Until we can show clear title, we’re kind of stuck,” she said;

— Heard from board member Catherine Barber about a Sept. 24 workshop on a neighborhood master plan for Guilderland Center. Solutions were discussed for ongoing concerns with traffic and pedestrian safety that include traffic-calming devices, a roundabout at the intersection of Route 146 and School Road, or a new entry through the Northeastern Industrial Park.

Ideas were also discussed for trail and bike connections and for parks and recreation. “It’s a very involved plan,” which could take 20 years to implement, said Barber;

— Heard from board member Julia Cuneo that Farnsworth Middle School science teacher Alan Fiero had presented his ideas on making homework meaningful, as outlined earlier in The Enterprise. “It’s a powerfully important topic for us,” said Superintendent McGuire; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel issue and renewing the superintendent’s contract, and to hear an update on negotiations.

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