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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 7, 2010

Board will use BOCES to find new super

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to appoint Charles Dedrick, the district superintendent for the Capital Region BOCES, as a search consultant for finding a new leader for the Guilderland schools.

The current Guilderland superintendent, John McGuire, surprised the school board when he announced in November that he will retire July 1. McGuire began working for the district in November 2007.

The school board used the Board of Cooperative Educational Services in that search as well. Both times, the school board met in closed session with BOCES representatives to discuss the search process, in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.

“That’s not an appropriate topic for an executive session,” Camille Jobin-Davis, assistant director for the New York State Committee on Open Government, told The Enterprise the first time around. She reviewed the eight reasons the law allows for closed sessions and said, “There was no basis to enter into an executive session.”

At that time, the school board’s president, Richard Weisz, responded, “Our information from BOCES is, when you’re putting together components for a new superintendent, that’s like a negotiation.”

One of the eight reasons allowed for executive session is “collective negotiations pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law.”

This is a reference to the Taylor Law, explained Camille-Jobin Davis, and “pertains only to negotiations with unions for the employees’ contracts.” She went on, “It does not have to do with having a particular entity to perform services.”

Tuesday night, at the public meeting, Weisz said that “nuts and bolts” like salary could be discussed in executive session. McGuire currently earns $174,000 annually plus benefits.

Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt said she was impressed with the presentation made in closed session.

BOCES seems “to have the people and the skills,” said board member Judy Slack.

“I also like their flexibility,” said board Vice President Catherine Barber.

“I liked the fact that we met the two people we’d work with,” said board member Colleen O’Connell. Dedrick made a strong argument, she said, independent of the cost, which is free.

She referred to two points he had made. BOCES knows the Guilderland district; Guilderland is one of its members. And, referring to Dedrick, she said,  “He has a stake in the success of the district.”

Should CBAC have quotas?

The board was divided on Tuesday night about how the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee should be configured.

The committee reviews the superintendent’s budget proposal in a series of televised sessions in March while school board members listen. After the board adopts a proposed spending plan, it goes to public vote in May.

In the past, any citizen who wanted to could volunteer to serve on the committee. The board’s communication committee, headed by Denise Eisele, proposed restructuring the committee so that a set number of volunteers are allowed in each of several categories.

“Over the last few years, CBAC has become increasingly contentious,” said Eisele. “Our goal is to provide a more respectful atmosphere.”

She said her group felt strongly that senior citizens, business owners, and parents should all be represented, and a facilitator should “bring the group back to the stated mission.” She described this mission as listening to what the administration proposed and responding so the board has “input from the community.”

“I can’t support quotas,” responded O’Connell, who favors “reaching out” to constituent groups.

Towle-Hilt, a member of the communications committee, said CBAC has become so large that it is dysfunctional, to which O’Connell responded that CBAC used to have 50 or 60 members; in recent years, it’s had half that.

Barber said that imposing quotas would discourage people from participating.

Citizens can address the school board at any meeting, responded Towle-Hilt. “I don’t see people lining up.”

The ranks of the committee are now filled with people responding to “hot-button issues,” said Towle-Hilt, most recently large numbers of elementary-school parents. “We’re looking to create a better structure,” she said. “We tend to get sidetracked,” she said, with people drawn to a particular issue.

“All you’re doing is silencing dissent,” said O’Connell.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said the two sides were both “well-intentioned,” and suggested a compromise: This year, try getting more seniors citizens and business owners, and perhaps more students without cutting others off, then go to more structure next year if it doesn’t work.

Weisz said he liked Fraterrigo’s suggestion. He also said he thought the board’s budget discussion last year was the “the best we ever had,” and CBAC helped the board get to that great discussion.

He concluded by saying he trusted the committee would come up with a good recommendation. Eisele thanked the board for its input.

Board member Julie Cuneo added that limiting the committee isn’t the best idea, and said the crowd last year wasn’t so large that more couldn’t be added. She suggested keeping track of attendance, so that participants’ contributions were measured.

Budget woes

Superintendent McGuire told the board that the state has withheld a little over $108,000 in aid payments to Guilderland because of its fiscal crisis, and is expected to withhold 19 percent or about $971,000 in STAR (School TAx Relief) payments.

“I’m choosing to view it as money we won’t receive, and get a good surprise,’ said McGuire.

Because of prudent fiscal management, the delay is “not devastating” for Guilderland, he said, and there will be no mid-year reductions in staff.

A freeze has been implemented, however, on “non-essential spending, including field trips,” McGuire said.

Asked after the meeting, what other non-essential spending is frozen, McGuire named “supplies and equipment that aren’t immediately necessary.”

“We don’t have a lot of nonessential things,” he said. “The question is: Can it be postponed? Can it wait?”

Late in the meeting, Weisz said that the school board will host a community session on Jan. 26 to prepare for the “cold reality” of cuts in aid. He cited the state comptroller’s estimate that, after the federal stimulus money dries up in a another year, if the state-aid cuts hold, residents across the state could face school tax hikes of 8 to 10 percent.

Other business

In other business, the board:

—         Heard a report from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders about bank security in light of the press conference earlier in the day, announcing that computer hackers had stolen about $3 million from the nearby Duanesburg school district.

“We don’t use the same bank,” said Sanders, to laughter from the board.

He detailed the precautions used by First Niagara for electronic transfers, which include two separate people on each withdrawal using an ID and a password and answering security questions.

The bank also checks for unusual patterns, said Sanders;

—         Adopted policies on advisory committees, students with disabilities, food-service management, and free and reduced price food services;

—         Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Joshua Palagyi, a junior at Guilderland High School, has been selected to participate in the American Choral Directors’ Association All-Eastern Men’s Honor Choir in Philadelphia in February;

—         Learned that Farnsworth Middle School students Matt Gu, Isaac Malsky, Luxi Peng, and Justina Liu will represent Farnsworth in the 2009-10 Regional Math Counts Competition. An alternate team — with Alicia Chen, Bill Dong, Knute Armstrong, and Michelle Kang — will also participate;

—         Applauded three members — Slack, Eisele, and Cuneo — who earned certificates from the New York State School Boards Association for participating in developmental events and training;

—         Heard that McGuire and Weisz will sign a memorandum of understanding in support of the state’s application for federal “Race to the Top” grant funding. While several board members expressed concerns, McGuire stressed that the memorandum is nonbinding. “If we find it philosophically repugnant, we can say, ‘No thank you,’” he said;

—         Heard that Guilderland High School will host an Albany County Department of Health H1N1 inoculation clinic on Jan. 20 from 3:30 to 7 p.m.;

—         Reviewed policies on community relations goals, student health services, students’ personal electronic devices, alcohol and drug-testing of bus drivers, staff substance abuse, and disclosure of wrongful conduct;

—         Learned from McGuire that Guilderland will be part of a Russell Sage student’s doctoral research on superintendent searches;

—         Renewed an agreement with the American Red Cross to use Guilderland schools for shelter in the event of a disaster;

—         Accepted a violin from Alexis Ziomek for use at Altamont Elementary School; and

—         Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Office Workers’ Association, and with building principals and the administrator for special programs.

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