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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 21, 2010

Guv’s budget would cut $1.7M in aid to GCSD

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Tuesday morning, responding to New York’s fiscal crisis, Governor David Paterson outlined a state budget with deep cuts, including a $1.1 billion reduction in state aid to education.

Tuesday night, the Guilderland School Board heard from Superintendent John McGuire that the net reduction outlined in the executive budget would amount to  $1.7 million for Guilderland.

McGuire termed that “a very significant sum of money,” but also stressed that it is, at this point, a proposal.

Guilderland currently has an $85 million budget. Mid-year aid that the governor in December announced would be withheld is now to be released to school districts.

Last year, when drastic cuts in state aid to schools were proposed, Guilderland initially planned to cut 47 jobs to make up for the $2.7 million loss. Then, federal stimulus aid filled the gap and the deep cuts to staff weren’t carried out. Those federal funds are expected only for one more year.

The governor’s budget announcement on Tuesday “will feed into our budget work,” said McGuire as administrators draft Guilderland’s spending plan for 2010-11.

The school board on Tuesday also discussed the district’s budget-building process. Traditionally, a committee made up of citizen volunteers has reviewed a spending plan proposed by administrators in a series of televised sessions in March. The board then fine-tunes and adopts a plan in April before the public votes on it in May.

The board’s communications committee expressed concerns that the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee had become lopsided in recent years; it proposed setting limits on categories of participants. At their Jan. 5 meeting, several board members strenuously objected to quotas.

Denise Eisele, who chairs the communications committee, said at Tuesday’s meeting that each board member is being asked to contact different groups “to increase diversity.” She said this would include senior citizens, students, people with children, and people without children.

Any citizen who wants to will be able to join; McGuire said invitations have been sent out to community members and organizations.

The first CBAC meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25. But, unlike in previous years, when board members have remained largely silent and listened to citizens’ comments and questions, that first session will be one where board members ask questions and the citizens are onlookers.

“It’s getting pretty complicated and a lot of us are scrambling,” said Weisz, who recommended the change, which was embraced by other board members.

At the remaining meetings — on March 2, 4, 11, and 16, and again on March 18 if needed — the school board members will return to their role as listeners.

Additionally, as an entirely separate function, the board will host a community forum on Feb. 11 to give the district direction as it faces a drop-off in state and federal aid.

The two-hour session will start with financial information and then participants will break into small groups to answer five or six questions, Weisz said.

GOWA contract

The board on Tuesday also approved a three-year contract with the Guilderland Office Workers Association that will give the 60 members of the unaffiliated clerical unit, on average, 3.5-percent annual raises.

The workers, headed by Susan Coddon, ratified the contract last Tuesday.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lin Severance, who said she was making her debut with this contract, praised the “professional” way it was negotiated.

“We have great respect for the hard work they do,” Severance told The Enterprise of the office workers. “And they respect the district and understand the financial situation.”

The contract runs from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012, Severance said. She went over a range of salaries for The Enterprise, explaining that the clerical workers fall into three levels, depending on the tasks they perform; the workers on the first level progress up a five-step system while those in the second and third levels have a nine-step system.

Currently, the lowest-paid worker earns $11.27 an hour; that same worker, in the first year of the contract would earn $11.55, and in the third year of the contract would earn $12.14.

Currently, the highest paid office worker earns $14.22 an hour; that same worker, in the first year of the contract, would earn $14.47, and in the third year of the contract would earn $14.99 an hour.

Salaries were the only major change in the contract, Severance said. “We clarified some language,” she said, for example, naming the holidays that are days off.

Severance also said that Guilderland office workers are paid “just below the average” of their counterparts in other suburban Council school districts. “We wanted to add to the base salaries,” she said.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Jesse Feinman, a Guilderland student who attends Tech Valley High School, thanks for its support. Feinmann, who films the board meetings, stepped away from his camera to urge the board, as it makes difficult budget decisions, to continue to support the Tech Valley High and “innovative ways of education.”

Guilderland, like other districts in the Capital Region and Questar III Board Of Cooperative Educational Services, pays for two students in each grade to attend the school, created in 2007 to be a model for progressive, problems-based education;

— Praised Fred Tresselt, who is resigning next month as the district’s energy manager and conservation coordinator. A retired middle-school teacher, Tresselt has held the post since June 2006, heading a program that has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Weisz praised Tresselt’s enthusiasm and energy, commending him for the education he provided. “You changed the culture of the school district for the better,” said Weisz.

Board member Judy Slack said it is amazing one person in a part-time job could save so much money. Tresselt responded by crediting others, like the custodial staff, teachers, and administrators.

“It was you who got us started,” said board member Gloria Towle-Hilt, who used to teach at the middle school. “I know how much energy you put into this to change all of our behavior.”

McGuire recalled that, during his first week on the job, he came back from a meeting to find his office was dark; there was a sticky note from Tresselt, reminding him to turn off the lights.

Board member O’Connell gave Tresselt some advice for a future career — go with a percentage of savings instead of a fixed salary;

— Accepted three state-required reports on district facilities for this school year — a visual inspection, a five-year capital plan, and a school facility report card.

“The good news is all of our buildings are at least at the satisfactory level,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders. The ratings will improve, he said, when the district completes the $27 million, 18-month project that it is now in the midst of.

“It looks like we’re getting out of the district office just in time,” said Weisz, noting the many “unsatisfactory” ratings for the office. Since the district office will re-locate to renovated space at the high school next fall, as part of the $27 million project, Sanders said, upgrades to the old office haven’t been done; it will be used for storage;

— Heard from Sanders that this year’s fire inspection reports are complete and there are “no areas of non-compliance.” The inspections are done by Don Albright, chief fire inspector for the town of Guilderland.

Sanders said a few common problems, which have been taken care of, include housekeeping issues related to storage, and “excessive decorating, which we would call displays of student work.”

Albright told The Enterprise that the code calls for decorations not to exceed 20-percent of wall space. “I try not to deter the creativity of kids in elementary school,” he said, noting the schools were good about complying;

— Adopted policies on community relations’ goals, a public information program, students with disabilities, alcohol and drug testing of bus drivers, and disclosure of wrongful conduct;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that he won’t be able to present the school report card until Feb. 15. His presentation was slated for Tuesday’s meeting but the state has not yet released the standardized test results on which the report card is based.

Singleton also went over the state’s testing schedule for this year. Regents exams will run from Jan. 26 to 29. Testing at the elementary schools and the middle school has been pushed later in the year than was customary. English tests will run from April 26 to 28, and math tests from May 5 to 7;

— Heard that the Altamont Elementary School Learning Fair will take place during the day on Thursday, March 4, and in the evening from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.;

— Learned that 38 students were selected to participate in this year’s Suburban Scholastic Council Music Festival at Columbia High School on Feb. 27; the 3 p.m. concert is open to the public;

— Heard that “Pops Goes to the Movies,” an annual fund-raiser for the music department, will be held on Saturday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m., featuring performances by all of the high school music ensembles, including over 400 students. Eighth-graders will act as wait staff, serving light refreshments during the concert. Tickets, which cost $6, can be bought at the high-school store or by calling music supervisor Lori Hershenhart at 861-8591, ext. 1106;

— Heard, through Slack, an invitation extended by a Lynnwood Elementary teacher to observe second-grade reading and writing classes. Since teaching assistants were cut from these programs, the teacher “feels they’re pretty overwhelmed,” said Slack, who was a teaching assistant herself;

— Heard from Towle-Hilt, who chairs the board’s business practices committee, that the Capital District Transportation Authority and the town have proposed a bus stop near Guilderland Elementary School to serve the proposed Glass Works Village. While the committee is “very supportive” of the idea, it is checking with a legal advisor, said Towle-Hilt;

— Heard from O’Connell, who chairs the board’s audit committee, that it had received three responses when it put out a request for proposals for an external auditing firm. The committee will interview the three firms, including the one it now uses, on Feb. 24; and

— Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Employees’ Association.

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