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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 22, 2010
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Barbara Fraterrigo, who has been on the school board since 1997, is its longest-serving member.
She is running, as an independent, for another three-year term.
Fraterrigo works part-time, helping to manage her husband’s medical practice; her children, Guilderland graduates, are all grown. She says she has the time and long-term perspective to devote to board duties.
“All our hearts are in the right place,” she said of the nine board members. “We’re all there for the kids…It’s out of pure altruism and civic duty. We want to see others have what our kids had.”
On the role of a board member, Fraterrigo said, “It’s a balancing act…You’d like to do everything for the kids. But you can’t risk the wrath of the public. If the budget were voted down, the kids would lose.”
On the search for a new superintendent, Fraterrigo said, “I’m looking for someone really familiar with the culture of the district, a collaborator.”
She went on, “I, personally, would love to see a young, vigorous individual who would be with the district a good number of years. I’m willing to look for less experience to get someone with a commitment to excellence and good relationships with the board and faculty.”
The current superintendent, John McGuire, was hired with a split vote. Fraterrigo and two other board members favored a younger candidate. “People were not willing to risk youth,” she said. “I don’t think we’d be in this bind today,” Fraterrigo said, if the other candidate had been hired.
On the superintendent’s relation to the board, she said, “The superintendent is the only employee we hire directly…I’d love a superintendent that presents no surprises to the board someone who is collaborative, someone who will stay with the district and carry us forward, someone with strong budgeting impulses attuned to the taxpayer, and someone with strong educational credentials and really good references.”
Fraterrigo supports the $87.4 million budget proposal. She wishes, though, that the board had had more time to think about the last-minute $73,000 cut it made to sports, eliminating most freshmen sports and repeat sports.
“It came out of the blue,” she said, and didn’t allow parents and students to lobby as they had in response to other cuts.
Fraterrigo would like to see, if the consultant for middle-school special education comes in under budget, the money can be used for freshmen sports. She also hopes if, over the summer, as many students as expected don’t move into the district, the money for extra elementary teachers could be used for freshmen sports.
“Parents say freshmen sports are more important than modified sports because, with the transition to high school, the freshmen team becomes a family,” Fraterrigo said.
Asked what course the board should take if the budget is defeated, Fraterrigo said, “I hope and pray it isn’t voted down.” But, if it were, she said, “We’d have to make cuts.”
If the state came up with more school aid, Fraterrigo said the board should divide it, with some used to lower taxes and the rest put in reserve.
About the tax hike after next year, Fraterrigo said, “Seventy percent of the people in our community don’t use our schools and a lot of them are hurting. You’re going to have to face cuts. Everything will have to be looked at.”
She went on, referring to the Foreign Language Early Start Program, which she pushed for years, “It breaks my heart, after all these years of trying for FLES, we’ve lost it.” Although Spanish will still be taught to fourth- and fifth-graders next year, Fraterrigo said, “I’ve seen how fast those little ones can learn another language. But, until the economy turns around, we have to meet the mandates and teach the core subjects although I, personally, feel, in this day and age, Spanish is essential.”
On negotiating raises next year, Fraterrigo said, “We just have to wait and see….There’s no hard and fast rate when you enter negotiations.”
She went on, “It would really be irresponsible to layer something on step increases when those in the private sector are not only not getting raises but having salaries cut.”
On full-day kindergarten, Fraterrigo said, “When you’re facing tough financial times, the first thing you have to look at is non-mandated programs, like full-day kindergarten, or FLES, or social workers. They are wonderful, great to have. I was on the committee that recommended full-day kindergarten.
“But, if maintaining that means you have to lose teachers and teaching assistants, all those things that make Guilderland great, then you have to let go of the vine you can’t print money.”
Fraterrigo said that students who struggle in kindergarten could attend both morning and afternoon sessions for extra help.
The money saved by returning to a half-day program could be used to reduce class sizes and to implement the state-required response to intervention model to help struggling students, she said.
Fraterrigo was one of three board members this year to vote for cutting full-day kindergarten rather than postponing debt payment on the building project until the following year.
She said of full-day kindergarten, “We squeaked out another year this year, but we’ll have to look at it again…We’ve had kids graduate for 30 years without full-day K and they’ve gone on to be neurosurgeons” and lead in a variety of fields. “It’s a wonderful program, but not essential,” she concluded.
On teaching assistants, Fraterrigo said, “Until I can be shown the programs we have with teaching assistants can function without them, I have to support teaching assistants.”
On comparing Guilderland to other Suburban Council schools with their lack of teaching assistants, she said, “Test scores don’t tell you everything. What is the degree of impairment in our district compared to others?”
She recounted several stories she had heard from parents of special-needs students who said TAs were the reason their children had succeeded in school. Fraterrigo asked, “How can a classroom teacher attend to the needs of 20-some other students without that kind of assistance?”
She went on, “Our elementary reading and writing programs depend heavily on teaching assistants.”
Fraterrigo said that her daughter-in-law is a teaching assistant with a master’s degree in reading. “She was assigned to a child who couldn’t feed herself or go to the bathroom by herself. Somebody has to help children like that.”
Fraterrigo said she would be open to the results of a special education study that the board has just hired a consultant to perform. “Maybe it will teach us something,” she said. “But, in the meantime, I just feel so responsible for those youngsters. I just don’t want to see them hurt.”