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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010

At BKW: Four vie for two school board seats

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board.

Helen Lounsbury, the incumbent from Berne, will be challenged by Thomas Gagnon of Knox, Gerald Larghe of Berne, and Jill Norray of Berne. Michelle Fusco, whose term on the school board is up this year, is not seeking re-election.

District residents can cast their votes for school board candidates, the 2010-11 budget, and the bus proposition on May 18, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Candidates told The Enterprise a bit about their backgrounds, and answered questions on the following issues:

Allegiance: While school board members serve a number of constituencies, they may find themselves in situations where they have to take a side — especially in these tough economic times, and with districts budgeting in response to deep cuts in state aid. Candidates were asked, if faced with a choice, whether their allegiance lies primarily with the students, teachers, taxpayers, parents, or the superintendent;

Budget: Creating a budget for the 2010-11 school year has been a tumultuous process for the district, as parents have repeatedly cried out against program cuts that they feel will leave their children unprepared for life after school, and what some consider an unaffordable increase in the tax levy. If the district votes down the adopted budget on May 18, the school board has the following choices: It can put the same budget up for a second vote; it can put a revised budget up for vote; or it can adopt a contingency budget, with a state-set spending cap. If the budget is defeated at the polls twice, the board, by law, must adopt a contingency plan.

Candidates were asked if they support the district’s current budget proposal, and what the school board’s next course of action should be if the budget is voted down;

— Contracts: Employee salaries and benefits make up more than 70 percent of the district budget. The BKW Teachers’ Association has been working under its old contract, which expired in June of last year. The school board and teachers’ union are negotiating a new contract now. BKW teachers work on a 30-step system of raises, and teachers climb one step each year. On the first step, a teacher earns $38,350; on the 30th step, a teacher earns $86,874. Teachers typically negotiate raises in addition to the step increases. Additionally, benefits include: payments into the State Employee Retirement System; payments into the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System; Social Security payments; workers’ compensation; unemployment insurance; and medical insurance.

Candidates were asked if district employees should give up their annual pay increases to help close the budget gap;

— Superintendent search: Since the retirement of longtime superintendent Steven Schrade in August, BKW has been in search of a new superintendent. Kim LaBelle, Schrade’s assistant superintendent and BKW’s former curriculum director, has been filling in as interim superintendent. Candidates were asked what qualities the new superintendent should have, and what a superintendent’s role should be in relation to the school board; and

Public opinion: District taxpayers recently assembled a petition that opposed some of the cuts proposed in the 2010-11 budget, and suggested some of their own. Candidates were asked how much public opinion should weigh on a school board member’s decisions.

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