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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010
BKW School Board candidate: Gerald Larghe
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Gerald Larghe is a 49-year-old United States Marine reserve officer. Having seen his daughter attend schools in Hawaii, Texas, and overseas in England, and looking back on his experience with military-training budgets, he thinks he has perspective that the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board needs.
“I’ve watched the dynamic from a distance, and it’s interesting to see how things have changed and not changed simultaneously,” Larghe told The Enterprise. “We have, roughly, an equivalent cost-per-student average to surrounding school districts, but the school is rated lower than those other districts, and the cost isn’t different enough to justify that disparity in quality.”
Larghe grew up in Colorado, and after traveling throughout his years in the military, moved to the Hilltowns, where he has lived for the past four years.
The primary purpose of schools, Larghe said, is to prepare children for the outside world; it is for that reason that his allegiance lies with the students.
“In my line of work, there are the supported, and the supporting,” Larghe said. In this case, the supported are the students.
“The supported, everything works towards them our children going on in life,” Larghe said. “The supporting, they choose, and cut, and bite, and snip where they need to, as long as it goes towards the supported group. The board and staff need to realize that they are the supporting, not the supported.”
Part of the “supporting,” Larghe said, is a qualified superintendent who is able to manage his or her resources.
The superintendent must “look at the budget constraints they’re under right now, look at the demographics of the community, and the student-teacher ratio,” he said. “Why, in the last 10 years, have we doubled the number of people working in school, when the student population is going down? There’s very little forward planning at this school right now; it’s all reactionary. The people working day-to-day should be the staff; the superintendent should be the one looking forward.”
Further, he thinks that the district’s offer for salary in the range of $130,000 to the new superintendent is exorbitant.
“Our regimental commander in theater overseas, he doesn’t make $130,000, and he’s worked 26 years to get to where he is,” Larghe said. “They say, ‘We can’t get qualified people to run our districts for under $130,000’; to me, it’s ludicrous.”
While the superintendent’s relationship with the school board may sometimes be adversarial, they should work as a team, he said, and, at the end of the day, the superintendent is held accountable.
“He stands in front and says, ‘I am the superintendent of the school, this is what we’re doing,’” Larghe said. “He’s going to take the hardest hit when things go wrong, and he will get thanks when things go well, and he’s the face of the school to the students.”
Larghe was hesitant to comment on whether or not he would vote in favor of the school budget, as well as what the board should do if the budget is voted down on May 18, because he has not seen the full document yet. But, with the combined tax-levy increase and program cuts, “something’s askew there,” he said.
“I was stationed in England, and I had a budget of about half-a-million for training, which I cut down to under $100,000, and tripled the training by taking advantage of opportunities to work with other services and other organizations working towards the same thing,” Larghe said. “To cut all these things, and still raise taxes, it seems like a loss of long-term planning.”
Teachers should give up their raises if it means more opportunities for the students, Larghe went on.
“Schools are for the education of our children, not the retirement pension plan of its teachers,” he said. “If it doesn’t support the mission, then it needs to be looked at. And there’re a lot of school districts in the same boat. You can have your arm twisted in so many ways before districts get together and say, ‘We’re not playing this game.’”
Larghe also thinks that, with solid communication between the board and its constituents comes concurrence.
“As a school board member, public opinion, if explained correctly, would probably side with you,” he said. “Things that might be good for the long term, that can’t be communicated to the public correctly public opinion will come against it. Something might be the right thing to do, but, if it’s not communicated properly, then it’s a moot point.”
He used the example of school uniforms to illustrate his point.
“People get upset; they say they’re expensive,” said Larghe. “But when I was in Texas, the uniforms were an optional thing, and that uniformity created a no-rich-kid-no-poor-kid mentality, which created a good work environment. When that was communicated to parents, it was seen as a positive thing.”
Larghe concluded, “I’m probably bringing a different perspective, because where I’m working, the cost of mistakes is much higher, and you don’t pay for things with dollars. You have to look at the end mission for the school, and that’s to prepare students to go out into the world, and everything has to be driven towards that mission.”