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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 1, 2010

How will the empty school-board seat be filled?
O’Connell says to re-appoint Genzano

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board agreed last week that, when its eight current members reorganize on July 6, they will work out a process to appoint a new member, rather than hold a special election.

Board member Judy Slack said she didn’t want to incur the expense of a vote, and other board members agreed.

It would cost about $7,800 to hold a special election, Assistant Superintendent for business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise this week.

The school-board seat was left vacant in June after Julie Cuneo resigned because her family is moving out of the district. Cuneo had served one year of a three-year term.

The law requires that the seat be filled within 60 days of the resignation. Whoever is appointed would have to run for office in the next general election, which is in May.

Board Vice President Catherine Barber suggested using the same process the board had used to fill a vacancy last year when one of its members died in office.

John Dornbush died of cancer in July 2009. The board solicited résumés from the public, and eight men vied for the seat, being interviewed in a televised session.

The board agreed to appoint Emilio Genzano, and he took office in October. In the May election, Genzano came in fifth in a six-way race for four seats.

Long-time incumbent Barbara Fraterrigo was first with 19.5 percent of the vote. She was followed by incumbents Gloria Towle-Hilt, with 18.6 percent, and Colleen O’Connell, with 18.4 percent. Towle-Hilt, O’Connell, and Genzano ran together on the same slate; the other three candidates ran independently.

Allan Simpson, an accountant making his second run for the board, came in fourth with 16.5 percent of the vote, ousting Genzano to fill out the one year left in Dornbush’s original term. Genzano came in fifth with 15.4 percent of the vote. Elijah Sharma, a recent Guilderland graduate making his second run, came in sixth with 11.6 percent of the vote.

“I think we should appoint Emilio and not go through the process,” said O’Connell, noting he came in fifth in the May election. She also said that Genzano had learned a lot in his months on the board.

“Emilio displayed to us he was a valued colleague, not a partisan person,” said O’Connell.

Slack agreed. She noted that Genzano had seven or eight months of experience. “It takes a long time to jump into this and understand the nuts and bolts of what’s going on,” she said.

Genzano works as the assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center, and he said during the campaign that his background in construction was unique among the board members. He had run unsuccessfully for the school board twice before his appointment — in 2001 and 2002.

O’Connell had speculated on election night this May that Genzano’s defeat was tied to his strong identity with the sports community as he has long been involved with Pop Warner football and started a program for players with handicaps.

At the April 13 school board meeting, Genzano had been one of three board members — Cuneo and O’Connell were the other two — who advocated reinstating freshman sports. Then, at the April 27 meeting, when the hall was filled with sports boosters, protesting the cuts to freshman sports and fall cheerleading, Genzano spoke in favor of sticking to the budget that the majority had supported. As Fraterrigo said she regretted the cuts and argued for re-allocating funds to reinstate sports, Genzano asked, “Where are you going to get the funds?”

He went on to say, “April 13 was a tough vote for me personally…We have to respect this process…I will look for alternatives. This isn’t over.”

Genzano now chairs a committee of sports boosters, working to raise $60,000 from the community so that the cut sports can be restored. (See related story.)

Asked on election night if he thought his stance on sports is what caused his defeat at the polls, Genzano said he had no regrets. “You speak your mind,” he said. “You do what you think is right.”

Genzano told The Enterprise this week, “I would appreciate an appointment. I never really left. I’ve stayed involved with the athletic piece.”

He went on, “I don’t feel a process is necessary. I contributed and have experience.”

Genzano brought up the current search for a new superintendent; he had served on the search committee. “Especially with that going on,” he concluded of the board members, “if I was in their shoes, I’d want someone with experience.”

Other business

In other business at its June 22 meeting, the board:

— Approved raises for non-union employees of 3 percent, effective July, including the chair of the committee on Preschool Special Education, the director of continuing education, the facilities coordinator, the recycling coordinator and the continuing-education secretaries as well as the television production assistants at the middle school and high school.

The board also set salaries on a range of hourly rates, from $8.75 for monitors  to $23.70 for records management;

— Heard from Sanders about the summer construction schedule, part of the $27 million project to upgrade district schools;

— Heard from Sanders that the Army Corps of Engineers had tested the four wells near the high school used for watering athletic fields. Although the wells are not used for drinking, they were tested by Parsons Engineering Science, Inc. under drinking water standards. 

Trichloroethylene, a volatile organic compound, measured 1.8 micrograms per liter; the acceptable level for drinking is 5 micrograms per liter. Tests for lead and PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyl were also done and none of those substances were detected in the samples, Sanders said.

The high school property is next to land once used as an Army depot where toxins have been found. Christina Diamente, the mother of a high school student who runs track, had become concerned about the safety of water and pushed for the testing. She had asked the school board and administration to have the wells tested.

Gregory Goepfert, the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, told The Enterprise earlier that the testing cost about $1,000.

Diamente told The Enterprise this week, “I’m relieved and happy we don’t have unsafe levels; better safe than sorry.”

She went on, “I honestly wish, in the same spirit, they would test the soil. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry”;

— Heard from Superintendent John McGuire, who retired on July 1, that, in light of the most recent retirement incentives offered by the state, Sanders had conducted an analysis of how it would play out at Guilderland.

“The numbers did not work well for our district,” said McGuire, who did not recommend implementing the plan;

— Heard from McGuire that, following the recommendations made in a transportation study, the elementary school day for students will be shifted by 10 minutes so that, in September, the students’ day will start at 7:40 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m.

The change does not affect teachers’ contracts, McGuire said;

— Heard from O’Connell, who heads the board’s search committee for a new superintendent, that the field has been narrowed to two finalists, and reference checks were to begin on June 30. Having been through interviews with committees of stakeholders, the finalists will be interviewed by the school board members.

President Richard Weisz thanked O’Connell for her leadership during the search process;

— Agreed to pay for accommodations and registration for one board member to attend the annual New York State School Boards Association convention as Guilderland’s voting member. The convention will be held in New York City from Oct. 21 to 24. Other board members who choose to attend will have the district pay for their registration but will have to pay other expenses themselves.

This is what the board did last year, cutting costs from earlier years. Last year, it cost $1,102 to send the voting delegate, Denise Eisele; the registration fee was $630, and meals and lodging came to $472. Four other board members went and their registration fees totaled $1,520;

— Adopted policies on candidates and campaigning, programs for students with disabilities, allocation of space for special-education programs and services, preschool special education, independent educational evaluations, impartial hearing officer appointment and compensation, individualized education program distribution, corporal punishment complaints, and student conduct on transportation provided by the district;

— Heard from Towle-Hilt, who heads the business practices committee, that the committee is discussing what should be done with the district office, presently located in a building off of Route 155 near Farnsworth Middle School, once the new district offices at the high school are completed as part of the $27 million project. Costs are being compared for maintaining the building as opposed to demolishing it, she said;

— Met in executive session to discuss the superintendent search, a student issue, and potential litigation in a tax case.

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