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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011

GCSD plans informal budget hearing for March 15

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The next step in the school district’s revamped budget process is an informal hearing on Tuesday, March 15.

The two-hour televised session will begin at 7 p.m. in the high school’s large-group instruction room.

Superintendent Marie Wiles, who unveiled an $89 million budget proposal last week, said she would speak about freshman and modified sports and also about the district’s administrative structure, answering frequently asked questions. She also said the list of school clubs and organizations to be cut will be announced.

Her budget proposal, in the wake of an expected further decrease in state aid coupled with stagnant property values and rising pension and health-care costs, cuts 44 jobs and raises taxes an estimated 3.96 percent for Guilderland residents. (For the full story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for March 3, 2011.)

Wiles also told the board on Tuesday that she was making the rounds to meet with various PTA and faculty groups about the budget proposal. Comments will be posted on the district’s website.

“We continue to be open, listening, doing our homework as we go through the process,” she said.

In years’ past, the district had citizens volunteer to review the superintendent’s budget proposal in depth; each was given a large binder, detailing every line item in the spending plan. Last week’s budget presentation — following several forums where participants discussed their priorities — was largely a list of what was not included and why rather than a description or overview of what is included in the spending plan.

Colleen O’Connell, who serves on the board’s communications committee, outlined the format for the March 15 hearing. She told the board that attendees will sign up, upon arrival, to make comments or ask questions, which will be addressed on a first-come, first-heard basis.

A moderator, a volunteer from the high school’s media group, will call on people and each speaker will be allowed one question or comment in the first round. Another student will be a timekeeper, and the board president will sound his gavel, if needed.

Hundreds of people attended the earlier community forums on the budget.

Board member Allan Simpson suggested, if 150 people show up on Tuesday, not much could be communicated in 45 seconds apiece. He said he liked the way the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee in years’ past had themes for each session, and suggested that this year, for the unused March sessions originally set aside for CBAC, two themes a night could be discussed.

“My hope would be, if there are 150 people, there won’t be 150 topics,” O’Connell responded. She suggested people could communicate in other ways besides the hearing, such as through e-mails.

Board member Denise Eisele agreed, adding that residents could also communicate through phone calls and letters.

If 15 people show up, board member Barbara Fraterrigo recommended relaxing the rules, and letting people speak longer.

O’Connell said she was hoping for two minutes. She also said that, as during the budget presentation, questions at the hearing will be answered on the spot when possible. This is a contrast to the usual procedure during the public-comment portion of board meetings, where board members listen but typically don’t respond.

Board member Judy Slack said the board needs to “know the depth of concern” on various proposals for cuts.

Board member Richard Weisz suggested he might say that everyone with a particular position should come line up behind the microphone.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from four residents about the proposed 2011-12 budget. Timothy Burke said the board had done a poor job in recent negotiations, giving raises. Sarah Jones, a Guilderland student, spoke in favor of the sixth-grade foreign-language program, which is to be cut in half. Her mother, Karen Covert-Jones, echoed those sentiments and also opposed the cutting of the Foreign Language Early Start program, which introduced Spanish at the elementary level. And Doug Smith said that he and his wife opposed keeping the full-day kindergarten program at the expense of other cuts;

— Learned that the board will meet on April 27 to vote on the Capital Region BOCES administrative budget, and also heard that John Phelan, a former Guilderland School Board member, is running again for the BOCES board, a post he has held since being elected in 1994 ;

— Heard from Wiles that Monday’s snow day was the fourth and final emergency day allowed by the district calendar. The district needs 180 school days to receive state aid. If inclement weather were to cause another cancellation, an extra day would have to be made up during the scheduled April break or in June. She said the state does not allow make-ups on weekends or holidays like Memorial Day.

“April break is intact unless Mother Nature throws us another challenge,” said Wiles, adding that some changes will have to be made at Farnsworth Middle School because of a scheduled Moving Up Day that would cut into the required 180 days;

— Approved a corrective action plan in response to an audit by the state comptroller’s office;

— Learned from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Kerry Wiley, who has cerebral palsy and attended Farnsworth Middle School in the late 1980s, wrote about her experiences in physical education at FMS in an article recently published in the journal of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability;

— Heard congratulations for all of the winter sports teams for qualifying for the Scholar/Athlete Award, with each team maintaining an academic average of 90 percent or above;

— Heard that two Farnsworth seventh-graders, William Wang and Bill Dong, who participated in the American Math competition, received Young Student Honors and will advance this month to the next level, the American Invitational Math Exam. Their scores were much higher than most of the high-school students who took the test, said Singleton;

— Learned that Maureen Pokal, a Farnsworth counselor, has been named a 2011 Champion of Character by The Sage College Academy for Character Education;

— Established a scholarship on behalf of the Westmere Elementary School staff in honor of Daryl Farley, who died in 2009 after teaching for more than two decades at Westmere. The scholarship will be awarded to a graduating senior who is pursuing a career with children, has a grade-point average of at least 80, demonstrates compassion for others, and is involved in the school community;

— Accepted a donated printer from Joe Elario whose wife, Sheila, is the district’s administrator for art;

— Heard from Weisz that the Army Corps of Engineers will hold a meeting about mitigating pollution caused by the old Army depot, located near the high school. The meeting will be held on March 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lynnwood Reformed Church at 3714 Carman Road; and

— Met in executive session to discuss tenure review, evaluations for administrators, and negotiations for three bargaining units — building principals and the administrator for special programs, district-office administrative personnel, and the teachers’ association.

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