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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 24, 2011
GCSD board incumbents
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Two of the school board members whose seats will be up for election in May Judy Slack and Emilio Genzano are planning to run.
Board Vice President Catherine Barber is stepping down after two three-year terms.
And Allan Simpson, who is serving a one-year term on the board to fill out a vacancy, hasn’t yet decided if he’ll run again.
The top three vote-getters in the May 17 election will each serve a three-year term. The candidate who comes in fourth will fill out a one-year term.
District residents interested in running for the unpaid post must submit a petition signed by at least 79 district residents 2 percent of last year’s voters to the district office by April 18.
Catherine Barber, a lawyer and a musician, got involved in school functions when her children were young. Her daughter is now in college and her son is a senior at Guilderland High School. “Now that my son is graduating,” said Barber, she would too.
She said she might step up again if she has grandchildren some day.
She was first inspired to run for the board when she read an exit interview in The Enterprise when David Picker was retiring from his post as school board president.
“He said parents should run, and I thought, ‘Why not me?’”
Barber was the top vote-getter in both of her races for school board.
She headed the board’s communication committee when it came up with the idea of holding coffee klatches so board members could chat informally with the public. She also chaired the policy committee when it developed a groundbreaking policy curbing cyberbullying.
Although soft-spoken, Barber has often been outspoken on the board. Last year, she was the only board member who opposed delaying payment on the building-project bond debt; she advocated cutting back to half-day kindergarten instead and stated she wouldn’t base her household budget on what-ifs.
This year, she was the only board member who wanted to maintain the longstanding Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, in which volunteers reviewed the administration’s budget proposal in great depth through a series of televised meetings. CBAC was replaced with two community forums, where residents and school staff met in small groups to give their views on what should be left out of the budget.
Barber said last week, “It’s nice to get more people involved” but she would have liked to have CBAC continue to meet at the same time. “It’s helpful to get feedback after they’ve had that level of detail,” she said.
Barber, herself, was a member of the budget review committee since her children were in preschool and she said she found the information she learned from that process invaluable.
Emilio Genzano has been on the school board for two years, because of two separate appointments.
“I joined this to do a job,” he said when asked why he would be running in May. “With all I’ve learned so far, I can be more effective.”
Genzano works as the assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center and is the father of three children. He had run unsuccessfully for the school board in 2001 and 2002 before being appointed in the fall of 2009. The board chose him over seven other men to fill a seat left vacant by the death of long-time board member John Dornbush.
Then Genzano ran in May 2010 to keep his seat but came in fifth in a six-way race for four seats. Simpson came in fourth so he is now serving the one year left in Dornbush’s term.
Board member Julie Cuneo then left the board in June, because she was moving out of town with her family. Genzano and two other candidates were interviewed for the post in a televised session in July. Genzano was reappointed to the nine-member board in a 7-to-0 vote.
Genzano said he is most proud of what he has learned. “That includes FOGA,” he said of the Friends Of Guilderland Athletics. Last April 13, in the wake of state aid cuts, Genzano had been one of three school board members who advocated reinstating freshman sports. Then, at the next meeting, when the hall was filled with sports boosters, protesting the cuts to freshman and repeat sports, Genzano spoke in favor of sticking to the budget that the majority of the board had supported.
“We have to respect this process…I will look for alternatives,” he said then. “This isn’t over.”
He then headed FOGA, which raised about $60,000 from the community so that all sports were restored for this year.
“People said it couldn’t be done, but a group of people got together and found a common goal,” said Genzano this week. “I feel it’s a model.”
Asked if he thought such an approach could be used again for the current proposed cuts, Genzano said, “I’m ready.”
He said he is happy with the way the budget process has been opened up this year. “I see more involvement, more feedback,” he said.
Asked if he thought the board could keep more programs by not giving raises, Genzano said, “It can be done in negotiations.” He added that he couldn’t discuss current negotiations with the teachers’ union.
Genzano concluded of his goal if elected, “I’d really like to learn more to make the system better.”
Allan Simpson, an accountant, first ran for the board in 2009 coming in a close fourth in a five-way race for three seats before winning his seat last year.
Simpson said this week that he has the petition to run for the board in May but hasn’t yet solicited any signatures.
He said of serving on the board, “It’s a lot of work and a lot of time. With my kids being older, it’s hard to fit in. I’ve had to miss some of their stuff.”
The economic downturn has made the job more challenging he said, adding, “It’s going to get tougher.”
Asked what he was proudest of accomplishing in his year on the board, Simpson said, “I don’t think I accomplished a whole lot. There’s a lot of learning.”
He said he had participated in the board’s search for a new superintendent and was pleased with the selection of Marie Wiles. “It’s a nice opportunity for her and she brings a lot to the table,” he said.
Simpson serves on the board’s policy, audit, and business practices committees.
Asked about his goals if he’s re-elected, Simpson said, “I’d like to make sure the school district can maintain quality education at a cost taxpayers can afford.” He called that “an insurmountable task if not nearly impossible” and noted, “There is no quick fix.”
Asked if the board, when negotiating contracts, should withhold raises to preserve programs and jobs, Simpson said, “I’m not negotiating the big contracts. I don’t know what the stakes of the negotiations are.”
Simpson said he is pleased with the new budget process. “I think it’s wonderful people are showing they care,” he said. “Last year, when the board took ninth-grade sports out…it was unbelievable the number of people who came out. It’s hard for people to understand, you either keep programs and pass the cost on to the taxpayers or you make cuts…That’s going to be tough to balance.”
Judy Slack is definite about running for a second term on the school board. She gave the same reason for this run that she gave when making her first run three years ago: “It’s for the kids,” she said.
In her first race, she came in second in a five-way race for three seats.
Slack, who began her career as a high-school English teacher, retired in 2008 after working for 24 years as a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School. She has three grown children who had varying educational needs, all of which were met at Guilderland, she said.
“It’s so hard when you look at all the choices we have to make,” Slack said this week of her first term on the board.” But, she said, referring to a recent Future City presentation by Farnsworth Middle School students, “That’s why I’m doing it. At the bottom of it all are the kids.”
Asked what she is most proud of accomplishing in her first term, Slack said, “We’re watching a lot slip away but we’ve been able to keep a lot of things whole.”
She went on, “Our current superintendent is a gem. We’re working to keep this a district that people will come here for and be proud of.”
Slack said the most important issue facing the district now is money. “Everything is influenced by it,” she said. “You have to have concern for people who are paying the bills.”
Asked if the board, when negotiating contracts, should withhold raises to preserve jobs and programs, Slack said, “We can’t do anything about it as board members. We’ve got the Triborough law so we can’t freeze or cut salaries. The only choice we have is cutting staff….Contracts are negotiated and we either approve or disapprove…We vote yes or no.”
Asked what she’d like to accomplish if she’s re-elected, Slack said, “Looking out for the bullied students and the bullying students…It’s been proven that the bullies need as much support as the bullied.”