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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 5, 2011

Two seats open on BKW board: Two on ballot, two launch write-in campaign

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — With four candidates gunning for two openings on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board this year, the current board president is looking to hold her seat for another term, as she is challenged by one candidate on the ballot, and two write-ins.

Maureen Sikule, a state worker, has been on the board since 2005, and wants to keep the school board’s membership consistent in these tough economic times. She and Vasilios Lefkaditis, a member of BKW’s budget advisory committee and a newcomer to district politics, were running unopposed until David Lendrum and Gerald Larghe launched write-in campaigns. Larghe had attempted to get on the ballot for the second year in a row, but was unable to do so because a number of the people who signed his petition didn’t include their addresses.

Residents can meet the candidates on Tuesday, May 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the Elementary School library.

This week, the four candidates told The Enterprise about their backgrounds, and answered questions on three 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 the changes 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;

— 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 2009, and the school board and teachers’ union recently reached an impasse in negotiations. BKW teachers work on a 30-step system of raises, with teachers climbing 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; 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, or put the recovered funds towards restoring eliminated jobs and programs. They were also asked whether or not they agreed with proposed reform of the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, which would allow district’s to freeze salaries after the expiration of teachers’ contracts;

Budget: Creating a budget for the 2011-12 school year has been a challenging process for the district, as it was last year. Parents have spoken out against program cuts that they feel will leave their children unprepared for life after school, while other residents fear an unaffordable increase in the tax levy, which is 3.5 percent in the proposed $21 million budget for 2011-12. If the district votes down the adopted budget on May 17, 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, as it did after last year’s budget was voted down. 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 why, and what the school board’s next course of action should be if the budget is voted down.

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