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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 5, 2011
By Zach Simeone
Gerald Larghe, a 50-year-old United States Marine reserve officer, has seen his daughter attend schools in Texas, Hawaii, and overseas in England. Looking back on those years, and his experience with military-training budgets, he thinks he has the perspective that BKW needs.
“There’s a saying, ‘You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,’” Larghe told The Enterprise Tuesday. “I’ve got a daughter who’s going into sixth grade; my oldest daughter’s graduating. With all the tax increases and cutting the programs, I haven’t seen anything positive coming out of it; I haven’t seen the results. The school board, as I see it, the election is a popularity contest and whoever has the biggest clan around here; those shouldn’t be the parameters for someone to be on a school board. It’s almost nepotism.”
Larghe had attempted to get on the ballot for a second year in a row this year, but was unable to because a number of the signatures on his petition were not accompanied by addresses. He will instead be running as a write-in candidate.
He thinks that someone with his background is more qualified for a position on the school board than a teacher or other district employee.
“You don’t want the best mechanic on the line running the factory as the CEO,” said Larghe. “You don’t expect the best wrench turner to be the head of the company. You can have great teachers, and great administrators. But that doesn’t necessarily drive the machine forward.”
After growing up in Colorado, Larghe traveled throughout his years in the military, and ended up in the Hilltowns about five years ago. He thinks that the primary purpose of schools is to prepare children for the outside world. So, his allegiance lies with the students.
“What is the purpose of a school?” Larghe asked. “To allow people to move forward into society and allow them to become prosperous taxpaying citizens that go on with their lives. It’s not a babysitting service, it’s not a delinquency holding pen. It’s a school. Educate and prepare. With that said, the supported element is the students; everyone else is in the supporting role.”
Asking the teachers’ union to accept a salary freeze, he said, is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
“If I’ve got a Chihuahua at my feet, and a Rottweiler jumping at my throat, which one do I take care of first?” asked Larghe. “First things first: the tax base will only support so much, period. Since I moved into this house, my mortgage [payment, which includes taxes] has gone up 25 percent, and that’s all school taxes…Someone’s going to have to work with the teachers’ union to move forward from just a year-to-year; but then, go to the state and work out a prototype plan. We want to be the guinea pig for the state to come up with something that works better, because we know this is failing, period. And with things like last-hired, first-fired, you end up with nothing ever changing.”
Larghe does not support the proposed 2011-12 budget.
“You get a budget, which is bad, or the other option, which is worse,” he said of the contingency budget. “That’s not what the school board is supposed to be giving you. The problem is, it’s not like this has snuck up on anybody. With a little bit of strategic planning, it was probably evident several years ago this was happening. It’s like the guys who bought the house with balloon payments. If you didn’t see it coming, shame on you for not doing your job. The average Joe Q. Public, they’re not paying the attention to the school board; they’re trusting them to do the right thing.”
Should the budget get voted down, Larghe does not think it should be put up for a second vote.
“One of the key principles in the military, and it’s almost an absolute: You never reinforce failure,” he said. “I look at the mission of the school board: ‘Let the Berne-Knox-Westerlo community strive to do all it can to help our students be all they can be.’
That’s not the mission of the school board; that’s putting it on the community. It’s the school board’s responsibility to make sure the finances, logistics, facilities, and academics are in place. The concept behind a mission statement is, it drives all your actions, and, by reading this one, there is no mission from the school board, and the way it’s operated, you can see that is what’s happening.”