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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 5, 2011
By Zach Simeone
A member of the school board since 2005, Maureen Sikule is seeking re-election because she thinks that maintaining consistency on the board is important during these hard economic times.
Sikule, 54, has been a Hilltown resident since 1985, and works as a database administrator at the New York State Thruway Authority.
“The reason I’m running is because I think that the school has been in a transition for the last couple of years,” Sikule told The Enterprise Monday. “We’ve had changes in administration, and also, with the three-year terms on the school board, it makes for a lot of turnover to have two new board members two of the three years. And I think we’re moving the school in a positive direction, and I want to be a part of continuing that...I think it’s good to have someone who’s been on the board to recognize some of the efficiencies we can have.”
Asked about the highlights of her time on the board, Sikule points to the selection last year of Paul Dorward as the district’s new superintendent.
“I think that, when you make those kinds of decisions, it gives us new leadership and it allows the school to go in a direction that we as a community are looking to have it go in, and I think I was a big part of that with the superintendent search,” she said. “The other thing I think that I bring is, my actual college degree is in accounting, and I think I bring that expertise.”
Asked with whom her allegiance primarily lies, Sikule found herself at the middle of the road.
“I think you can look at the current budget that we recently passed, and I think it’s a combination of those things,” she said. “When you ask who your allegiance is to, it’s like you’re picking someone to win, but I don’t think there are any winners in this situation. We want a good environment for our teaching staff, so they can have a positive impact on our students, and so on.”
Shortly after the board came to an impasse in its negotiations with the BKW Teachers’ Association, Sikule and the rest of the board agreed to ask the district’s teachers and administrators to accept salary freezes this year to help close the budget gap.
“I voted to ask them to do that, so I think that position speaks for itself,” said Sikule. “I can’t speak to specific things I’m looking to have them give up in negotiations, because I’m in the middle of those. But I will tell you that I voted to ask administrators and teachers to have wage and step freezes for the next school year to save positions.”
She also thinks that the board should return to the negotiating table with the teachers’ union.
“The specifics of why, I don’t know that I can share that,” Sikule said. “The wage and step freezes won’t even cover all of the teacher layoffs that we are doing…So, do I think we still need to bargain? Yes.”
Sikule also voted in favor of adopting the district’s proposal of a $21-million budget proposal, with a 3.5-percent tax-levy increase, six staff reductions, and the elimination of five sports teams.
“I think that we listened to the community in terms of the 4- to five-percent [tax-levy increase] being unaffordable, and we went down to the 3.5 percent,” said Sikule when asked why she supported the budget. “We’re looking to share the transportation director with Schoharie. I think that we’re taking a closer look at class sizes, because we do have declining enrollment. So, some of the reductions can be absorbed with a minimal impact on the students…I think we’re looking at the realities of what the students are doing in terms of sports; we’re cutting the programs that don’t have the numbers, so we’re not leaving budget money in there that we’re not going to use.”
Should the budget get voted down, Sikule was unsure of what the district’s next course of action should be.
“It’s not much lower than the current budget,” she said of current estimates for a contingency plan. “But I’m not sure what happens in the second year of a contingency budget, and if that’s going to impact community even more…I think we’d have to look at where the community’s looking for us to get to if they vote it down.”
Sikule went on to say that she supports proposed reforms of the Triborough Amendment that would allow a district to freeze salaries when its contract with the teachers’ union expires.
“This current board put that in our proposal when we met with our legislative leaders in Albany earlier this year as a way to move along the collective-bargaining process,” she said. “I know, with contract negotiations, there’s a lot of frustration on the part of the community. But the community let the board know how they felt, and they’re electing us to do that process, to negotiate the contracts. So, I think, once they’ve done that, they need to at least put the trust in us that they did when they voted for us, no matter who they elect, to represent their best interests.”