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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2011
Allan SimpsonBy Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Allan Simpson said the main reason he is running for the school board is because he “would like to give back to the community.”
“My accounting and business background gives me ways to ask questions and look at new ways to get the biggest bang for the buck,” said Simpson who works as the director of accounting operations for the State Insurance Fund.
He has served on the board for almost a year, having been elected to a one-year term last May after coming in fourth in a six-way race.
Simpson hesitated this year in deciding whether to run again since the unpaid post requires so much time away from his family. He and his wife, Renate, have a son, Tyler, and a daughter, Ashley, both Guilderland students.
“The board is elected by the taxpayers,” said Simpson when asked whom he primarily serves. The board also needs to serve the interests of the students, he said.
Following a business model, Simpson said, the school board sets policies, and the administrators carry out those policies. “The superintendent works for the board of education,” he said.
“My role is to represent the community,” Simpson concluded.
Simpson supports the proposed $89 million budget. “I voted for it,” he said. “It wasn’t ideal in terms of the tax rate but…it’s better than a contingency budget. It was the best we could do given what we had.”
When Simpson first ran for the school board in 2009 he came in a close fourth in a five-way race for three seats he advocated no increase in the tax rate. “There’s no way it could be at 0 percent this year,” he said. “The teachers’ union gets an automatic increase every year because of steps.” He added, “That’s not true in the private sector; you have to earn your raise with merit.”
He went on to note that the pension plan is run by the state and that health-care costs are rising dramatically.
“You’ve got two strikes against you,” said Simpson. “There’s no way to get to a zero [tax increase budget] without destroying education for children.”
Simpson likes the new budget process. He had served as a member of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee before being elected to the board and said it gave citizens “an after-the-fact voice.” What Simpson likes about this year’s community forums, he said, is “the board of education saw input before the superintendent proposed the budget.”
From the process, he said, “I learned there’s a lot of different factors and people with different interests.”
He suggested some changes for next year like a bigger room to accommodate a large crowd, and developing a way to make reporting on the small-group discussions more efficient.
Simpson said he hasn’t thought about what course to take if the budget were to be voted down. “I’d want to listen to input from the other board members and the management team,” he said. He’d like to “see if there’s a way around a contingency budget.”
He concluded, “Not everybody will be happy with the decreases we made, but everybody worked hard to maintain a high level of quality…Let’s hope it doesn’t get voted down.”
On the tax rate, Simpson said, “Historically, a 4-percent budget has passed, but we’re in unprecedented times. A lot of people are out of work. It depends on what people can afford. We have to have a budget in line with the governor’s tax cap if there is one.”
Simpson also said, “If people lobby and make a good case” for programs, the board would have to consider a budget over the 2-percent tax-levy cap, if the governor’s plan were to become law.
He then asked a series of pointed questions about Governor Andrew Cuomo. “What’s he doing to help keep pension costs from going up? What’s he doing to contain health-care costs? What’s he doing with bargaining units to give us relief when it comes to steps?” asked Simpson.
Negotiating contracts, Simpson said, has to depend “on what the district and the taxpayers can afford.” He went on, “If taxpayers can afford an increase, that should be part of the discussion. Right now, we’re in tough economic times. Many people have lost their jobs and many others haven’t had a raise in two years; they seem to making it.”
Simpson concluded of negotiating contracts, “Both parties need to be happy.” If they’re not, he said, “It makes for animosity and a poor work environment.”
On maintaining a full-day kindergarten program, Simpson said, “You have to look at the economy every year and what programs might have to be cut. One of the themes this year was the community asked us to trim rather than eliminate.”
Simpson said he voted this year to keep the full-day program next year “because of the evidence we heard from the administration.”
He went on, “One year [of data] could be an anomaly or it could be part of a trend. We need to give it some time to develop.”
Simpson concluded, “We shouldn’t pit kindergarten against the other programs.”