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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2011

Eight vie for three board seats

By Saranac Hale Spencer

BETHLEHEM — Eight candidates are vying for three seats on Bethlehem’s seven-member school board in a race not unusually crowded for the largely suburban district.

Two incumbents, Laura Ladd Bierman and Matthew Downey, are each seeking a second three-year, unpaid term, while six candidates are each making their first run for the board.  Harmeet Narang, Mary Danckert-Collins, and Donald Kawczak Jr. are all from the Clarksville area and Vincent Potenza is from Selkirk, Peter Scotto is from Slingerlands, and Dr. Caitrin Navarro is from Delmar.

None of the candidates are running as a slate and the board’s current president, James Dering, is not seeking re-election.

Almost of the candidates this year were motivated to run for election because of the way the school board handled the process before deciding to close Clarksville’s elementary school.  It was the smallest of the district’s six elementary schools and the only one located in the town of New Scotland.

Many parents who have students in Clarksville Elementary and area residents argued against closing the school in the run up to the board’s March vote, which split 5 to 2.  Board members based their decisions on a report exploring the feasibility of closing the school compiled by Superintendent Michael Tebbano, who they asked to study the issue in January.  He provided the report in February and the board held public forums in March.

The district plans to save $800,000 in the proposed budget by closing the school.

Also keeping the budget proposal at $86.83 million is a decrease in spending of $1.1 million from union concessions.  District staff, teachers, and administrators all made concessions.

Those reductions taken with cuts bring the budget below the spending level for the two previous years, but it will carry a tax levy increase of 2 percent, since the district will have to collect more in taxes to make up for a $2.3 million loss in state aid.

Since the district centralized in 1957, voters have passed 46 budgets and defeated seven; the most recent defeat was in 2006.  Over the last 10 years, not including 2006, the budget has increased about 6 percent each year and has passed with more than 60 percent of the vote four times.

The Enterprise asked each candidate six questions:

— Do you support this year’s $87 million budget proposal?  Were there specific programs you would have liked to have seen included in or cut from the budget?  Would you have handled the budget process differently?

— The currently proposed budget is lower than the spending plans for the last two years due largely to concessions from unions and one-time monetary infusions like the closing of the Clarksville school — how would you handle next year’s budget preparation?

— Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2 percent cap on the increase of the tax levy, the portion of the district’s budget that must be raised through taxes as opposed to state aid or other revenue sources, could well be in effect next year — can the district stay within the cap?  The governor’s proposal also includes an allowance for a steeper increase to the levy if more than 60 percent of voters approve of it — how likely is it that Bethlehem voters would approve of an increase higher than 2 percent?

— In negotiating contracts with unions in the future, should the school board include both a step increase for every employee each year in addition to cost of living raises?

— Where did you stand on the closure of the Clarksville Elementary School?  What should the future of the building be?

— What is the role of a school board member — who do you serve, especially in a crunch?  Students, taxpayers, teachers, or administrators?

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