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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2011
By Saranac Hale Spencer
Harmeet Narang is making his first run for the school board because “the district needs to do better,” he says.
Narang, who grew up in the district, would bring his approach as a project manager at General Electric to the board in its management of the district, he said. He watched the board’s process in putting together its budget proposal this year, as did other parents of Clarksville Elementary students since the school was slated for closure, and he was disappointed with the depth of the board’s discussion about spending $87 million.
“I’m on the fence,” he said of supporting the budget, noting that, “in Bethlehem, the budget almost always passes.” Next year, he’d like to do a line-by-line analysis of the budget, identifying where all of the money is going and plan three years into the future, rather than just getting through to the next year.
Laying out best- and worst- case scenarios for three years out would help the process, he said, and he’d like to quantify the costs of the mandates given to the district so the board can talk to the community about how to handle them.
“The district should be able to live within the 2-percent” cap, Narang said of the governor’s proposal. Over the last 10 years, the district has averaged over a 5-percent increase each year, which Narang called absurd and unsustainable. He expects that voters would accept an increase beyond 2 percent if they are presented with a specific spending plan.
It is impossible to escape the fact that, in order to attract good teachers, the district needs to offer good salaries, he said of contract negotiations. Narang also mentioned the idea of using a reward system for effective teaching.
Of the board’s decision to close the Clarksville school, which he spoke stridently against at the two public forums on the topic, Narang said, “I think it was a mistake.” He faulted the district for poorly managing its spending over the last 10 years. In 2003, voters approved a $93 million bond put forth by the district to improve its current buildings, including Clarksville’s school, and to build a new elementary school.
The Clarksville building should be maintained, Narang said, and he’d like to see a long-term plan for it.
At the end of the day, he said, the board is responsible for the quality of education in the district and board members most essentially serve students.