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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 19, 2012

GCSD launches letter-writing campaign for mandate relief

GUILDERLAND — The school district, at impasse with its two biggest unions and battered by rising pension and health-care costs, has launched a letter-writing campaign, seeking mandate relief.

Last week, school board member Richard Weisz made what he called a “passionate plea” to his fellow board members to highlight the need for specific mandate relief as the district faces a $3.3 million revenue shortfall for next year’s budget.

He urged posting a letter online to “get everyone to write.”

“We can mitigate the impact,” said Weisz, noting that about 20 teachers were cut last year, 20 this year, and perhaps 20 next year. In the last two years, Guilderland has cut about 100 jobs.

With the new tax-levy limit controlling what the district can spend, Weisz said, the only way to protect students is through mandate relief.

At this Tuesday’s community forum, sample letters were handed out to the three-dozen participants. A copy of the letter is also available on the district’s website — www.guilderlandschools.org.

On the back of the letter are postal and e-mail addresses for the governor, the senate and assembly leaders, and local state senate and assembly representatives as well as for Congressman Paul Tonko.

“Now is the time to act!” urges the text with the sample letter. “The more officials hear from their constituents, the better…so let your voice be heard!”

The letter asks for reform of the state’s Triborough Amendment. Part of the Taylor Law, the amendment guarantees teachers with expired contracts the step increases in those contracts; teachers are prohibited from striking.

The letter also asks that the pension system be made “predictable and affordable.” The pension systems that schools are required to pay into suffered losses when Wall Street faltered, increasing required contributions.

The letter also asks for a statewide health insurance plan for school district participation. The hope is economy of scale would reduce costs. The letter asks, too, that a minimum health-insurance contribution level be set for employees and retirees.

And the letter asks for the Wicks Law to be reformed, to reduce construction costs. The law, from the 1940s, requires any government construction project that upstate costs more than $500,000 be subject to separate contracts for electrical work; plumbing; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning.

Finally, it asks that new unfunded mandates be prohibited.

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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