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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 26, 2012

According to gov’s budget
GCSD to get slight increase in state aid

GUILDERLAND — Despite the $805 million in increased school aid proposed by the governor, Guilderland still faces a funding gap of over $3 million with a roll-over budget — keeping the same staff and programs — for next year.

“In actuality, it’s not that rosy of a picture,” the district’s assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders, told the school board Tuesday night.

Roughly a third — $250 million — will go to competitive efficiency grants, said Sanders, which he expects will be awarded to high-needs schools. Then roughly another third — $265 million — will go for formula-based aid, for such expenditures as transportation or Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which would have been covered anyway.

That leaves about $250 million to be shared by more than 700 school districts across the state, said Sanders.

Guilderland, like other districts, has had its foundation aid frozen since the 2008-09 school year. Guilderland’s foundation aid, which is not tied to expenditures but is based on enrollment, is $13.9 million.

Guilderland has traditionally based its aid calculations on the governor’s proposal. This year’s budget totals $89 million.

According to the governor’s current proposal, Guilderland’s aid in expenditure-driven categories — the more a district spends, the more aid it gets — is up 1.7 percent for next year.

The aid for BOCES and special services is down about $73,000 to $1.2 million because Guilderland will have fewer special-education students in private placements. Also down — about $5,000 to about $67,000 — is aid for hardware and technology; and aid for software, library, and textbooks is down about $16,000 to roughly $430,000.

High cost excess aid is up about $8,000 to about $554,000, and aid for private excess cost is up about $101,000 to roughly $796,000. Transportation aid is up roughly $276,000 to $3.8 million.

Before Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his budget last week, Sanders had figured Guilderland faced a  $3.3 million gap; using the governor’s figures, the gap is now calculated at $3.2 million, about $100,000 less.

“We’re essentially in the same predicament,” Sanders told the school board.

The biggest hit comes from the end of aid from the Federal Education Jobs Fund; last year, Guilderland got about $1.14 million in federal aid, which, added to its $20.9 million in state aid, brought its aid total to over $22 million. Next year, according to the governor’s budget, Guilderland would get about $21.3 million in state aid, an increase of about $352,000 over this year.

So, although Guilderland’s state aid would increase 1.7 percent next year, Sanders calculated that, figuring in the loss of federal aid, overall Guilderland faces a decrease in aid of about $787,000, down 3.6 percent from this year. Sanders also calculated that, depending on the number of special-needs students who will be removed from private placements, the total aid loss could be over $1 million, a decrease of 4.6 percent.

The school board’s vice president, Gloria Towle-Hilt, recommended encouraging district residents to join a letter-writing campaign to legislators, urging mandate relief.

“We have to be realistic…Things aren’t going to change next month to affect this year,” said board President Colleen O’Connell. She commended Sanders for predicting the aid so accurately.

“Certainly, increased state aid is not going to be part of the solution,” said Sanders.

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed the most recent “Community Conversation,” the second of three, held on Jan. 17. (For the full story, go online to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Jan. 19.)

“I was a little disheartened to hear people thought we weren’t communicative on the budget,” said board member Richard Weisz.

“There is a perception the budget isn’t that transparent,” said board member Allan Simpson. “I think it’s more of an education problem, how to understand the elements in the budget.”

He said it is hard for people to understand complex information that is whisked over in 10-minute presentations.

Sixty or 70 Guilderland high school students, representing a cross-section of the student body, will share their views on the budget on Jan. 31, said Superintendent Marie Wiles.

 The next “Community Conversation” will be held at the high school on Feb. 7, when a “more concrete vision” of next year’s budget will be presented.

“Clearly, we have some real challenges before us,” Wiles said. She will present the superintendent’s budget on March 1.

Visitors from China

Twenty-nine students and eight administrators “from an elite high school in China, a sister school to Tech Valley High School,” Wiles said, visited Guilderland High School last week, observing classes and interacting with students. (See related story.)

“We had a bilingual Q and A, which was most enlightening,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton, who helped arrange the tour, displayed two books and a painted scroll that the district had received as gifts from the Chinese visitors.

The painting will hang in the high school, said Wiles, “wishing us happiness and prosperity, and we could use both.”

Singleton said that Chen Tianshun, principal of Tianjin No. 41 High School, is interested in exploring a partnership with Guilderland, which could lead to teacher and student exchanges.

“They were most taken with our hands-on approach and the freedom students have to pursue learning,” said Wiles.

O’Connell said the Chinese students typically learned in lecture classes with 50 to 80 students, contrasting that with Guilderland’s much smaller class size and interactive learning approach.

Singleton termed the Jan. 18 visit “a very rich day.”

New contract

The board approved a three-year contract with the six-member Guilderland District Office Confidential Personnel unit, which grants raises of 1 percent per year on base salary.

The retroactive contract runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014.

The current pay ranges from $36,100 to $56,795 annually, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lin Severance. In the final year of the contract, the pay will range from $37,199 to $58,515, she told The Enterprise.

The members’ experience ranges from 4 to 24 years, according to O’Connell.

 The unit — which includes two senior account clerks, a secretary to the superintendent, and a secretary to each of the three assistant superintendents — had foregone raises for the last two years.

“When the district asked if anyone would step forward, the district office team and the Confidential Personnel stepped up,” Severance told The Enterprise. “This is a group that really understands the economic climate.”

Negotiators first met last April and had four sessions altogether, she said. “We were all waiting on the economy,” said Severance.

The school board and the unit members both approved the pact by unanimous vote.

Other business

In other business at its Jan. 24 meeting, the board:

— Heard from Wiles that there is a change in the calendar for Regents Week; for the first time, the high school is not suspending classes as about 125 students take the state exams. School will be dismissed early today, Jan. 26, and Friday, Jan. 27, for administering and grading exams. “It comes on the heels of not knowing whether we would have January Regents at all,” said Wiles;

— Adopted policies on the annual district meeting and election, budget planning and hearing, investments, and compliance with copyright law;

— Unanimously approved three state-required reports on the condition of school district buildings. The first, a visual inspection of the 48 systems or sub-systems in the district’s 11 buildings, found everything was satisfactory or excellent except some systems in the now-vacant district office; staff has moved to a new office at the high school. Sanders said the district is looking at options on what to do with the old office, which is located near the middle school.

The Five-Year Capital Facilities Plan records the condition of each building and recommends improvements; the report concluded all buildings were in satisfactory condition. It prioritized improvements and estimated costs, for a grand total of $9.4 million. Calling the report a “planning tool,” Sanders explained it is “to make sure school districts and boards of education are aware of facility needs in the district.”

Finally, the School Facility Report Cards rated all five elementary schools, the high school, and the middle school as satisfactory;

— Accepted a video editing character generator from WTEN10ABC, arranged through co-anchor Elisa Streeter, which will be used to add captions to live-streaming video; 

— Approved two international trips for next month, which Wiles said met the criteria of the district’s new policy, linking the travel to course curricula. Robert Baker will take Advanced Placement Euro students to Italy and Spain, and Jon Kauffmann will take sophomore, junior, and senior social studies students to Ireland and Scotland;

— Heard from Towle-Hilt that the board’s Business Practices Committee, which she chairs, is discussing replacing the phone system at Farnsworth Middle School. She said it would be “a major catastrophe if the phone system fell apart,” and also noted, “We have some money left from the capital project,” which would cover the costs; and

— Heard from Singleton that juniors Joey Fazzone and Shailyn Cotton and seniors Valerie Zajac, Albert Cartegenes, and Giovanni Falciano will have their work exhibited in the 2012 High School Juried Regional Student Art Exhibit that runs from Feb. 15 to March 15 at the Massry Center on the College of Saint Rose Campus. A reception will be held March 2 at 7 p.m. Twenty schools are represented with 88 works; 17 percent of them are from Guilderland;

— “Pops Salutes Classic Rock,” the major fund-raiser for the Guilderland Music Parents and Friends Association, will be held Feb. 4 in the high-school gym, which will be set up as a café. Tickets at the door cost $7. They may be purchased ahead for $6 in the high school store or by calling Lori Hershenhart, music supervisor, at 861-8591, ext. 1106;

— Learned that a contingent from Guilderland High School will visit Duanesburg High School on Feb. 3 to see its distance-learning space and to find out more about the program. Guilderland, said Singleton, is interested in learning about becoming both a consumer and a provider of distance learning. Costs and benefits will be reported to the board, he said; and

— Met in executive session to hear updates on negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association and the Guilderland Teacher Aides’ Association, and to discuss pending tax certiorari litigation with 20 Mall and the New York Independent System Operator, Inc.

— By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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