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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012

Weisz and Eisele to retire from GCSD board, but Genzano presses on

GUILDERLAND — Two school board members whose terms are up — Richard Weisz and Denise Eisele — will not seek re-election in May. Emilio Genzano, who was appointed to fill a vacancy and then elected to a one-year term, will run.

Petitions are available at the district office for those who want to run in the May 15 election.

“Of course,” said Genzano on Wednesday when asked if he’d run again.

“Just this morning, we handed in the check from FOGA, the complete 50 percent,” he said, referring to the Friends of Guilderland Athletics, which he heads.

Two years ago, Genzano spearheaded the drive by sports boosters to raise over $60,000 to restore the freshmen and repeat sports cut from the 2010-11 budget. Last year, he convinced the board at the last minute, in a split vote, to restore half of the funds for freshmen sports with the rest to be contributed by Friends of Guilderland Athletics.

“I want to keep doing things to help the kids,” he said yesterday of his reason for running again.

Genzano has been on the school board for three years because of two separate appointments and an election.

He works as the assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center and prides himself on bringing “a private-sector influence” to the board.

He had run unsuccessfully for the school board in 2001 and 2002 before being appointed in the fall of 2009.

That year, eight men vied for a seat left vacant by the death of long-time member John Dornbush. Genzano then ran in May 2010 to keep his seat but came in fifth in a six-way race for four seats.

That spring, in the wake of state aid cuts, Genzano had been one of three board members who advocated reinstating freshman sports. Then, at a meeting two weeks later, when the hall was filled with sports boosters, protesting the cuts to freshman sports and fall cheerleading, Genzano spoke in favor of sticking to the budget that the majority had supported.

“We have to respect this process…I will look for alternatives,” he said then. “This isn’t over.”

Asked on election night in May 2010 if he thought his stance on sports is what caused his defeat at the polls, Genzano said he had no regrets. “You speak your mind,” he said. “You do what you think is right.”

Then, when Julie Cuneo left after serving one year of her first term, the board interviewed three candidates in a televised session and chose Genzano to fill the post for a year, until the next election. The 2011 election saw four candidates run for four slots. Genzano came in last and so filled the one-year slot left from Cuneo’s term.

“I think I’ve brought some good value to the board,” Genzano said yesterday. “I think we have a good cross-section. It’s important we keep that in these times of tough decisions. We don’t always agree. We challenge each other, and that’s good.”

Denise Eisele

Eisele told The Enterprise this week that she reluctantly made the decision not to seek a third term and may consider running again when her family obligations lessen. A nurse, she is the mother of six adopted children.

“My kids really, really need me,” Eisele said, noting, “It was a difficult decision. I believe in what I’m doing.”

She added, “I haven’t been able to give 100 percent of myself, and that’s unfair to the board.”

When Eisele ran in 2006, she said, “I would like to have the board be more receptive to opinions. In talking with people, I’ve heard they feel they weren’t listened to. They feel the board sits back from issues...I want to be a face of openness and a face of approachability.”

Eisele said this week that one of the things she is proudest of accomplishing in her six years on the board is “increasing communication.” She chaired the board’s communication committee four years ago. “There wasn’t much happening then,” she said. “Now it’s very active. They changed the way the budget is developed.”

Formerly, a committee of citizen volunteers attended a series of televised sessions, listening to administrators present, in detail, various aspects of the proposed budget, and then gave their opinions at the end. Now, the district hosts a series of “Community Conversations” before the budget is proposed to let people express their views in small discussion groups.

“I increased the awareness of the need to get out in the community,” said Eisele.

Throughout her tenure on the board, Eisele has been a passionate advocate for special-education students.

“I have children with special needs,” she said. “I’ve found in our district and other districts what we hear about only the kids who are excelling.”

While she said it is “marvelous” to hear the list of student accomplishments at each school board meeting, she continued, “There also needs to be discussion of what kids with special needs and average kids have accomplished.”

Eisele has not hesitated to speak directly on issues she cares about, recently to protest the proposal to bring drug-sniffing police dogs into the high school.

“Sometimes,” she said this week, “it breaks my heart seeing the mistakes kids make and how they could pay for them the rest of their lives….Society seems to be turning more and more to punishing instead of helping….Ordinary kids can make bad choices,” she said, stating that schools should be a place to teach them and help them.

Eisele went on, “I really think there needs to be a spokesperson for the disenfranchised.”

She said she is particularly concerned about Guilderland’s growing drop-out rate.

Eisele concluded with a personal story she said was important to tell because “there’s been a lot of trashing of teachers lately” and it shows how she values teachers.

At 19, she was a student at the Albany Medical Center School of Nursing. “I was assigned to give a class to new mothers on how to bathe a baby. I was really nervous about it and I was talking to one of my patients. She was a teacher, in the hospital with a rare blood issue. She was seven months pregnant and her baby had died and she was there to have labor induced. I was 19. I was oblivious to her pain, chattering away about my own little problem.”

Later, Eisele felt her chatter had been inappropriate and understood the ordeal the teacher was going through.

She went on, her voice cracking with emotion at the memory all these years later, “I was stunned then when she showed up for the class. She stayed through the whole lesson. She supported me. She was a teacher. She taught me compassion. Teachers are really marvelous.”

Richard Weisz

“It’s time for someone else to take over and have the fun and experience I have had,” Weisz told his fellow board members at their Feb. 14 meeting. The nine at-large board posts are unpaid.

Weisz has served four three-year terms and noted that the kids who were first-graders when he was elected to the board will soon be graduating.

Weisz, a lawyer, was elected by the board to be its president for five years, stepping down last June. (For a look back at his tenure, go online to HYPERLINK "http://www.AltamontEnterprise.com" www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for June 23, 2011.)

Weisz said at the time “As a board president, I’ve never thought that unanimity was a sign of a successful board meeting. Democracy can be a messy business. We, as a board, explored issues together in good faith….The more difficult the topic, the more need for open conversation so people feel empowered to contribute their ideas.”

Weisz was elected president in 2006. He ran against long-time board member Barbara Fraterrigo and won by a vote of 5 to 4. He said at the time he saw the role of president as being a “facilitator.” Weisz said he would focus on building consensus as opposed to picking a particular agenda, and he also said he hoped the board would shape policy proactively rather just reacting.

Before Weisz became president, board meetings often lasted for hours. He revamped the protocol so that the board votes at the start of the meeting on a “consent agenda,” grouping together items such as appointments and resignations that aren’t publicly discussed.

He also made the board’s committees — on policy, communication, business practices, and audit — more active. “Rather than have the board act as a committee on everything,” said Weisz, it’s more efficient to have committees tasked with specific duties.

“It empowers the committees to have meaningful meetings,” he said. “The rough edges are taken care of by the committees.”

Asked about other accomplishments during his presidency, Weisz said, “I really worked hard to encourage each board member to say what they really thought. I’ve treated all board members with respect,” he said. When members worried something would be disruptive, Weisz said, “I’d say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’”

He went on, “I’m not always in the majority….Early on, I asked board members in the fall to come up with our list of priorities so the board wasn’t relegated to a responsive role.”

Weisz, who led the board through the recent years of state-aid cutbacks and district budget cuts, saw all five budgets pass.

His 2009 election was a close one as that spring he had persuaded the board to include full-day kindergarten in the budget, despite advice to the contrary from members of a citizens’ budget committee worried about tough times. Weisz had said the budget vote would serve as a referendum on the move from half-day to full-day kindergarten; the budget passed.

“I advocate forcefully for what I believe in,” said Weisz. “If I can persuade, I will.”

— By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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