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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012

Holidays pose a challenge in drafting school calendar

GUILDERLAND — Setting the school calendar for next year has proved a challenge.

The school board will vote at its next meeting on one of two proposals.

Outlining some of the challenges, Superintendent Marie Wiles told the board members at their Feb. 14 meeting, “We can’t start before September 1…two Jewish holidays fall on instructional days, and Martin Luther King Day falls on Regents Week.”

Also, Easter is early, with Good Friday falling on March 29.

Guilderland typically tries to match the calendar adopted by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services so that students who take BOCES courses won’t miss classes.

The 183-day version has classes the day before Thanksgiving. The 182-day version has a holiday on that Wednesday.

Board President Colleen O’Connell noted that the day before Thanksgiving is “the biggest travel day of the year.”

“I realize that,” said Wiles.

Board member Emilio Genzano suggested lengthening some days to get the hours in to take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

“Transportation would be a challenge,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton.

“Everything’s a challenge,” responded Genzano.

Board member Richard Weisz asked how much it would cost the district in aid if 1,000 students, about 20 percent of those enrolled, were to miss the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. State aid is based on attendance.

Board member Denise Eisele suggested cutting back from three to two snow days, to keep the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a holiday.

“They’re not just snow days, they’re emergency days,,” said Wiles, who noted that, if more emergency days were needed, they would have to be cut from the April break.

“That’s not a popular thing for people who have plopped down money,” said O’Connell, referring to pre-paid travel arrangements.

If Guilderland were to start school before Sept. 1, it would not get aid for those days. Weisz asked if the state could change the aid date to Aug. 30.

“My experience with State Education is they are not flexible,” said Wiles.

The board will vote on the calendar at its March 6 meeting.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Authorized spending the estimated $105,000 left over from the $27 million bond vote for building renovations, approved by voters in 2007. The board agreed to spend the funds on replacing the phone system at Farnsworth Middle School and expanding wireless technology at the high school.

“It’s on borrowed time,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders of the middle-school phone system, which is currently operating with a piece of loaner equipment. He also said that expanding the wireless technology at the high school would “open a world of educational opportunities.”

Sanders estimated that the new “visual phone system” for the middle school will cost $90,000, and that it would cost $240,000 to install wireless technology at the high school, but he said the $15,000 the district has to spend “would kick start the process”;

— Agreed to bid jointly with other school districts for broadband Ethernet services;

Authorized participation in the New York School and Municipal Energy Consortium for electricity and natural gas;

— Heard from Singleton that Guilderland High School junior Cassandra Jennings and senior April Alfieri had works selected for the juried student exhibition, “Art in Three Dimensions,” that ran from Jan. 30 to Feb. 29 at Mohonasen High School;

— Learned that the 53rd Annual Hudson-Mohawk Valley Area Math Conference Program will be held at Guilderland High School on March 24, chaired by Mike Piscitelli, instructional administrator for high school math, science, and technology;

— Heard that Amy Salamone’s high school English class, in looking at the relationship between loss and writing, created a tree with messages for Elie Wiesel. “In the spring,” said Singleton, “they will plant a live tree to honor and remember Elie Wiesel’s story as well as all who suffer from discrimination and hatred.” The class, who wrote to Wiesel, was thrilled to hear back from him;

— Learned that the Farnsworth Middle School Math Counts Team came in first place at the regional competition at General Electric on Feb. 4. All four team members — Bill Dong (ranked second), Will Wang (fifth), Michael Zhu (10th), and Jeremy Collison (11th) — individually scored in the top 12 out of 135 students from 19 schools.

Alternates were Eric Pasquini, Edward Yu, Mohona Sengupta, and Catherine Seita. Yu, who scored 18th, will be the alternate when the team goes to the state competition at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on March 17.

Farnsworth teachers Deb Escobar and Caley Vangelis coached the team;

— Heard from O’Connell that the board’s policy committee has asked the middle school and high school to “take the athletic code and morph it into a student conduct code” that would apply to all students in extracurricular activities “so the star of the musical will be held to the same consequences as the star quarterback.” O’Connell said this would “level the playing field”;

— Heard from O’Connell that the board’s vice president, Gloria Towle-Hilt, will be out of town for the March 1 superintendent’s budget presentation but will participate in the meeting via Skype;

— Discussed private donations and corporate sponsorship in response to a citizen’s recommendation as a way to help close a $2.6 million budget gap.

Weisz, recapping years of discussion the board has had on the subject, said, “We would just move money from one pocket to another.”

“If someone wanted to start a foundation,” said O’Connell, “they can do that.”

“It’s really a crapshoot,” said board member Allan Simpson. “You could get a bunch of money or nothing…It’s not something you want to hedge your bets on.”

“The bottom line,” said O’Connell, who calculated the district exceeds $100,000 in alternative revenue sources, “is no one was convinced we could raise above what we are now because we’re hitting up the same people and businesses”; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel issue and to get an update on negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association.

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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