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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2012

Four candidates vie for three seats, all back $89M budget prop
By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The four-way race for three Guilderland School Board seats features incumbent Emilio Genzano, three-term member Catherine Barber who retired a year ago, and newcomers Jennifer Charron and Christine Hayes.

All four candidates support the $89.26 million budget proposition. Voters will decide on both the budget and the board on May 15.

The top three vote-getters will each win a three-year term on the nine-member board. The posts are unpaid.

Although school board candidates do not run on traditional political party lines, in recent years, slates of candidates have formed in Guilderland. This year, each candidate is running independently.

Some years, the Guilderland Teachers’ Association has endorsed candidates. The union’s president, Maceo Dubose, when asked on Tuesday if the GTA would make endorsements this year, said, “We haven’t made that decision.”

The GTA’s Political Action Committee will be sending a survey to each of the four candidates, he said, and will then meet to decide whether or not to make endorsements and who to endorse.

Guilderland, like districts across the state, is faced with a tax-levy cap, stagnant state aid, and increased health and pension costs. The district had to close a $2.6 million gap to meet the new state-set cap.

The $89 million plan cuts about 29 jobs, following nearly 100 that were cut in the previous two years.

The proposed budget would raise the tax rate 2.2 percent; Guilderland residents would pay an estimated $21.14 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Because the tax levy stays under the state-set levy limit, a simple majority of more than 50 percent is needed to pass the budget.

The issues

The Enterprise asked the candidates to comment on these six topics:

Role of a school board member: Candidates were asked who they serve. Certainly, each must balance the needs of many constituencies, but which is the primary one? Particularly if there is a crunch — for example, like now, because of economic tough times and cuts in aid — would their primary allegiance be to the students, the taxpayers, the parents, the teachers, or the superintendent?

Budget: Candidates were asked if they support the $89.26 million budget, and why or why not.

They were also asked if there were specific items they would have liked included, or if there were specific items they thought should have been cut.

Candidates were asked what they thought of the budget process where, for the second year, an in-depth budget review by a committee of volunteers was replaced by community forums before the budget was drafted during which residents, parents, and staff talked in small groups to discuss what they valued in lists of proposed cuts.

Finally, candidates were asked what the school board should do if the budget were voted down. If voters defeat the budget, the board can put the same budget up for a vote, put a revised budget up for a vote, or move to a contingency plan. If the budget were to be voted down again in June, the board would be required to move to a contingent budget, which, under the new law, would require the tax levy not be raised at all from this year.

Tax hike: A tax-levy cap is new this year. If a school district goes over the state-set cap, 60 percent of the public vote is needed to adopt the spending plan. Candidates were asked if programs and jobs should continue to be cut next year to keep the tax-levy increase below 2 percent or would constituents be willing to pay more to preserve Guilderland’s traditional curriculum?

Contracts: Salaries and benefits make up the largest share of the district budget, about three-quarters of expenses. In light of the rising costs for pensions and health care with the simultaneous cuts in aid, candidates were asked if school employees whose contracts are being negotiated should get raises above their step increases or should they get any raises at all. Teachers, for example, move up a 23-step system, with the first step at about $42,000 and the top step at about $72,000.

Restructuring the school day: Superintendent Marie Wiles looked at ways to change schedules to save funds while preserving programs. The proposed budget does away with the advisory period in the high school, but keeps the tutorial period in the middle school. Middle school staff objected to the proposal to move from a nine- to an eight-period day and said they’d prefer larger classes if need be; the board was divided on the issue. The teachers’ union president also said the change would have to be negotiated. Candidates were asked for their views on the subject.

State tests: Standardized tests now carry more weight than ever, as the state requires that teachers be evaluated, in part, by their students’ test results. Last June, about one out of every six Regents exams graded by Guilderland teachers was in error. (The district decided to change the scores to the correct numbers except for the 15 scores that would have meant failure.) Last November, Lynnwood Elementary School was placed on a list, based on test scores, of schools that need improvement. The 56 special education students at Lynnwood — who come from throughout the district — did not make what the state defines as “adequate yearly progress” in English. Candidates were asked for their views on testing.

Candidate Profiles:

Catherine Barber

Jennifer Charron

Emilio Genzano

Christine Hayes

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