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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2012
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Jennifer Charron, who has two children in Guilderland schools, would like to use her business acumen to reduce the budget without cutting teachers, she said.
She is making her first run for school board after serving for two years on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee and, since that was disbanded, attending community forums on the school budget.
She and her husband relocated to New York State six years ago and chose to live in Guilderland because of the excellent schools. Their son, Alex, is a senior at Guilderland High School and will attend the Rochester Institute of Technology next year to study computer science. Their daughter, Nicole, is an eighth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School.
Charron is the owner of Helderberg Partners, Ltd., a nationwide energy research website that she designed and launched.
“I’m passionate about green initiatives,” said Charron. “New York now is an energy choice state. You find out the rates aren’t what they say they are; they’re teasers. We’ve taken our research to create tools for people to evaluate costs with different companies.”
She called the nationwide database “a labor of love.”
Charron, who has a bachelor’s degree in business from Excelsior College and a certificate in marketing management from the Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, believes that cost-benefits analyses could help the school district with its budget.
“We don’t have to pay for it,” she said. “MBA classes at local universities do studies for top companies for free.” Charron said that, through Six Sigma analyses, significant funds could be saved.
She went on, “There might be a couple of $20 million hammers in the budget…things in the budget that might not need to be there.”
Asked for an example, she mentioned expensive, engraved benches in front of the middle school. “Somebody decided to get those, and somebody wrote the check,” she said.
Charron concluded, “I have a marketing degree. I’m good at research and business…I want to save money without firing teachers.”
Asked where her primary allegiance would lie, Charron paused, asking herself, “Is it the taxpayer or the kids? It has to be the taxpayers, followed by the kids…The school board is about having the highest quality of education with the highest number of graduates…It’s a balance between the taxpayers and the kids.”
Charron supports the $89 million budget proposition “because the tax levy is just under the maximum…they’re chosing not to go up to the full amount,” she said.
“In the days when we had the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee,” she said, “a huge number of us looked at every single dollar. In today’s budget, I don’t think anyone, outside of the board and the staff, knows the specifics. I wish we had the numbers from the beginning like we did with CBAC.” She suggested they could be posted on the district’s website.
Charron also found the topics discussed at the budget forums to be limited.
If the budget were voted down, Charron said she didn’t know what course of action she’d recommend. “I don’t have the specifics,” she said. “You would have to compare every line item to the year before.”
Charron said she was “thrilled” that the two enrichment posts remained in the budget. “You can’t mess with enrichment,” she said. “These kids are a bundle of hormones…They need challenges.”
If elected to the board, Charron would recommend staying under the tax-levy limit when developing a budget, so as not to trigger the need for a supermajority vote.
She noted the “terrible apathy” with low voter turnout.
“I would like to see a year with no tax increase,” she said. “The Schenectady School District did it. They didn’t cut teachers and they didn’t raise taxes. Let’s figure out what they did.”
“We did not have a tax increase but there were about 24 positions removed from the budget,” said Karen Corona, spokeswoman for the Schenectady City School District about the 2011-12 spending plan.
The 2012-13 plan for $156 million proposed by Superintendent John Yagielski, and slated for adoption Wednesday night, closes a $7 million gap. “The superintendent got pretty creative,” said Corona, noting a middle school is being closed, the school day is being reshaped, principal posts are being consolidated, and bus runs are being double looped. As a last resort, about 40 posts are being cut, she said.
Charron concluded of the Guilderland tax levy, “I don’t advocate putting it as high as we can. The recession has gone on so long, property values are dropping and yet taxes are still going up.”
On contracts, Charron said of district employees, “I would have liked to see them willingly give us a freeze over the past couple of years so, as we move out of a recession, we could give some raises.”
Commenting on the two largest unions being at an impasse with the district over contract negotiations, Charron said of not being on the board, “As an outsider, I have no clue what’s holding it up. There might be a very legitimate reason.”
She went on, “I’m very much pro teacher. I understand why a union is necessary. Some school boards might fire teachers to bring in cheap new teachers.”
The New York State Civil Service Law generally requires that the last hired are the first to be cut.
“I’d like to see seniority changed,” said Charron. “New teachers understand the Internet…They’re the ones being fired.”
On the structure of the school day, Charron said, “I like the four by four schedule at the high school. I’d like to advocate that at the middle school.”
The longer classes in the block schedule at the high school, she said, cut down on the time between classes and leave more time for learning.
On the eight-period day at the middle school, she said, “I’d like to understand why the teachers don’t want it. They’re the ones who touch my kids.”
On state tests, Charron said, “It’s not about warming chairs in a room. If a kid is sick, he shouldn’t be required to take a test; it brings down results.”
She also said that it is hard to evaluate teachers from tests since some teachers have fewer classes.
“Some teachers shouldn’t be teaching,” Charron said.
She noted, too, that teachers impart much of value that can’t be measured on a test.
On the Lynnwood designation, she said, “We need to give special ed students the support they need.”
She concluded, “The average taxpayer doesn’t get to see the numbers. We can’t speak wisely about how to fix it. I want to see the numbers. Let’s give them what they need so the kids get a great education. We need to support all of the kids. It’s a big-picture issue. We have to make sure our schools stay fabulous.”
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