School board mulls $1M bus prop

GUILDERLAND — At its next meeting, on March 18, the school board will vote on a $995,000 proposition to pay for eight buses and a truck. The voters will have their say on May 20 when they go to the polls to decide on next year’s school budget.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders estimated that Guilderland will get about 50 percent back in state aid on its bus purchases; he also told The Enterprise that the district has 112 buses in its fleet.

Danielle Poirier, Guilderland’s transportation supervisor, outlined the purchase proposal for the board on Tuesday night. All eight of the buses proposed for purchase are full size.

The district this year has contracted out two routes to transport special-needs students, for a savings, and has proposed adding five more routes next year.

“We’re not purchasing smaller buses for that reason,” Sanders told the board on Tuesday.

“Our fleet is remaining the same,” said Poirier, noting that the new buses would replace those that have aged out. Last year, she urged the board to adopt a 10-year replacement plan for school buses.

One of the new buses, for $145,000, would be a wheelchair bus. The bus would have an added lift and air-conditioning, which, Poirier said, is required for special-needs students.

The district currently owns a 2004 bus with 151,000 miles on it, that accommodates students in wheelchairs, Poirier said. That bus can accommodate 24 passengers and three wheelchairs.

 “I’d like to have one for a bus route on a day-to-day basis,” said Poirier.

She spoke of one child who currently gets transported separately because he uses a wheelchair and said that he could be picked up as part of a regular route if the district purchased this new bus, which allows up to five different configurations.

The new wheelchair bus would give a child a chance to be part of the community as well as saving money by using already existing routes, said board President Barbara Fraterrigo, who was out of town but, like member Gloria Towle-Hilt, attended the meeting through a computer hook-up.

Another 66-passenger bus, with chains, would cost $120,000 and would be used for students living on the Helderberg escarpment. “When they go up on the Hill…it’s traction control,” said head mechanic Mitch Karkner.

The district currently has a bus with chains, used for those routes. “When we phase one out, we replace it with another,” said Poirier.

The remaining six 66-passenger buses together would cost $694,000.

Poirier said that the district is currently “experiencing a lot of problems” with corrosion in the step wells of its buses. Water gets under the rubber on the treads, causing corrosion, which is expensive to repair.

Three of the new buses would have stainless-steel step wells and the other three would have Proflex, which Poirier said, has the tread stamped into the metal with no rubber.

“We’re sort of doing our own little experiment,” she said to see if the stainless steel or the Proflex wears better. Whichever does better will guide future bus purchases for Guilderland.

On the current buses, Karkner said, corrosion starts the first year. “By year number five, it needs sandblasting,” he said. “It shouldn’t really happen…It isn’t sealed from the factory. I had to prove it to them.”

“Is this the most economical approach, buying six buses?” asked the board’s vice president, Allan Simpson.

“This is really a needs-based approach,” said Sanders. “We’re at the 11-, 12-, 13-year mark…phasing out buses at the end of their life.”

“We still have three buses that should have been surplussed already,” said Karkner. “We’re still going to be short of the goal of our replacement cycle.”

Clifford Nooney, who supervises building and grounds, spoke to the board about the proposed purchase of a maintenance plow truck for $36,000 in what he called a “shuffle.”

A 20-year-old “salt truck” will be retired, Nooney said, adding, “We’ve squeezed every single penny out of it…It will become dangerous to operate.” He went on to say the body fell off of the truck during a repair.

A 12-year-old utility truck would then become the district’s new salt truck.

The new truck would be purchased through state contract, Nooney said, for a significant savings.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Discussed setting up a policy so that student fans, for a fee, could travel by bus to sporting and other events. The board’s policy committee will take up the matter;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Guilderland is exploring the International Baccalaureate program, which Fraterrigo has long been interested in. Singleton warned that a degree-granting program could be involved and costly but said it may be possible for Guilderland students to take an IB course through a distance-learning initiative, which Guilderland hopes to implement next year. Schenectady, which has an IB program, is part of the distance-learning project;

— Heard from Superintendent Marie Wiles, as board members pushed for the district to apply for member-item grants from the state legislature, that funds for the butterfly garden at Farnsworth Middle School may better fit the parameters of such a grant, rather than something large and ongoing like an IB program, because the garden project is finite, specific, tangible, and has links to the Pine Bush and the community;

— Heard congratulations for Christine Rant, a foreign language teacher at Guilderland High School, who earned National Board Certification.  Singleton called it “a great honor”;

— Learned that student physicists from the high school — seniors David Lassell and Pranav Nayak, junior Alan Karivelil, and sophomores Will Wang and Bill Dong, led by physics teacher Kristofer Gigante — competed at The Harker School in San Jose, Calif. against teams from China, Tunisia, and Georgia as well as America for the annual United States Invitational Young Physicists Tournament on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

The Guilderland team won the Clifford Swartz Memorial Trophy for best poster in the tournament, for which they presented their solutions to four undergraduate-level research physics problems;

— Heard that a showcase of student artwork inspired by the Empire State Plaza Art Collection — abstract art amassed by Nelson Rockefeller during the construction of the plaza — will be held from March 1 to 16. Twelve districts are participating, displaying over 600 works; Guilderland submitted 125 works;

— Heard from Wiles that the school board will meet with the Guilderland Public Library Board on March 12 at 7 p.m. at the library. “I had a conversation with the director of the public library over breakfast,” she said referring to her husband, Tim Wiles. They agreed the focus of the March 12 meeting will be on collaboration;

— Heard from Wiles about her recent trip to the American Association of School Administrators conference in Nashville, Tenn. Wiles said there was agreement that there is a critical need to re-authorize what is popularly called the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, which, she said “drives education at the national level.” The initiative, many years overdue, is stalled in Congress, Wiles said.

Formulas for aid work better than the current competitive grant approach, Wiles said, stating, with the current approach, “You need the means in order to compete.”

She also said there was interest in New York being “ahead of the curve” in implementing common core standards and there was much talk about teacher evaluation. “Everyone is struggling,” said Wiles;

— Applauded board member Judy Slack for being given a Board Mastery Award, for reaching level three, out of four, by taking development programs offered through the New York State School Boards Association. “We are very proud of you, Judy,” said Wiles as she handed Slack a certificate;

— Adopted a calendar for the 2014-15 school year;

— Established a scholarship to recognize a graduating senior who is an alumna of the Guilderland field-hockey program; selection criteria includes academic achievement, scholastic and extracurricular involvement, athletics, community service, and character;

— Accepted two donations — a cello and case from Debra Dempsey, and two clarinets from Mark Brown; and

— Went into executive session to discuss tenure appointments and an employee’s retirement.

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