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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 24, 2008
By Tyler Schuling
BERNE This spring, three candidates will vie for two seats on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board. Both seats carry three-year terms.
The candidates are BKW’s school board president, Maureen Sikule of Westerlo, Edward Ackroyd of Knox, and Sean O’Connor of Westerlo. Joan Adriance, who served a five-year term, is not seeking another term.
At BKW, the five school board members rotate into the roles of president and vice president. The posts are unpaid.
On May 20, the district’s voters will also vote on a $20.3 million budget for the upcoming school year.
On Monday, the school board cut about $118,000 from the budget after BKW received less state aid than had been anticipated. Six-tenths of a business teaching position was cut, which amounts to about $42,000 in salary and benefits.
Also on Monday, the school board approved the Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ administrative budget and voted for BOCES candidates in a six-way race for four seats. The BKW school board voted for incumbents John Phelan of Albany County and John Yagielski of Saratoga County.
This week, The Enterprise asked school board candidates questions about their backgrounds, why they are running, what they are most proud of at BKW, and about their goals. Before the May election, The Enterprise will interview candidates on issues.
Sean O’Connor is making his first run for the BKW school board. O’Connor is a financial advisor. He lives in Westerlo and was one of three residents who served on BKW’s budget committee this spring.
O’Connor could not be reached this week for comment.
Edward Ackroyd, a former BKW school board member, is making a run to reclaim a seat on the school board.
In 2004, Ackroyd ran for the school board unopposed after Lynn Countryman stepped down. Last year, he lost his seat in a four-way race for two seats. Ackroyd is a veteran who left BKW to serve in Cambodia and Vietnam. He served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1971, and spent a year-and-a-half in Germany and one year in Vietnam.
Two years ago, at BKW’s graduation, Superintendent Steven Schrade, acting on behalf of a program set up by the state to award diplomas to veterans who dropped out of school to serve their country, presented Ackroyd with his high-school diploma.
Ackroyd is married and has four children. In 1985, he formed his own business, Thor Supply Company. He lives on the Berne-Knox border.
When asked why he is running, Ackroyd said, “I enjoy it. I’m semi-retired now. I enjoy the community service.”
He said that he thinks changes will be coming to the district, and the school’s population is declining.
“You’re going to find school districts, and, actually, they’re calling for towns and communities, to merge,” he said. “Taxes are going to get to where you almost won’t be able to afford to live here,” he said. “And that’s not just here. That’s across the state.”
Ackroyd said he has property northeast of Watertown, a town that is “in worse shape money-wise,” and talk of consolidation is taking place.
“If these districts have to merge, not only this one all districts, really I don’t think the people here are ready for it,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be ready to talk about it, but I believe it’s something that’s going to happen, in time.”
Ackroyd said he has a business background and believes the school board needs somebody with a background in mergers, who will be able to work with the legislature and the towns if consolidation ever happens.
“I’m not saying it will happen, but, if it does happen, we need somebody to work with that,” Ackroyd said.
He said he is unsure whether BKW has a business plan.
“We always wanted a three-year, a five-year, and a 10-year plan when I was in business,” Ackroyd said. “And I believe that the district should have that also, and I’m not sure what that is, and I’m not sure, if they do have one, if the community knows what that is,” he said.
Asked what he is most proud of at BKW, Ackroyd said, working with the administration to lower the tax-levy increases. He cited a shortfall in revenue that occurred under a different administration and a different school board. “There were some mistakes by some boards,” he said. “There were some double-digit tax increases to cover that.”
Ackroyd was a member of BKW’s budget advisory committee this spring.
“It was really the administration that came up with the actual figures,” he said.
He called the proposed tax-levy increase of 1.95 percent “low.”
“It’s coming down,” he said, adding that it doesn’t decrease in one or two years but that it happens over five or six years and is “up to the administration and the board.”
Asked if it’s difficult to run again after losing in the last election, Ackroyd said that last year there were a lot of people who really didn’t know him.
“Maybe I need to do more campaigning,” he said.
Maureen Sikule, BKW’s president, is making a second run for a three-year term.
“I think it takes a couple of years to kind of get acclimated to the process of the school board to understand the whole process,” said Sikule. “And I think that running for a second term allows me to bring that experience back to the board.”
Originally from Buffalo, Sikule attended Mount Mercy Academy and earned her bachelor’s of science degree, majoring in accounting, from the University at Buffalo. She moved to Westerlo in 1985 and is in her 30th year working for the state’s Thruway Authority.
Sikule is married and has three children. Her son is a junior at the BKW high school, and her two daughters, now in college, graduated from BKW.
“I’ve always been actively involved in the educational process when my children were going through. When they were at the Westerlo school, we started a reading program with the k through 2 that expanded over to Berne,” she said. “When they were in the middle-school, there was a need for mentoring, and I started a mentoring program with a group of parents,” she said. “And I think that’s really important. I’m not just looking at one group of children. I really try to look at the needs of the whole spectrum of students that are at the school.”
In her first term, Sikule said she is most proud of “holding the line on the expenses while still seeing the educational program expand.”
“In the last three years,” she said, “I’ve been an advocate for positive change. The budgets have passed the first two years I’ve been in office. I’m hopeful that this year’s budget will pass.”
Sikule said, “I’ve been an advocate to hold the line on expenses, especially the administrative expenses, but not at the cost of the children’s education.”
“I think that Berne has a very good program. I credit Steve Schrade with what he’s done with the programs there. We’ve been able to expand while still holding the line on expenditures,” she said.
Asked what she would like to see happen at BKW, Sikule said, “One of the things that I’m concerned about is the economy, which I think a lot of people are concerned about. And so, I think that the whole idea of continuing to hold the line on budget increases while not impacting the program is going to continue to be important the next couple of years.”
She said she sees a couple of new initiatives coming.
“I know the state is scheduled to make a decision on the value-added assessment, and what types of assessments are going to be used in the school,” Sikule said, “and I think that I’ve tried to actively educate myself on those kinds of new initiatives so that I can be a knowledgeable member of the school board when we have to act on those things.”
State of emergency declared
By Tyler Schuling
ALBANY COUNTY After a brushfire in Rensselaerville last Thursday, Albany County Executive Michael Breslin has declared a state of emergency and banned outdoor fires.
The emergency was declared on Sunday due to lack of rain and the risk of burning brush and other debris. The ban, originally meant to last until yesterday, was extended through Sunday, April 27, because the National Weather Service forecast is predicting continued dry weather and increasing winds.
Those who set outdoor fires will be subject to misdemeanor charges and fines.
The fire in Rensselaerville started at about 1 p.m. at a home on Hale Road due to an unattended burn barrel, and 150 firefighters from local fire departments fought the blaze until 9 p.m., but returned throughout the night and the next day to hit the hot spots, said Brian Wood, a firefighter with the Tri-Village Volunteer Fire Company.
The fire covered 50 acres and burned from Hale Road to Route 360, he said. There were no fatalities, and, though the fire came close to houses, none were destroyed. One person sustained a head injury a Rensselaerville highway department worker who was trying to get a bulldozer to the scene, Wood said; he was transported by Medivac.
Two tickets were issued to the property owner, Raymond Hoffman of 351 Hale Road, for violations of the state’s Environmental Conservation Law one for an unattended fire, and one for endangering the property of another, said Lori O’Connell, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
The fine will be set by the court if Hoffman is found or pleads guilty, O’Connell said in an e-mail message, and the maximum fine for the ECL violations is $250 each.
Hoffman could not be reached for comment.
Dems loosen up procurement policy, $1K new limit
By Tyler Schuling
RENSSELAERVILLE The town now has a new plan for spending.
In a vote split along party lines, the Democrats, who outnumber the Republicans 3-2 on the town board, adopted a new procurement policy earlier this month that follows state guidelines and allows officials to spend up to $1,000 on goods and services without the town board’s or supervisor’s approval.
Under the previous policy, officials were required to obtain quotes from three vendors on all purchases of over $200. The supervisor or his deputy then approved the purchase. That policy was adopted last year by the Republicans, who then held a majority on the board.
Under the new policy, officials are required to obtain two bids for goods, equipment, or materials estimated between $1,000 and $3,000. Three quotes are needed for purchases between $3,000 and $10,000.
Earlier this month, at a public hearing, several residents spoke in favor of the new guidelines for spending.
“I kind of like this new law,” said Sal Santo, a longtime Rensselaerville resident and a local developer. “It kind of brings things back to the way it was for a number of years. It gives our elected officials and their employees a lot of latitude. We do live in a rural environment. A lot of times they need to be able to get equipment, parts, supplies quickly.”
John Whitbeck, the town’s refuse and recycling coordinator, did not attend the meeting, but a letter he had written was read by Jeff Pine, a town assessor.
“The current policy for procurement does not work for the refuse and recycling department,” said Whitbeck’s letter. “This plan makes it impossible to maintain a 20-year-old Mack truck. You do not know what will fail next.”
The truck hauls over a million tons of refuse and recyclables, Whitbeck wrote, and “needs to be maintained at all costs.”
Resident K.B. Cooke, who has worked on town building projects, said, “I think the thousand dollars is a good deal because you can’t buy anything for $200 anymore; $200 is ridiculously low.” Cooke advocated for the town to bid on more products than it currently does and to use a purchase order system.
The town’s Republican supervisor, Jost Nickelsberg, voted against the new policy. He said that many people in the town are on fixed incomes and had difficult choices to make over the winter whether to buy food, medicine, or heat for their homes. He had frequently been at odds with the town’s superintendent of highways, G. Jon Chase, over spending throughout last year. Nickelsberg said he has made calls to other vendors on products, such as oil, and found lower prices.
Since January, a resident has been submitting Freedom Of Information Law requests to the town, trying to learn the costs for road projects. Since making her requests, Erika Wernhammer has received only daily reports, which document the hours worked by town employees and equipment used.
Joseph Catalano, the town’s attorney, said earlier this month, that, when submitting a FOIL request, no new documents are to be made.
Wernhammer said earlier this month, “In my short time of experience here with the town, I think that this procurement policy is too loose. I think that there is definite reason for more controls, and it’s proven by the receipts,” she said. “You’re not reviewing the validity or the comprehensiveness of the voucher itself, nor the receipts.”