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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND After just under a year on the school board, Julie Fletcher Cuneo, last May’s top vote-getter, is stepping down.
Although she regrets not finishing her three-year term, Cuneo said, she’s putting family first.
Her husband, Brian, a lawyer, works for Ayco and is based in Saratoga. The 50-minute commute each way from their Guilderland home means he can’t participate in events with their four young children, ranging from ball games to teacher conferences, she said.
The family is moving to Saratoga on July 1 and will live mere minutes from his office.
“We need quality family time,” said Cuneo on Tuesday. She told her two school-age daughters about the move on Monday, she said.
Cuneo told her fellow school board members about her impending resignation in an executive session after the public meeting on April 27. Cuneo and her husband made the decision “within the month,” and she waited to tell the other eight board members, she said, because she “wanted to see the budget through.”
“I feel such great regret in not finishing my term,” said Cuneo. “This is not something I take lightly.”
She also said she had learned a lot in her 11 months on the board. “It was an education in education,” said Cuneo.
Cuneo’s seat cannot be filled in the May 18 election because the deadline for filing for the ballot was April 19.
“I will stay on as long as they want or need me to,” said Cuneo of the board.
Superintendent John McGuire said that he would recommend appointing a replacement for Cuneo rather than holding a special election, which adds cost. McGuire, who is himself retiring on July 1, referred to the process used to fill John Dornbush’s vacant seat as a model. Dornbush died of cancer last July.
Eight men applied to fill his post. The board held televised interviews of the candidates and in October appointed Emilio Genzano, who had lost school board elections in 2001 and 2002.
Genzano is now running in a six-way race for four school board seats. Incumbents Barbara Fraterrigo, Colleen O’Connell, and Gloria Towle-Hilt are also running along with challengers Elijah Sharma and Allan Simpson. The top three vote-getters on May 18 will serve three-year terms, and the fourth-place finisher will serve the one year left in Dornbush’s term.
Cuneo, in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, advocates appointing a replacement from the field of six candidates running for election. “They are the people who care enough to run,” she said on Tuesday. “I just regret I wasn’t able to have my seat up in the general election. That would have been the best way.”
Sharma and Simpson, who both made their first run for school board last year, were among the eight candidates who applied for Dornbush’s seat on the board. In a five-way race for three seats, Simpson came in a close fourth; Sharma came in last. Neither was chosen by the school board.
Asked what process the board might use to fill the vacant seat, President Richard Weisz said on Tuesday, “I don’t think the board has dealt with the issue.”
A full year
A Guilderland native, Cuneo made her first run for school board last May in a five-way race for three seats. She was the top vote-getter by a large margin, followed by two incumbents Denise Eisele and Weisz. While Eisele and Weisz backed the budget, Cuneo opposed it because, with larger class sizes and cuts in teaching assistants, she believed the quality of education would suffer.
“I was happy to be a voice for the community,” Cuneo said on Tuesday. She is the only board member who is a Guilderland graduate. “I had a lot of people contact me and say I spoke for them,” she said. “I think having grown up in Guilderland and having been part of the system for so long, I could understand things.”
After graduating from Guilderland High School in 1990, Cuneo earned a bachelor of science degree from Hartwick College with a major in nursing. A registered nurse, Cuneo worked at St. Peter’s and Ellis hospitals. She went on to earn a master’s degree in acute care at the University of Pittsburg.
While on the board, Cuneo frequently spoke alone for causes she believed in. Last summer, as the board set the tax rates for this year, Cuneo was the only board member to vote for setting surplus aside, keeping the advertised tax rate, and saving the rest in case times got worse.
She was also outspoken about the need for outdoor recess and joined the Hooked on Health Committee in hopes of working towards a policy on recess. “People would need to buy into it to make it work,” she said this week. “It improves performance, even if it’s just being out in the parking lot and feeling the sun or the cold wind on your face.”
Cuneo was the only board member to vote against hiring an outside consultant to evaluate the special education program at Guilderland. She had served on the committee that made the recommendation but advocated waiting until the fall to evaluate special-education services since budget cuts would bring about drastic changes in the program. She also advocated an internal review before hiring an outside consultant.
Most recently, Cuneo was the lone board member, at the final session when the board adopted its $87.4 million budget proposal for next year, to advocate for keeping freshmen and repeat sports in the budget at a cost of $73,000. She was eventually joined by two other members, not enough for a majority vote.
Last week, hundreds came to a school board meeting to protest the cuts and the board ultimately decided to keep the budget as it was but to work with the community to raise the funds for school sports.
“I think she was a great board member,” said Weisz this week of Cuneo. “She put a lot of effort into preparing. She asked good questions. She engaged in civil debate so there was a development of consensus on many issues.”
Superintendent McGuire also praised Cuneo for her year of service. “She’s been a very diligent board member, very conscientious,” he said. “We will miss her.”