By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — School board members here dealt quickly and unanimously with the physical problem of demolishing a vacant building, but had varied views and came to no conclusion when wrestling with the conceptual issue of whether to back a resolution on federal budget cuts.
The Farnsworth Middle School was built on property off of State Farm Road once used by golfers. The one-time clubhouse — or “caddy shack” as the school board president has called it — became the district office. It has been vacant since new offices were built at the high school as part of the recently completed $27 million building project.
The school board last month decided, in a unanimous vote, to demolish the building once it has been stripped of useable salvage.
Clifford Nooney, the district’s supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, came up with the idea of putting the vacant building up for salvage bid. If a salvage company, for example, buys the windows and doors, or other materials, that would help offset the cost of demolition.
“Anything they take out, we don’t have to haul away,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the board.
He also reported that the vacant building, now used for storage, is in “overall poor condition.”
District staff will do the demolition work.
“We do have to get a demolition permit through the town,” said Sanders. “The building is cleared for asbestos.”
He added, “The rodents moved out when everybody else moved out.”
Nooney said the process of removing the building debris would take about a week. The offices had no basement but stood on a slab. Nooney said removing the slab would probably cost as much as demolishing the building, so it will be left in place and perhaps used for parking space.
After the board voted to declare the property as surplus and obsolete, board member Judy Slack said, “It’s been considered obsolete for quite awhile.”
A federal across-the-board budget cut, under the Budget Control Act of 2011, is due to take place on Jan. 2. The United States Department of Education estimates that sequestration would result in a $1.2 billion cut to Title I funding — $88 million for New York State — and a $900 million loss for special-education grants — $61 million for New York.
Guilderland School Board President Colleen O’Connell said that the National School Boards Association has asked boards to pass a resolution to send to elected officials. “I don’t have the numbers we would lose,” she said of Guilderland. Title I funds go to poor districts. “We have to be concerned about schools less fortunate than us,” said O’Connell.
She added, “Sometimes, when you have these very Draconian things…there are unintended consequences.”
The sample resolution circulated by the NSBA includes eight “whereas” clauses, including, “Whereas, these across-the-board budget cuts, also known as sequestration, would impact education by a reduction in funds of 8.2 percent or more and could result in larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, possible four-day school weeks, loss of extracurricular activities, and teacher and staff lay-offs…” and “Whereas, federal funding for K-12 programs was already reduced by more than $835 million in Fiscal Year 2011, and state and local funding for education continues to be impacted by budget cuts and lower local property tax revenues.”
The military or environmental groups, said board member Barbara Fraterrigo, could express the same types of sentiments. “I think the country is in such a budget crisis, everybody has to participate,” she said, recommending that Guilderland add another “whereas” clause, saying, “We all have to participate.”
Board member Catherine Barber responded, “I don’t have a problem asking that cuts not be made to education. We’re a school board.”
“Where is the money going to come from?” asked board member Allan Simpson.
“We’re not being asked to micro-manage the problem,” responded O’Connell. “It’s asking us to show support for this position.”
“Asking for money and not having a way to fund it, I don’t see how you can do that,” said Simpson.
The board will decide at its next meeting, on Dec. 11, how to alter the resolution and whether or not to adopt it.
In other business at its Nov. 20 meeting, the board:
— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that the Farnsworth organic garden this year produced 4,010 pounds of food, donated to the Regional Food Bank. He thanked Heather Bryer and Colleen Ryan for “stepping up into leadership roles” and Jen Ford for her and her students’ help; over 450 students participated;
— Heard congratulations for 11th-grade art students Camerina Ramierez, Maureen Phillippi, and Samantha Coons whose work was selected for the Wicked Exhibition, depicting the concepts of “good” and “evil,” held in conjunction with the Broadway production of Wicked. They are students in an advertising and design class taught by Meredith Best;
— Heard praise for Zubin Mukerjee, recently named one of 413 semi-finalists in this year’s Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Singleton said that Mukerjee is “in contention for the nation’s most coveted teen science prize.”
Mukerjee and Uthsave Chitra, a high school student in Delaware, were recognized for their original research paper, “Random Involutions and the Number of Prime Factors of an Integer,” based on work they did together, mentored by Kirsten Wickelgren, an American Institute of Mathematics fellow at Harvard;
— Heard “heartfelt thanks” from Superintendent Marie Wiles for Guilderland’s “bus drivers, clerical staff, teaching assistants, nurses, food-service staff, aids and monitors, custodians and maintenance staff who all work side by aide as partners in the education of our children….Our thanks to those folks who work so hard,” said Wiles, noting that the day of the school board meeting, Nov. 20, was School-Related Professionals’ Day, observed across the state;
— Learned from Wiles that “an advocacy event” is being planned for Jan. 31 at Columbia High School in East Greenbush to give elected officials “a better understanding of the impact of how certain policies and practices in school-district funding, coupled with an absence of any meaningful mandate relief, are quickly dismantling the quality education system for which New York State has been admired for decades.”
The event is being hosted by the joint Legislative Committee of Superintendents in the Capital Region and the Questar III Board Of Cooperative Educational Services;
— Honored and applauded the girls’ varsity soccer team that, for the first time in its history, played in the semifinals of the state tournament. “At the end of 110 minutes, we were tied and, unfortunately, lost on penalty kicks,” said O’Connell.
Wiles said the team played “with heart and soul, and we couldn’t be prouder”;
— Approved the last seven change orders, totaling an additional $9,385, to complete the $27 million renovation project. “I feel like Emilio should be here,” said O’Connell, referring to a former school board member, Emilio Genzano, who had expertise in construction. “He’s here in spirit”;
— Accepted delinquent tax rolls and a tax collection report showing that for 2012-13, $1.6 million is owed in property taxes out of a $61 million levy. The 97-percent collection rate is average for the district, Sanders said.
He also explained that Albany County is now responsible for collecting the unpaid taxes, and the school district will get the $1.6 million in revenues whether the county is successful in collecting it or not;
— Appointed Jason Marra as a citizen member of the school board’s audit committee. Simpson, who chairs the committee, said that three “amply qualified” candidates were interviewed for the unpaid post and Marra was the unanimous recommendation of the committee members. Eight citizens applied for the post;
— Approved two new clubs at the middle school — a Ping-Pong Club to be advised by Lori Rafferty and Fran Gorka, and a Junior Dance Squad, which will learn dance techniques used by the Guilderland High School Dance Squad and will be advised by Rafferty.
“It truly is a testament to our faculty,” said Wiles, noting the advisors will receive no stipend for their work; and
— Adopted policies on interpreters for hearing-impaired parents, on citizenship education, on programs for pregnant students, on codes of conducts for the public on school property and for prohibited students, and on notification of releases on Level 3 sex offenders.