Super wants to reframe goals

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Marie Wiles, superintendent of Guilderland schools, says budget time is emotional and she wants to listen to staff concerns.

GUILDERLAND — Facing another year with a multi-million-dollar budget gap — this time, it’s $2.4 million — the school superintendent wants Guilderland to push back by defining itself.

Marie Wiles said that the last four years, since she took the helm at Guilderland, have been defined by reduced resources and a reform agenda set by the state and federal governments.

“It would be very helpful and hopeful to reframe our goals and priorities,” she told the school board at its meeting Tuesday night, stating she was “planting a seed.”

Following the annual priorities meeting in May where grassroots goals are described by staff at the district’s different schools, Wiles suggested the board members and district leaders “sift through that to see what says ‘Guilderland.’”

Following her lead, board members agreed to meet in the early summer to do so.

“It’s a time when we’re not pressured; you can think more creatively,” said board member Gloria Towle-Hilt.

After board member Catherine Barber raised the issue, Wiles said the public would be welcome to observe the workshop session although would not be able to participate.

Referring to the governor’s budget address earlier in the day, Wiles said, “We still have a gap of $2.4 million and what’s released today isn’t going to help us close that gap in any meaningful way….We are faced year after year with a shortfall of revenues.”

Andrew Cuomo, unveiling his $142 billion plan on Tuesday, proposed an $807 million — about 4 percent — increase in education aid for next year, $608 million to be provided to districts as formula-based aid; high-need districts would receive over 70 percent of the 2014-15 allocated increase.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, called the proposal “austere” and noted the Educational Conference Board, a coalition of the state’s major educational organizations including NYSSBA, reported schools would need a minimum state aid increase of $1.5 billion just to maintain current programs; the state’s Board of Regents had requested an increase of $1.3 billion.

Wiles told the school board Tuesday night that Guilderland needs “to focus on these things before what matters to us gets lost in the crush of things.”

She also announced that she is starting what she hopes will become an “annual listening tour.”

Beginning next Monday and going until the February break, Wiles said, she’ll spend an hour or so with the faculty and staff at each of the district’s seven schools so they can state “what might be on their minds.”

“This is an emotional time,” she said of the budget-building process.

Guilderland has cut 153 full-time jobs in the last four years.

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Guilderland will host its first public forum for the 2014-15 school budget. The session, to review potential changes and reductions, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the high school’s large-group instruction room.

After a brief presentation, participants will rotate through six different budget stations to ask questions of school leaders about proposed changes.

Vet exemptions

The board heard a presentation from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders on tax exemptions for veterans that it may choose to offer. There are 16 different possible configurations, which Sanders will present in more detail later.

The board has to decide by March 1 if it wants the exemptions to apply in time for September’s school tax bills.

Parents who had a child killed during military service, known as Gold Star Parents, can also be granted exemptions.

Sanders presented a chart that showed how much more the average taxpayer in Guilderland, the owner of a $230,000 house, would pay if the minimum were granted — $11.10 — up to the maximum — $65.60

Other business

In other business at January board meetings, the board:

— Hired Sano-Rubin Construction Company, headquartered in Albany, to manage and oversee a $17 million bond project that will take place at all seven school buildings over a period of 18 months, improving infrastructure, safety, and technology. Three firms applied for the job and a committee (made up of Sanders; Clifford Nooney, building and grounds supervisor; and Towle-Hilt) selected Sano-Rubin.

Sanders said that Sano-Rubin’s fixed-fee proposal of $707,565 for pre-construction design services and construction services compared favorably to the other finalist, Turner Construction Company, with a fixed fee of $757,520;

— Accepted three required annual reports: a visual inspection of facilities, a five-year capital facilities plan, and a school facility report card — all for the current school year. By way of summary, Sanders noted that all of the district’s buildings and systems were rated at the satisfactory level and he said the bond issues had helped preserve the buildings;

— Heard from Wiles that, on Jan. 16, over 60 parents, students, and community members attended a panel presentation on digital communication, focusing on civility and respect. A video of the program is posted on the district’s website;

— Learned that Paul Seversky, a consultant hired by the district to make suggestions about how to best use Guilderland’s buildings in light of declining enrollment, will visit on Feb. 3 and 4 to tour each of the seven schools and speak with district leaders;

— Agreed to meet on March 12 with representatives of the public library;

— Approved non-resident tuition rates for the 2013-14 school year as set by state formula: $9,013 for primary school students and $12,324 for secondary students. Sanders said that Guilderland currently has just one tuition-paying student;

— Agreed to retain Girvin and Ferlazzo to represent the district in negotiations with the teachers’ union; the contract expires on June 30, 2014. The district will pay the firm $140 per hour up to a cap of $15,000. “Once $15,000 is reached, we’d incur no additional charges,” said Sanders;

— Approved a policy on retention that outlines early intervention for struggling students. Elementary students who “do not make satisfactory progress in one or more basic subjects” will repeat the grade “as a last resort.” Middle-school students may repeat a failed subject and still be promoted; if they fail more than two subjects, the case is considered individually.

At the high school, promotion is generally contingent on passing all required subjects and accumulating four or five units of credit at each level. The policy concludes that no child will be retained overall more than once. “The research is clear,” said Wiles, indicating that a second retention leads to drop-outs;

— Heard congratulations for all of the fall sports teams for qualifying for the Scholar Athlete team Award, meaning a team average of 90 percent or higher: boys’ and girls’ cross-country, field hockey, football, golf, boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ swimming, girls’ tennis, and boys’ and girls’ volleyball;

— Learned that teacher Dan Doak won a $700 Target Field Trip Grant, which he will use to take Altamont Elementary School third-graders to Howe Caverns;

— Approved a new Random Acts of Kindness Club at the high school to be advised by English teacher Daniel McBride for no pay. So far, three students have agreed to join “to do random acts of kindness throughout Guilderland High School and the community”;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that, for the third year, Farnsworth Middle School will host Camp Invention for elementary students to do math, science, and technology projects;

— Learned that Alonna Rudolph, a Guilderland High School social studies teacher, nominated by student Sydney Campbell, was chosen from among over 200 nominations to be a Channel 13 Top Teacher;

— Heard that international teachers studying at The College of Saint Rose in Albany next semester are being hosted by six Farnsworth Middle School teachers and two Guilderland High School teachers. As part of the International Leaders in Education Program, the teachers will participate in Guilderland classes.

“We’ve looked at their bios and they’re quite impressive, to say the lease,” said Singleton; and

— Went into executive session to discuss litigation with Stuyvesant Plaza over taxes, tenure for an employee, and job performance of an employee.

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