Simpson and Slack seek re-election

Allan Simpson

Judy Slack

GUILDERLAND — Two of the three school board members up for re-election in May — Judy Slack and Allan Simpson — will be running to keep their posts on the nine-member board.

The third, Rose Levy, told The Enterprise she would “probably not” seek a second term but did not elaborate further. Levy, a lawyer, garnered the most votes in 2011, running against three incumbents.

Linda Livingston, the district’s clerk, said Tuesday that so far three petitions have been picked up — one by Slack, one by Simpson, and the third by the husband of a teacher.

Simpson, an accountant, first ran for the board in 2009 — coming in a close fourth in a five-way race for three seats — before winning a seat in 2010 to fill out a one-year vacancy on the board. He was then elected to a full three-year term in 2011, coming in third in a four-way race.

Simpson was elected by the board this year to serve as its vice president.

Slack is running for her third term on the board. In her first race, she came in second in a five-way race for three seats. In 2011, she came in second in the four-way race.

Slack began her career as a high-school English teacher and then worked for 24 years as a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School, retiring in 2008.

“We welcome anyone that has an interest,” said President Barbara Fraterrigo at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Fifty-six signatures of eligible school-district voters are required on the petitions, based on 2 percent of those voting in last year’s election. Petitions must be submitted to Livingston in the district office before Monday, April 21, at 5 p.m. The unpaid posts carry three-year terms.

The public will vote on the candidates on May 20 at the same time it casts ballots on next year’s school budget.

Superintendent Marie Wiles has proposed at $91.5 million budget for next year that stays just under the state-set tax levy limit by cutting 14 full-time jobs, closing a $1.8 million gap.

Two people addressed the board Tuesday about the proposed budget cuts. Maryann Dunn, who has three children in the Guilderland schools and is a certified special-education teacher currently giving music lessons, spoke out against a proposal to cut in half the hours that teaching assistants would be in kindergarten classrooms.

The measure would save $248,000 by cutting their hours in the classroom from six to three daily, to be on hand only for academic subjects.

“What is academic for a kindergartner?” asked Dunn. “They’re constantly learning.”

She spoke of the need for “immediate feedback” so that students “try their best,” and she stressed the importance of “supporting the foundation of learning and learning behaviors.”

Dunn said her daughter got help when she needed it and is now in all honors classes in high school.

Abigail Kedik, co-president of the Class of 2014, opposed the plan to cut the “X” courses that combine English and social studies; this would save $93,000. During her budget presentation, Wiles had called these popular courses “resource rich,” since they use two teachers — in social studies and English — for each class.

“To be a better, well-rounded person, you need to blend skills,” said Kedik.

She also said it was “more meaningful and memorable” to study the subjects together, each enriching the other. “By ripping the layers apart, we have…halted a unique style of learning,” said Kedik.

Her experience in an “X” course four years ago, she said, made her realize she wanted to travel the world.

Building capacity

As enrollment at Guilderland is declining, the district hired a consultant, Paul Seversky, to analyze its use of buildings. The district currently operates a high school, a middle school, and five elementary schools.

Any changes coming out of Seversky’s report would not affect next year’s budget but may affect spending in future years if, for example, a school were to be closed.

Wiles told the board Tuesday that Seversky had completed two parts of his report — one analyzing pupil capacity, and the other projecting enrollment. Together, they comprise over 100 pages, which will be posted online at the district’s website.

“We are waiting for the last piece, the study itself,” said Wiles, “which will present a series of options….We should have it soon.”

Seversky will give one presentation to staff and faculty and another to the community. Wiles said focus groups would then be formed to consider the options.

“I was overwhelmed by the depth,” said Slack of the data she had reviewed. Slack said it was hard to figure out what was important.

Wiles said the final document would “boil it down.”

She concluded of Seversky, “He did a very thorough job.”

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Reviewed changes to the district’s grading policy, which the board will vote on at a later meeting. Farnsworth Middle School will move from the current system of letter grades to a numerical system, and there will be a new elementary-school report card;

— Agreed to partner with the town of Bethlehem to contract with the law firm of Girvin and Ferlazzo to respond to the tax challenge filed by Beverwyck Inc. and Beechwood Inc, doing business as Eddy Property Services, for the 2012 and 2013 assessment years. The school district will pay 60 percent of the costs of the defense and the town will pay 40 percent;

— Appointed the Ten Eyck Group to provide insurance agent services to get commercial insurance and risk-management pricing;

— Authorized a bond proposition not to exceed $995,000 in order to buy eight full-size buses and a plow truck. Voters will decide on the proposition on May 20. Guilderland is expected to get about 50 percent back in state aid on the bus purchases;

— Approved an agreement with Sano-Rubin to manage construction of the district’s $17.3 million project to upgrade its buildings;

— Established the Metzger Family Scholarship, which board members called unique. The scholarship is to recognize a graduating senior who has “demonstrated use of humor with creativity, both in and out of the classroom, that has been used in a positive way”;

— Adopted a resolution calling on the state legislature to end the gap elimination adjustment, which has reduced state aid to schools. Wiles said that the GEA has had “a devastating impact over four years,” costing the Guilderland schools $16 million.

“Imagine what we could be doing with programs with that $16 million,” she said;

— Nominated John Phelan, who lives in Guilderland and formerly served on the school board, for a three-year term as an Albany County representative on the board for Albany-Schoharie-Schenectady-Saratoga Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt said Phelan was “always responsive when we needed him,” and Slack said he was “very involved” and “a wonderful delegate.”

“He’s as dedicated as a board member can possibly be,” agreed Fraterrigo;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that all of the winter sports teams qualified for the Scholar Athlete Award, meaning the teams each have an average of 90 percent or higher: boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ cross-country ski, boys’ and girls’ indoor track, gymnastics, ice hockey, boys’ swimming, and wrestling;

— Learned that, on Feb. 28, Teresa Wood-Irvin’s Spanish 6 University class taught the sixth-grade students in Jill Dugan’s and Fran Gorka’s Spanish classes at Farnsworth Middle School;

— Heard that the Guilderland High School Mock Trial team won on March 6 against Christian Brothers Academy. Guilderland was seeded fourth going into the quarterfinals on March 11, a single-elimination event at the county competition.

The Guilderland team includes Naila Brown, Hannah Cooper, Vivian Dai, Erin Delwiche, Holly Delwiche, Sarah Hanlon, Cody Ingraham, Asaada Jones, Michelle Kang, Madeline Kuon, Ryan McGrath, Luxi Peng, Amelia Schramm, and Michelle Yu;

— Learned that Alicia Chen, a Guilderland High School junior, earned National Scholastic art and writing awards, winning two silver keys for her art-class paintings, and an honorable mention for a piece she wrote.

— Heard that Christine Rant’s French students went to the University at Albany on March 5 for Francophone Day, speaking in French with other Capital Region students as they pursued various cultural activities;

— Saw slides of student artwork selected for the 15th Annual High School Regional Juried Art Exhibition, on display through April 20 at the Opalka Gallery on the Albany Sage campus. A reception will be held on April 4 at 7 p.m.;

— Heard praise for the district’s social workers because of the recently observed New School Social Work Week;

— Learned that, because of bad weather, the board’s planned meeting with the Guilderland Public Library trustees has been rescheduled for March 26 at 7 p.m. at the library;

— Heard that the fourth and final superintendent’s conference day is set for March 26;

— Heard from O’Connell that the policy committee is working on providing spectator buses for athletic and other school events, as the board previously discussed. “I appreciate, even though the administration disagrees with the board on this issue,” O’Connell said, that it is going along with the board’s momentum;

— Heard from Towle-Hilt that Shannon Clegg’s Spanish 4 class had “excellent ideas on recycling.” She read from a letter, suggesting that, rather than using Styrofoam trays, which are slow to disintegrate, the school instead use cornstarch or washable trays; and

— Met in executive session to discuss negotiations and the potential discipline or suspension of an employee.

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