GUILDERLAND — Judy Slack is running for a third term on the school board because, she said, “I like feeling I’m doing something for the kids.”
Slack, who began her career as a high-school English teacher, worked for 24 years as a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School in Guilderland, retiring in 2008.
She and her husband, Joe, have three grown children — Julie, Sarah, and Tom; Slack has said that, growing up, they had varying educational needs, all of which were met at Guilderland.
Asked what she is proudest of accomplishing in her six years on the board, Slack, without hesitation, gave an emphatic three-word answer: “Hiring Marie Wiles.”
She then went on about the superintendent of schools, “We were so lucky to get her. She listens so well to people, and she’s smart.”
Slack also said, “Besides that, it’s been a tough time to be on the board with all the cuts. There hasn’t been a lot of satisfaction except knowing we’ve been doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Slack noted that, unlike in an earlier era when more funds were available and board members could push for programs they preferred, “We don’t have too many things to argue about.”
Asked about her goals for a third term, Slack said, “I would like to keep things without cutting more.” But, she added, “Really, that’s not up to us.”
On the role of a school board member, Slack said she “primarily serves the kids.”
She went on, “But we still have to be aware the taxpayers are depending on us to make good decisions.”
Slack said she supports the $92 million proposed budget.
“I would have liked to have kept the TAs,” she said, referring to the kindergarten teaching assistants, which next year will spend three hours rather than six hours in classrooms each day.
Slack said she also would have liked to have kept the “X” courses, which combine social studies and English but, she concluded, “You have to make difficult choices.”
Slack had served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee for 14 years. “I did like it,” she said of that process.
But she went on, “I like it better now. People don’t come with a specific line item...We’re looking at the whole thing.”
Slack likes the process now where administrators at each school come up with proposed cuts that are aired in public. “We’re looking at a bigger picture,” she said. “With CBAC, people would want a specific item kept.”
Slack also said, “I loved the World Café where you got to listen to administrators talk about what was important.”
If the $92 million proposal were to be voted down on May 20, Slack said, “I think we would have to revise somewhat. The people have spoken.”
She continued, about the margin of the current spending plan above the tax-levy limit, “We’re down to $12,000 out of $90 million. That’s no breathing room at all.”
Slack also complimented the leaders of building and grounds and the transportation department for coming up with sizable cuts.
On drafting a budget that goes over the state-set levy limit, Slack said, “I think it would raise a red flag with some people.”
With three-quarters of the budget based on employee salaries and benefits, Slack said, “Raises and salaries are important to people. It’s what you live on.”
Slack also said, “We need to respect the people in our community. We often don’t get above 60-percent approval.”
She concluded, “I appreciate the sacrifices people who work in the school district are making. I don’t think we can ask the taxpayers to take on more.”
On state tests, Slack said she had recently attended two discussions on the Common Core Learning Standards.
“I’m more convinced the problem is not Common Core,” she said. “The problem was the perfect storm of Common Core and APPR all at once,” she said of the Annual Professional Performance Review. “The Common Core will be good.”
Slack went on, “To start a new curriculum and test right away is not good. You don’t want to teach for the test. But you do want to teach the curriculum.”
She concluded, “I’m not opposed to Common Core...Teachers have agreed to APPR.”
Slack said she has a friend who is a math professor and helped develop the Common Core. On visiting classrooms to see math taught, she concluded, “The kids are OK with it. If you understand things well, it’s easy to grasp new ideas. The same thing with reading. You don’t have to stop reading fiction,” she said, just because of the new emphasis on non-fiction.
She conceded, “Parents are frustrated” because they may not understand a different way of learning math or a different kind of reading, but, she stressed, “We’re not destroying things.”
Slack also said, “Standardized tests have been around forever....The days we live in are new and difficult and challenging. The kids have made a good adjustment.”
Slack said she proctored a third-grade test in English Language Arts and concluded, “The kids seemed fine with it.”
On enrollment, Slack said “a tremendous amount” of construction going on might stop the decline.
She also noted that parents are very attached to their children’s elementary schools. “They think their school is the best and shouldn’t close,” she said. “That is wonderful.”
She noted turmoil in nearby districts that have closed schools and said, “I’m hoping we don’t have to close a school.”
Since the elementary schools are “so personal, warm, and caring,” Slack said, “I’m hoping the recommendation is not to close a school.”
However, she went on, “If that’s what makes the most sense, we’ll have to look at it....It would not be an abrupt decision. The community would know what we are doing and why.”
On employees’ contracts, Slack said, “I would be happy if we didn’t have step.” She said of annual step increases, “Step is already a 2-percent raise, which is significant in this day and age.”
She went on, “Almost all of our groups have made some kind of concession. It’s hard. Some groups feel they don’t have many concessions to make; they feel they are not as well paid as they should be.”
Slack also said, “If we gave more money,” other unwelcome choices would have to be made.
“Our negotiators treat each group with respect and listen,” said Slack, concluding, “I wish we had more. We don’t. We’re stuck.”
In general, Slack said, “I hope people understand how much we listen and try to decide on what is best for everyone. Because it isn’t the decision you’d like doesn’t mean we didn’t hear you. We know everybody is struggling and we do the best we can with what we have.”