School, bus, and library props sail through
The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
The Wileses share smiles as they listen to results being read on Election Night. The Guilderland Public Library’s director, Timothy Wiles, left, learned that the library’s $3.5 million budget passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote, and Marie Wiles, superintendent of schools, heard that the $92 million Guilderland school budget passed with nearly 66 percent of the vote.
GUILDERLAND — “Delighted” was a frequently heard word when, after the polls closed on Tuesday night, a bevy of school and library leaders responded to solid support for next year’s budgets.
The $92 million school budget passed with 65.8 percent of the vote. The $1 million proposition to buy seven large school buses and a plow truck passed with 63.1 percent of the vote. And the $3.5 million library budget passed with 59.6 percent of the vote.
All of the measures passed by wide margins at each of the five elementary-school polling places.
The school board elections were uncontested. Incumbent Judy Slack came in first, newcomer Christopher McManus was second, and incumbent Allan Simpson was third in a tightly grouped field. Those unpaid posts carry three-year terms.
The library board had a five-way race for three trustee posts, also unpaid. Newcomers Carolyn Williams and Karen Carpenter Palumbo came in first and third, respectively. And Barbara Fraterrigo, the longest serving library board member, came in second. All three will serve five-year terms.
Incumbent Robert Feller came in fourth and so will finish out a vacated post. Incumbent Carroll Valachovic was ousted.
As the group waited in the Guilderland Elementary School gym for the last stick with results from the electronic voting machines, those from Westmere Elementary, to arrive, Superintendent Marie Wiles said, “I was on edge all day. A lot is riding on this. You just don’t know.”
It is her third year shepherding the Guilderland budget to the May vote. She arrived the same year the state set a tax-levy limit on school budgets and, under her leadership, Guilderland’s budget process was revamped so that it now involves a series of public forums where attendees meet in small groups to express their views on a series of potential budget reductions.
Next year’s budget cuts another 34 jobs, bringing to 180 the total number of jobs lost at Guilderland since the gap elimination adjustment reduced state aid.
As she waited, Wiles said, “I’d rather have more voters.”
According to the unofficial results announced Tuesday night, 2,635 people voted on the school budget, about 140 fewer than last year. The town of Guilderland has 22,245 registered voters.
Timothy Wiles, the new director of the Guilderland Public Library, and also the superintendent’s husband, was waiting for budget vote results for the first time. He had formerly worked as the director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“I’ve watched Marie go out to these things for years,” he said. “I’m excited to be here.”
The chatter ebbed and flowed as the group waited for the Westmere results to come in.
“Fred, I got ’em,” an Albany County Board of Elections worker called to his colleague, Fred Thumhart, at 9:50 p.m., fifty minutes after the polls had closed.
Thumhart explained, “We didn’t administer the election. The school district did that. We just supplied the equipment.”
Soon after, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders announced the results to a smattering of quiet applause.
“I’m thankful to our community on behalf of the children,” said Marie Wiles after hearing the budget passed by a vote of 1,735 to 900. “This is a great outcome…I can’t say how much I appreciate our community. It makes me very proud.”
Guilderland was part of a statewide surge of support for school budgets with over 98 percent passing spending plans on Tuesday, according to an analysis by the New York State School Boards Association released yesterday; schools statewide proposed an average levy increase of 1.98 percent for next year.
The average budget passing rate since 1969 is 84.5 percent, NYSSBA said, with the average rate for the last five years at 95 percent.
This year, only 24 districts, or 3 percent state-wide, had budgets with levies over the state-set limit, requiring 60 percent to pass; of those districts, 65 percent passed their budgets, with one too close to call, according to NYSSBA.
The Guilderland school district calculates that the tax-levy increase is 1.94 percent over this year and tax rates are expected to increase the same amount for residents of Guilderland.
Timothy Wiles, commenting on the 1,545-to-1,047 library budget tally said, “It’s a nice vote of confidence.”
The library estimates that Guilderland residents will pay $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed valuation next year, two cents more than this year.
Until two years ago, the library budget had always passed with more votes than the school budget. In 2012, the library suffered a 3-to-1 defeat at the polls on a proposed upgrade and expansion project. While the school district has gone through two periods of budget defeats, the Guilderland Public Library has never had a budget voted down.
Speaking as the school board president, Barbara Fraterrigo said on Tuesday night, “I’m absolutely delighted we have the trust of the community and are able to preserve as many programs as we did.”
She praised the district’s administrative team and said, “They squeeze blood out of stone, so to speak.”
Asked, with a nearly 66-percent passage rate if the board might in the future consider going over the state-set tax-levy limit, which requires a 60 percent vote to pass, Fraterrigo answered with an emphatic, “No.”
She went on, “I think the reason we have the percentage we do is people know we’re careful with a dime. People are still struggling,” she said, alluding to the recession. “We need to keep the taxes as low as we can.”
The state has promised a refund this year for residents of districts that stayed under the state-set levy limit.
Asked if she were concerned about the low voter turnout, Fraterrigo surmised it might be because, like last year, there was no contest with the school-board elections.
“We’ll try next year to get the community more engaged,” she said.
This is the first time since 2006 there has been a race for the library board and that was a rarity, too, after years of write-in candidates, some winning their seats with fewer than 25 votes.
For several years, the 11-member board discussed changing its charter to reduce the number of trustees.
The top three vote-getters will serve five-year terms, and the fourth will fill out a vacated term.
The unofficial results reported Tuesday night follow:
Carolyn Williams, making her first run for the library board, came in first with 1,449 votes or 21.3 percent. She was first in Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere, and second in Altamont and Guilderland.
Retired from a career in special education, Williams has done a wide variety of community work.
She has been a life-long lover of libraries; as a child, she said, she read every book in the library in her rural hometown. “Every book opened up my world,” she said.
During her campaign, Williams said, “We have to be fiscally responsible. We have to have inclusive planning with library staff and administrators, and the people in the community. The 10-year plan can’t be made in isolation. I think that’s what happened with the bond issue.”
Barbara Fraterrigo came in second, just 23 votes behind Williams, with a tally of 1,426 for 21 percent. She was first in Altamont and Guilderland; second in Lynnwood and Pine Bush; and fourth in Westmere.
Fraterrigo, who has done university teaching and also done work in the office of her husband, a doctor, has been a trustee since the library had an elected board. She said of accomplishments during her 26 years on the board, “We’ve developed a good relationship with our staff. We have valued community input and tried to put forth programs that meet the needs of the community.”
About goals for her upcoming term, Fraterrigo said during the campaign, “We have to find some way to maintain the building. The referendum was meant to help with the roof and heating system. This year, we put aside $90,000 as a capital improvement line but that won’t come close to all we need to do.”
On Election Night, Fraterrigo said, “I’m delighted to serve again.”
Karen Carpenter Palumbo, in her first run for library trustee, came in third with 1,388 votes or 20.4 percent. She was third in Altamont, Guilderland, Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere.
Palumbo described herself as “a social worker by trade”; she is currently the president and chief executive officer of Vanderheyden Inc., a child welfare organization, and had served as the state’s commissioner for Drugs and Alcohol.
During her campaign, she said of the role of the library, “Now we’ve moved into an age of technology but people still need a meeting place and they need to know how to use technology…There’s still a need for connectivity — person to person.”
Looking to the future, she said, “We need to increase marketability.”
Robert Feller, who has served on the board for four-and-a-half years and is currently its secretary, came in fourth with 1,300 votes or 19.1 percent. He came in second in Westmere; fourth in Pine Bush, Guilderland, and Altamont; and fifth in Lynnwood.
Feller, a lawyer, will fill out the term left vacant by Robert Ganz’s leaving.
“I think we’re in an important transition in the library,” he said during the campaign. “We just had a bond vote go down,” he said of the 2012 defeat for expansion. “We have to think about what that means in our long-term plan.”
He also said, “We need to be better plugged in…I feel chastened…We need to do a better job with community outreach and keep our finger better on the pulse of the community.”
Carroll Lynn Valachovic, currently the library board’s treasurer, came in last with 1,233 votes or 18.1 percent. She was fourth in Lynnwood, and fifth in Altamont, Guilderland, Pine Bush, and Westmere.
A certified public accountant, Valachovic said during the campaign that she was running again because other board members asked her to, especially with the transition to a new library director.
“My role on the board has been giving the best advice I can on anything financial,” she said during the campaign, “so everyone can understand the issues to make informed decisions.”
Fraterrigo echoed those sentiments on Election Night after she learned Valachovic was ousted. “She was such an asset,” said Fraterrigo. “She was our financial guru. She will be sorely missed.”
Library Director Wiles also commented on Valachovic, “She’s always been a valued member.”
He concluded, “We had five great candidates for four positions. We wish all five could be on the board.”
School board elections
For the second year in a row, there was no contest with the school board elections. Rose Levy did not seek re-election after serving one term.
All three candidates supported the budget and all have close ties to the district. Slack is a retired teaching assistant, Simpson is married to a teaching assistant, and McManus is married to a teacher.
Judy Slack came in first with 1,856 votes or 33.8 percent. She was first in Altamont, Guilderland, and Westmere; second in Lynnwood; and tied for second in Pine Bush.
This will be her third term on the board and she said she was proudest of hiring Marie Wiles.
Before the election, asked about her goals for the future, Slack said, “I would like to keep things without cutting more.” But, she added, “Really, that’s not up to us.”
On employee contracts, she said, “I would be happy if we didn’t have step.” She said of the annual step increases, “Step is already a 2-percent raise, which is significant in this day and age.” She also said, “Our negotiators treat each group with respect and listen. I wish we had more. We don’t. We’re stuck.”
Christopher McManus, making his first run for school board, came in second with 1,839 votes or 33.4 percent. He came in first in Lynnwood; second in Altamont, Guilderland, and Westmere; and tied for second in Pine Bush.
He has worked for New York State for a decade, first on the Senate Finance Committee and now with the Division of Budget.
Before his election, McManus outlined three goals he would like to accomplish on the board. “The first thing is Guilderland is stagnant in rankings,” he said. “We focus on cuts and cuts and cuts. We need to focus on how to improve the schools overall.” Second, he said, “I want an open budget process in which we discuss all options.” Third, he said, the board needs to discuss more in open session rather than “behind closed doors.”
On Election Night, after the results were announced, McManus said, “I know I have a lot to learn from these fine folks.”
Allan Simpson came in third with 1,803 votes or 32.8 percent. He was first in Pine Bush, and third in Altamont, Guilderland, Lynnwood, and Westmere.
Simpson, who works as director of accounting operations for the New York State Insurance fund, has been on the school board for four years and is currently its vice president.
Simpson said it is hard being on the board in an era of cutbacks. “You’re being asked to figure out how to squeeze money out of something that’s tight,” he said.
On state tests, he said, “Testing is mandated by the law. We’ll have to collaborate and come back with a test that is fair and meets the law’s requirements. It’s an evolving process, eventually evolving to value down the road.”
Asked for his response to results on Election Night, Simpson said, “I’m happy everything passed.”