New board, new business at BKW

BERNE — At the end of its July 15 meeting, the school board used colorful markers and shiny stickers to determine its priorities and goals for the year: settle contracts, improve academic scores, differentiate instruction, reduce bullying, create budget timelines, and promote positive news.

“It will make our work a little easier,” Lonnie Palmer, who supplied the markers, said after the board finished discussing its goals. Palmer started as Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s interim superintendent in July, after the previous superintendent left lead a larger district.

The resignations of two more administrators were accepted Monday, representing a marked shift and a substantial changes to be made by new board members and administrators before school starts in September. These followed on the heels of not only the superintendent’s resignation but also that of the elementary principal, leaving just the secondary school principal in place.

Within a few hours on Monday, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Business Official David Hodgkinson and Director of Transportation Denise Towne, declared emergency reconstruction to repair its water-damaged high school library, and accepted recommendations for correcting 194 Vehicle and Traffic Law violations in its transportation department.

Board members Joan Adriance, Earl Barcomb, and Chasity McGivern were voted into three seats on the board in May. McGivern began immediately while the others had their first meeting on July 1, when Adriance was voted as the board’s president. No one on the board has served more than one term.

Gerald Larghe was nominated by Vasilios Lefkaditis, the previous school board president, to the position, but had only two votes during the reorganizational meeting. Adriance won with votes from Barcomb, McGivern, and herself. Lefkaditis said the most obvious difference between his last year as president and the next with Adriance will be in the decorum of meetings.

“I was much more blunt,” said Lefkaditis. “I think she’s far more diplomatic.” Lefkaditis was unanimously elected as the new vice president.

Hodgkinson, who joined the rural district in November, is seeking other jobs. Palmer said the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services recommended Mark Kellett as an interim replacement.

Kellet, a retired business official for the Schalmont Central School District in Schenectady County, started at BKW on July 9 and was appointed by the board, 5 to 0, with additional responsibilities as custodian of the petty cash fund, purchasing agent, records-access management officer, workers’ compensation consortium co-trustee, payroll certification officer, Title I coordinator, and property control manager.

Palmer said Kellett and other BOCES services for the transportation department would cost the district about $110,000. BOCES aid will cover $65,000 of that, Palmer said. He expects BKW could benefit in the future with more employees and services through BOCES, since the state partly reimburses participating districts, and for using shared services.

With a chart of the different out of district routes for children with special needs ,or attending private or parochial schools, to attend nearby school districts, Palmer told board members that BKW buses drive to 23 different sites while the next highest number for another district is 15. He said he would like to consider whether or not replacements need to be found for two retired bus drivers, instead consolidating routes to save $100,000 in annual costs for each. One route, Palmer said, takes one child to Oneonta.

“We need to think about how we can get fewer kids to leave the district, serve more kids in the district, and consolidate those sites at which they are served outside the district,” said Palmer.

Palmer described Kellett’s role as evaluating the transportation department in light of its numerous violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law and to work on long-term issues for the district.

“That’s what the board hired me for, and I’m looking for the same thing,” he told The Enterprise.

Goals

On large sheets of paper hung behind their meeting table, board members displayed lists of goals, including two from former board members Jill Norray and Helen Lounsbury.

Palmer showed his first: “1. Settle contracts,” “2. Professional approach,” and “3. Improve morale through turning problems into opportunities.”

“Settle contracts,” which have been expired for years with three of the district’s four bargaining units, attracted several stickers and featured on other lists. In June, the previous school board presented an outline of what it had last offered to the teachers’ union in contract negotiations.

The most stickers went to goals focused on academic achievement. On board President Joan Adriance’s list, the goal required at least three new ways to increase student scores, measured by increasing the percentage of elementary and middle school students in the top two of four categories on English and Math tests and the percentage of secondary school students achieving a minimum of 80 percent on math and science Regents exams by 15 percent over three years. Board members said such details of their goals, however, would be solidified later.

Other goals called for reducing bullying, focusing on positive news in the school, and managing a timeline for the budget.

Library reconstruction

A downpour of rain in late June caused the roof drains of an area of the secondary school school to back up and led to the wooden floor of the high school library swelling by almost a foot where the drains run underneath.

“At that point, the high school principal was in the building and he said there was four inches of water standing in the library,” Palmer told The Enterprise. He said there was no damage to books.

The BKW summer school program is held this year at Schoharie, with which it shares classes through the season.

Carpeting, books, and shelving have been taken out and the area cleaned and some damaged wallboard has been removed, Palmer said; clean-up and repair will require no more than $120,000.

This week, Palmer said, workers will determine where the pipes ruptured. He explained that the repair would not require digging through the floor and removing the pipe, and he did not know the exact cause of the problem.

According to Palmer, the building was first constructed in 1932 with the area of the library used to park buses. In 1965, it became a woodshop.

“When they did that, they put a moisture barrier between the concrete floor that was below and the wood that was above, and that moisture barrier contained asbestos,” said Palmer. “And that’s part of the reason why our cost is so high.”

In 2005, the space became a library.

Palmer described the damage as two bumps, one large and one small, in the wooden floor, with the larger one stretching more than 15 feet long. Interviews for the new elementary school principal have been moved to another part of the building, he said.

Hiring

High school earth science teacher Sean O’Brien commended the community and administrators during the public discussion period on Monday and thanked parents and students for their support.

Palmer said O’Brien offered to move to teaching sixth grade science when a district employee on leave of absence said on July 1 she would return to be a full-time high school science teacher. Palmer left open a fourth elementary-school teacher position, for a fifth-grade teacher, in case the teacher does return, in which case the sixth-grade teacher displaced by O’Brien would move to fifth.

“She could reverse course,” said Palmer, noting that her intention in writing is to return.

At first, administrators considered eliminating the two part-time positions based on seniority, Palmer said after the meeting.

“Over my eight years here, I’ve been so impressed, year after year,” said O’Brien from the back of the gallery. “And this is one further example of that.”

Jennifer Alotta, who has been a certified substitute teacher in BKW for three years, sat in the front of the gallery with her husband.

“If you make a commitment to a district…you should be given some type of consideration for an interview,” Alotta told The Enterprise.

Alotta, who lives in Duanesburg, applied for one of the elementary school teaching positions, but did not get called for an interview. Her husband, who declined to give his name, said their message to the board was to open a discussion about its hiring policies, which they believe should give weight to applicants from within the district.

Palmer said after the meeting that a committee screened around 900 résumés before people were called for interviews. Over 20 people had interviews, he said, and about that many are now substitute teachers for the district.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Heard from Adriance that she and Palmer have been added to the board of education e-mail group, which can be found on the district website. For legal protection, she said, all board members should use the designated address.

Adriance asked that requests for information sent to any one board member include all other members in the e-mail.

“We shouldn’t be asking things of each other without all of us being included in those conversations,” said Adriance;

— Approved, 5 to 0, a bond resolution of no more than $201,812 to purchase four buses, as approved by voters in May. The rest of the cost will be covered by $130,000 from the transportation reserve fund. Hodgkinson has said state aid is expected to eliminate the net cost to the district;

— Accepted, 5 to 0, the resignation of district mechanic Joseph R. Hoffman III, effective July 5;

— Appointed, 5 to 0, Heather Casullo as elementary school teacher with a $44,810 annual salary, effective Sept 1;

— Appointed, 5 to 0, Janine Sargalis as elementary school teacher with a $42,974 annual salary, effective Sept. 1;

— Appointed, 5 to 0, Jennifer Zeh as elementary school teacher with a $44,810 annual salary, effective Sept. 1; and

— Approved, 5 to 0, the request by recently-retired Nancy Redikowski to be placed on the district clerical substitute call list.

More Hilltowns News

Broken windows in the long-neglected 1806 Conkling house were replaced with old glass. An etched name on one pane brought back memories of a little girl writing her name with a borrowed diamond; her elderly son told that story.

About 80 Berne-Knox-Westerlo students this weekend will display the flair of 1950s pop culture in a plot, dotted with humor, about generational tensions.

The area along Route 156 is called "mixed-use" zoning, where residential and commercial uses are allowed. The law is set up with planning board oversight, with the aim to sustain the historic qualities of the district.