Numbers shed light on BKW priorities

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Echo: Administrators, school board members, and a parent walked through the renovated high school library at Berne-Knox-Westerlo following the Sept. 9 board meeting. The library floor had been warped and swollen by a leaking drainage pipe underneath that was inundated with rainwater in June. New carpeting has been installed and books were moved in this week. 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

By the numbers: Joan Adriance, Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board president, looks up at a graph showing the cost of health insurance has grown by around $1.9 million, far out distancing pension costs, graphed at left. The presentation was made by Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer at the board’s Sept. 9 meeting. 

BERNE — Lonnie Palmer, the interim superintendent at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, told the school board and its audience during the Sept. 9 meeting that BKW should hire more teachers and spend less on health insurance. He gave a presentation comparing data from similar and nearby school districts and said BKW should try to reach per-pupil spending of about $18,000; currently the district spends about $19,400 per pupil annually.

The Albany City and Menands school districts pay the most in Albany County, at about $23,000 per pupil. Suburban Bethlehem is the lowest at under $15,000. Nearby suburban Guilderland is at $15,430 and Voorheesville at $15,691.

The data, Palmer noted, support the goals set by the board of education earlier in the year. They include higher academic achievement and settling a contract with the teachers’ union.

“Our classes are 20 percent larger than you would predict,” said Palmer. He cited the budget pressures of the last few years, describing how teacher positions have been eliminated more than enrollment has dropped.

Instructional salaries have decreased from 30.6 percent to 25.8 percent of total expenditures at BKW since 2008-09, and the current state average is 31.4 percent, according to Palmer’s numbers.

Palmer noted savings have already been found in consolidating out-of-district bus runs and teacher aids. He expects the goal during the spring budget season will be to consolidate internal bus runs, and the bus fleet, where possible. Palmer spoke positively about recent negotiations with the teachers’ union. The union has been at odds with the district in the past over its contract, which was last renewed in 2007, with extensions until 2008, and then 2009. By law, the provisions of their agreement remain in place.

Other business

In meetings this month, without any dissenting votes, the school board:

— Heard from board member Vasilios Lefkaditis that $501 collected during a Class of 1978 reunion will be donated for an electronic sign for news and events in the secondary school lobby;

— Heard from Palmer that three international students have been enrolled at BKW for the first year of its Student Exchange Visitor Program;

— Approved a memorandum of agreement with the BKW Teacher Support Staff bargaining unit to lay off four classroom aids. The four people were put on a recall list and offered temporary 1-to-1 aid positions, according to the agreement. The board also agreed on setting hours and Friday dismissal with the unit;

— Voted, 5 to 0, to fire a building maintenance helper who was on medical leave for more than a year, “due to an alleged occupational injury”;

— Heard from Pamela Fenoff about the Helderberg Valley Football Inc. not-for-profit created by parents to organize and fund football for children in the Hilltowns;

— Heard from Heather Costello, who said she was told that her children can no longer attend BKW after six years because the property she started renting this summer is outside of the district.

“I can’t tell her she can’t come here anymore,” Costello said, standing next to her daughter and mother. Costello said a BKW bus turns around on her property, which starts in Albany County and ends in Schoharie County.

Palmer said he was understanding, but the school’s attorneys had reviewed Costello’s situation and said that, as a renter outside of the district, she could not be part of the district. If she owned the property, he said, her children could attend BKW.

“You’re not living in the district, you’re not a resident of the district, which means the only way your children can attend our school is if you pay tuition to us. And I know, financially, that’s not possible. It’s a very big bill”;

— Approved the creation of a part-time assistant transportation supervisor.

Interim Transportation Supervisor Marty Dratz will be leaving soon, Palmer said, and the part-time position that preceded his tenure should be extended to full-time. The same number of hours would remain among the department’s positions because there were previously two part-time secretaries and a full-time supervisor shared with Schoharie.

“There’s no way that secretarial staff could take somebody out and test a bus,” said Palmer.

The district had 194 citations by the state Department of Motor Vehicles in May for filing late or inaccurate records of its bus drivers.

“If we have an internal person take this job, it would be a savings for the district,” said Palmer, adding that a person not yet hired by BKW could still cost less than before. He estimated an in-house hire would cost an added $5,000 while an out-of district hire would cost about $25,000;

— Approved a teaching assistant position for the technology department. The job would cost about the same as the current technology position through BOCES, but would involve two extra days of work, said Palmer.

Daniel Romand, BKW’s current chief technology specialist, plans to resign in January;

— Heard from Palmer that he would like to create an assistant Chief Information Officer position to fill with someone already employed by the district.

The CIO would identify redundancy and inaccuracy in BKW’s data sets. “We need someone who’s a data star,” said Palmer.

The position would pay $28 per hour, not to exceed 120 hours per year;

— Voted to support the rejection of an offer by Constitution Pipeline LLC of $25,500 to have a permanent right-of-way for a natural gas pipeline across the Schoharie Career and Technical Education school’s campus.

The resolution, drafted by BOCES, says that a 30-inch natural gas pipeline on property used by students who are learning how to operate excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, and compaction equipment “would present a clear danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the students attending classes there, and to the community at large”;

— Heard from Audrey Roettgers, elementary school principal, about a plan to develop after-school time for student clubs and data analysis required by state-mandated programs.

Focused academic help for struggling students, Roettgers explained, would be more integrated into the school day, and teachers could use one of two days of after-school time stipulated in their contract to plan for it.

The day of data analysis would require a change to the contract, Palmer noted, and agreement from the teachers’ union.

The clubs, said Roettgers, could be for anything from chess to Legos to poetry, but would relate to academics.

“Accountability was big and they never had it,” Lefkaditis said of the after-school time required of teachers. Parents might prefer their students to focus on what they have trouble with in class, he said.

Especially for struggling students, Roettgers responded, the clubs are going to make school more fun for kids by giving them a choice in what they learn. She said she would keep a list of who oversees which club.

“In order to get kids engaged, they need to find something they’re passionate about,” said Earl Barcomb, a board member who works as a guidance counselor in the Schenectady City School District;

— Asked Palmer to get the Price Chopper trailer on the track field, used for storage, moved to a less conspicuous place and speak to contractors for the Berne hamlet’s sewer project about piles of rocks left on the road leading to the track.

“If there hasn’t been an accident, it’s by the grace of God,” board member Chasity McGivern said of the rocks

— Asked that an announcement for the board of education recognition awards ceremony on Oct. 21 be made on the School News Notifier e-mail list. Nomination forms, found online and in district offices, are due by Oct. 1; and

— Approved the appointment of a bus driver, and the appointment of a substitute bus driver.

Lefkaditis said on Monday people sometimes ask if the district is hiring bus drivers and he responds he doesn’t know.

“You tell them we’re always hiring subs,” said Mark Kellett, interim business administrator. 

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