Uncontested: Three seats, three candidates at GCSD

GUILDERLAND — Incumbents Barbara Fraterrigo and Gloria Towle-Hilt are running again for the Guilderland School Board. They are joined by newcomer Teresa Gitto.

Colleen O’Connell is not seeking a fifth term.

The three-year terms on the nine-member board are at-large and unpaid.

This year’s lack of competition is in sharp contrast to last year’s race in which five candidates competed for three seats. At the time, some people were riled over a consultant’s report on unused classrooms recommending school closures.

On May 17, district residents will also decide on a $96,590,045 budget for next year, which is 3.1 percent, or $2.9 million over the current year’s spending. It would result in a 1.35-percent levy increase, below the state-set cap.

The issues

The Enterprise asked the five candidates about their relevant experience, their reasons for running, and what they wanted to accomplish, and also asked for their views on these six topics:

Role of a school board member: Candidates were asked who they serve. Certainly, each must balance the needs of many constituencies, but which is the primary one? Particularly if there is a crunch would their primary allegiance be to the students, the taxpayers, the parents, the teachers, or the superintendent?

Budget: Candidates were asked if they support the $96,590,045 million proposed budget, and why or why not.

They were also asked if there were specific items they would have liked included, or if there were specific items they thought should have been cut.

They were also asked their views on how much should be put in the fund balance, or rainy day account. For two years in a row, the state comptroller had reported that Guilderland is susceptible to fiscal stress, based in part on its having less than 3 percent of its budget in its fund balance; the state allows a maximum of 4 percent. The district has since increased the amount — now close to 4 percent — and the designation was removed.

Transgender students: Two transgender students addressed the school board this year, raising concerns about fair treatment. One student liked the idea of a unisex bathroom. What, if anything, should the school district do to accommodate its transgender students?

State tests and standards: In December, the state’s Board of Regents, which governs public education in New York, following recommendations of the governor’s Common Core Task Force, removed state test scores as part of the teacher evaluation process, suspending their use for four years. The task force also recommended the state develop its own standards.

At the same time, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law, returning powers to states and local districts, and keeps the government from imposing standards like the Common Core. In 2015, when third- through eighth-graders at Guilderland were tasked with taking required state tests, 21.8 percent opted out of the math tests and 19.3 percent out of English tests. The refusals went up slightly this year, to 22.3 percent for math and 21.3 percent for English.

Candidates were asked how Guilderland should proceed. Should curriculum be aligned with what is on the test? Should teachers be free to pursue creative assignments rather than teaching to the test? Did Common Core standards have value? Would new statewide standards have value? Do the standardized tests have value?



Teresa Gitto



Teresa Gitto, making her first bid for school board, says, “I’d like to see how tax dollars are used to see if there’s a better way to use those funds.”

She is the mother of three Guilderland students — one is at Lynnwood Elementary School and the other two are students at Farnsworth Middle School.

Gitto, 39, works both as a real-estate agent and doing electrolysis at a local spa.

Asked about the role of a school board member, she said, “Having children in the district, first and foremost, I’m on the board to serve students.” Her second priority is to serve the taxpayers, she said. “You want to be fiscally responsible,” said Gitto.

On the proposed $96.6 million budget for next year, Gitto said, “I’ll support it at this point in time.” She said it would be unfair to raise issues now.

On the one-time state aid Guilderland got, ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment, she said, “I’d rather have funds spent for the kids” than put in the fund balance or rainy-day account.

“I don’t think we need it in savings,” said Gitto.

On transgender students, she said, “This is new to me…I have no issue with a gender-neutral bathroom or gender-neutral changing room.” She envisioned it working “like a family restroom in a restaurant” and said that would be “a wonderful thing.”

She also said, “I would have an issue with no gender designation whatsoever. We still should have separate boys’ rooms and girls’ rooms.” Gitto said she would object to having “someone with male genitalia in a female bathroom.”

Gitto concluded, “I would never want any child or adult feeling uncomfortable in a changing room.”

On standards, Gitto said, “My feeling as a parent is there should be some sort of common core, not what we know as — quote — Common Core — unquote.”

She went on, “There should be a common basis throughout the state of what each grade is taught. How the teacher wants to get to that, they should have leeway. The teacher’s job is to decipher what works.”

Gitto also said she “has an issue” with difficulties in helping her young children with their math assignments. “It doesn’t make sense,” she said of the way math is being taught. “I know that two plus two equals four, but I’m not understanding the picture they’re asking you to draw. If a teacher can see the majority of a class can get it the old-school way, we’re wasting our time and money re-inventing the wheel.”

If the traditional way of teaching doesn’t work for part of the class, then, Gitto said, “The teacher should teach in a different way.”

She went on, “We all went through school…We all learned a way to do it; it’s worked for hundreds of years. Why teach a different way if the old way works?” she asked.

On testing, Gitto said that, when she was in school, standardized tests were routine. “Remember the Iowa and California tests?” she asked.

“I have no issue with testing kids,” she said. “It’s a good way to gauge where students are.”

The problem emerges, she said, in “saying it’s a credit or discredit to a teacher.” The abilities of students in a particular class, she said, “is the luck of the draw; that’s not the teacher’s fault.”

Gitto concluded, “There needs to be a different way to assess our teachers.”


Gloria Towle-Hilt




Gloria Towle-Hilt, who is seeking a fourth term on the school board, says she began her tenure “just as the recession hit.”

“We’ve come through a difficult time,” she said. “I’m hoping now we’ll be able to take positive steps.”

She went on, “We really need to look at how much we cut back. We’ve kept up with technology and we’ve held our own with the core curriculum. But we haven’t been able to grow clubs and enrichment.

“Guilderland has always been a place that looks at the whole child and provides opportunities to interact with the community. I’d like to fill that vision again.”

Towle-Hilt, 67, who is retired from teaching social studies at Farnsworth Middle School, is the mother of grown children who attended Guilderland schools. She served as the board’s vice president from 2011 to 2013.

Asked about the role of a school board member, she said, “The core for me is always the kids.”

Towle-Hilt says she “absolutely” supports the $96.6 million budget for next year. “We kept core academic programs intact,” she said, “meeting needs all across the learning spectrum.”

She also said, “We were prudent.”

Towle-Hilt supports keeping a robust fund balance. “We have an obligation to set aside money for emergencies,” she said. “We have to have a cushion,” she said, concluding, “We were conservative.”

Of the transgender students who addressed the board, Towle-Hilt said, “I personally was extremely proud of those kids. As a former teacher, a parent, and a community member, I was glad to hear they did not feel attacked.”

She credited school anti-bullying programs for teaching “acceptance that people are different.”

Referring to the superintendent, Marie Wiles, she said, “I emailed Dr. Wiles, we have to have lines of communication with these kids. Many of us try to understand but may not grasp the difficulties. We need to keep an open dialogue.”

About standards, Towle-Hilt said, “The Common Core Standards have a value. We’ve had standards over the years. You have to re-align. The problem came with the one-size-fits-all approach.”

She also said, “We have to try different things. Teaching is part science, part art.”

Another problem, Towle-Hilt said, was tying teacher evaluation to student test performance. “Holding a sword over teachers’ heads was totally the wrong thing,” she said. “The punishment cycle doesn’t work…You have to bring people in and work collaboratively with the assumption we all want the best for the kids.”

Towle-Hilt stressed, “Preserving good will is so important. The governor did not preserve good will.”

Towle-Hilt said her master’s thesis was on “the tug between professionals and unionism.”

“I do believe in standards,” she said. “You have to join together to move toward goals. Teachers have a tremendous amount to give.”

She concluded, “I really do believe in local control. People closest to the kids know them the best. Global standards with local parameters is a healthy tension.”


Barbara Fraterrigo



 Barbara Fraterrigo, the longest serving member of the Guilderland School Board, is still pushing for the teaching of what she calls “lifelong skills.”

“I’ve been beating my head against the wall, trying to get a program that teaches our kids how to type,” she said. Asked about keyboarding techniques taught in the elementary schools, Fraterrigo said, “Children are still henpecking…I have grandkids at the middle school level who type on the computer with one finger; it’s inefficient.”

Financial literacy is another lifelong skill that Fraterrigo continues to push for. “At least one course is being offered at the high school; that’s a start,” she said. But Fraterrigo would like to see the district require financial literacy for all students.

Another skill is cardiopulmonary resuscitation. “Every child should know CPR,” she said, noting the state now requires schools to teach hands-on CPR.

Fraterrigo, 73, who served as the board’s president from 2013 to 2015, is seeking a seventh term. She is also a long-time trustee of the Guilderland Public Library and manages her husband’s ophthalmology practice. Her grown children attended Guilderland schools.

“These are exciting times, preparing our children for the world they are facing and I’d like to be part of that,” she said of why she was seeking another term.

“My dream would be to restore what we had to cut,” Fraterrigo said, adding she realizes that may not become a reality. Her top priority is to restore enrichment programs to the level they were when her children were in Guilderland schools; programs were cut back when the district faced multi-million-dollar budget gaps in recent years.

She expressed her frustration at mandates, giving this example: “There’s a federal push toward inclusion,” she said of teaching students of all ability levels together. “All the research shows it’s positive,” Fraterrigo said, “but it’s an expensive model.”

“It’s a balancing act,” Fraterrigo says of her role on the school board; she doesn’t prioritize one constituency over another she said.

Fraterrigo supports the proposed $96.6 million budget for next year, calling it “a very wise allocation of resources.”

Referring to the $1.4 million Guilderland received in state aid because of the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, Fraterrigo said, “We put our one-time money — over $900,000 — into debt reduction. The remainder is for sustainable programs.”

Building up the fund balance, Fraterrigo said, was “absolutely” the wise course of action. Referring to the comptroller’s designation earlier of Guilderland as being susceptible to fiscal stress, Fraterrigo said, “If you get put on these black lists, the interest rates for bonds goes up, which filters down to the taxpayer.”

On transgender students, Fraterrigo, who serves on the board’s policy committee, said, The policy committee has looked into a number of policies” to meet both federal and state requirements.

“We’ve met with the students to see what their needs are,” said Fraterrigo. Clifford Nooney, the district’s supervisor of buildings and grounds, has been looking at creating gender-neutral bathrooms. “We want to accommodate everyone’s privacy,” said Fraterrigo.

On state and federal academic requirements, Fraterrigo said, “Common Core was another example of top-down policies.” She said that Guilderland and other Suburban Council schools don’t need such oversight.

“We often pay the price of stupid bureaucratic rules because of districts in New York City and other places that don’t service their kids properly,” said Fraterrigo.

To test children on material they don’t know in order to establish a baseline for teacher progress, Fraterrigo said, “made no sense.”

“Talk about frustrating,” she went on, referencing written passages that were well beyond students’ grasp. “They’ve amended some of those stupid policies, making third- through eighth-grade tests appropriate.

Fraterrigo went on, “I wish in my own heart parents would allow kids to take these tests; no matter where they go on in life, they’re going to be tested.”

She pointed out changes made to the tests this year so that they are shorter and students are allowed as much time as they need to complete them.

She also applauded the uncoupling of tests with teacher evaluations. “The best evaluation is by a supervisor,” she said. “Parents know if their child is learning and bring any problems to the supervisor.”

Fraterrigo went on, “This whole idea of someone in Washington, D.C. telling us what t do is ridiculous. We know the needs of our kids and do our best to prepare them for the world they face.”

Fraterrigo concluded, “Things shake out over time…You have to have a lot of patience.”


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