Peter Golden

GUILDERLAND — , an author running for a second term, says people are concerned about the economy and rising prices.

“The read-out at the gas pump resembles your grocery bill and your grocery bill resembles your mortgage,” he said.

Golden, 54, said he’d never before heard people outside of his grandparents’ generation complain about grocery bills.

“You have to worry about everybody,” he said of serving on the school board, “not just say it but really do it.”

He and his wife, a college teacher, have a son who is a junior at Guilderland High School.

Golden said the median income in Guilderland, a town with a population of about 35,000, is $66,000. Seventy percent of the residents don’t use the schools, he said.

“We know cultures that are not compassionate towards older people are no longer here,” said Golden. “Empty nesters don’t send us children; they send us money. It keeps the school district alive. You don’t want to chase them out of their homes.”

Golden said of the school board, “Our role is not to fool the community into getting everything we want. Our goal is to have them on our side.” Taxpayer groups that emerge to vote down budgets when spending gets too high, said Golden, “dismantle the budget with no rhyme or reason.”

There are “lots of win-win situations” like the savings on health-care costs that he first broached, said Golden.

“You have to be brave,” he said. “I don’t think school boards were designed to represent a single overwhelming powerful political influence,” he said, alluding to the teachers’ union.

He went on, “The biggest thing is to convince the community that  debate is important.” Golden described how he had done research on health insurance and got resistance for asking questions. “We’ve now saved over a million dollars,” he said.

Golden also said that, if the union-backed candidates win, two-thirds of the board will be made up of union candidates. “Two would be retired employees. People will feel like they’re dealing with a stacked deck,” said Golden.

He went on, “I have trouble understanding how board members can take money or services from the union when the board is negotiating with teachers,” he said, referring to the ongoing negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association. “In most fields of business, that wouldn’t be allowed. I just think it’s a bad idea.”

He also said, “People want to feel it’s a fair process if they have to pay this amount of money.”

“The role of a school-board member is clear,” said Golden. “In law and in history, a school board is the arbiter between the community and the schools. As an arbiter, a school board is not an extension of the administration and certainly not an extension of the teachers’ union.

“I believe deeply that it takes an entire community to have a school district....If we don’t have the support of the taxpayers, we lose what we have,” he said, citing the district‘s excellent programs in art, music, and athletics.

The current and retired teachers and employees in the district come out to vote, he said. “They pass budgets,” he said, but more people have to be included.

He spoke of the tax revolt in Guilderland in the early 1990s when budgets were voted down. “If you don’t remain objective, you erode credibility,” he said. “It takes years to recover. The people who pay for it are the children.”

About combining supervisory posts, Golden said, “One of the ways budgets grow in ways that are not healthy is when you make ad hoc decisions....You take a micro view of your district.”

He said a “macro view” will result in better programs and that the new superintendent, John McGuire, “has a lot of experience in looking at supervision.” Golden said, “I would be very curious to see some of his suggestions.”

He also said, “I see why the social-studies staff was upset...cost-saving done on the fly is usually a bad thing.”

Golden said he hopes McGuire’s analysis will lead to productive ways to proceed with supervision.

On the block schedule, Golden said, “From talking to teachers, it seems an overwhelming number like the block schedule. They feel it gives them the greatest opportunity to teach,” which, said Golden, is “the primary mission of the school district.”

He suggested studying schools that allow for electives with their block schedules. “We don’t have to re-invent the wheel,” he said, concluding, “You have to pay attention to what the teachers are telling you.”

Commenting on another topic related to the high-school schedule, Golden said, “The start time is too early for high school.” He cited studies that, he said, show links between sleep deprivation and overeating, leading to “an explosion” of type 2 diabetes.

“Those are serious health issues,” he said. “It’s an issue that ought to be addressed.”

On foreign language study, Golden said, “The more, the merrier — Chinese, French, German.”

But then, he asked, “Where’s the money going to come from? I think the board is committed to doing this in as reasonable a way as possible

“Candidates love to talk about what they’ve bought. We need to talk about what we’ve saved...Everybody loves to go shopping with someone else’s credit card...

“For the foreseeable future,” Golden concluded, “we need to be very smart about budget choices...You need a very measured approach to what you’ll do. The writing’s on the wall, especially given the energy costs...Anything that arrives by truck or bus,” he said, citing costs from paper to school lunches, “is more expensive.”

On testing, Golden said, “The ability to acquire and retain facts is a critical part of your education.” He asked how comfortable a patient would feel with a doctor who didn’t know the difference between an antibiotic and insulin.

One of his goals, said Golden, is to measure next year where Guilderland students are six years after high-school graduation. Ninety percent of Guilderland students go on to college. Golden recommends finding out “what helped them, what they felt they needed but didn’t get.”

He went on, “The other 10 percent, we ought to see what they’re doing, what helped them.... That’s information teachers would love to have.”

Golden also said, “Scores should be distributed in a wider view. We keep talking about globalization...We’re deeply committed to seeing our students as part of the world...Centers of industry could be in China, India...or Kalamazoo, Michigan.”

The challenge was faced by an earlier generation, Golden said, “when it became clear regionalism was no longer the watchword....The world expanded.”

He said of comparing Guilderland scores to scores state-wide, “You want them to know the challenges are wider than in the past,” not just in the Capital Region. “I was surprised how negative the response was,” Golden said of the board’s reaction to publicizing comparative data with similar schools.

He pointed out that many Guilderland graduates attend schools in the state university system. “They’re competing with those kids anyway,” he said.” It helps to keep kids’ eyes outward.”

Of leafleting on school grounds, Golden said, “I absolutely think it should be allowed....Schools were founded to fuel democratic principles. It’s hard to take a position you shouldn’t hand out information.”

Golden said he won’t be handing out flyers at school. He goes door-to-door and to the town parks, he said. “I would prefer someone to come to my door,” he explained.

He said of last week’s discussion on the proposed policy, Catherine Barber and John Dornbush, “the union-backed candidates, were not in favor of this and not in favor of informing the press of our meetings.”

He was referring to a discussion in November when the board reviewed its policy on notifying the press of special meetings. The policy committee said the school’s two official newspapers would be notified. Golden wanted to add the other two local papers.

“The idea was to have reasonable notice,” responded Barber at the time. “There’s a lot of media out there.”

“The way it’s written is the minimum requirement…Once you start listing papers,” said Dornbush at the time, “you’d have to go back in and change the policy.”

“By a vote of 5 to 3,” state the minutes of the Nov. 13 board meeting, it was agreed to add the two unofficial newspapers to the list to be notified of special meetings.

Ultimately, in December, the board agreed unanimously to inform all four local newspapers about special meetings.

The answer to speech you disagree with isn’t to shut it down, said Golden. “The answer to free speech is more free speech.”

He concluded, “Not only is it right to have open government...if you’re not open, the community won’t be on your side. They won’t trust you. You can get employees and retired teachers to vote for you but you need the good faith of the entire community.”

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.