BKW board looks to gather advisers from district’s ‘stakeholders’

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

No more “sand pit:” Berne-Knox-Westerlo students Ashlyn Hanley and Bridget McDermott proposed building a sandbox for the elementary school, which they say currently has “just a sand pit.” They will build a 15-by-15-foot box for a project to earn a Silver Award, one of the highest awards for Girl Scouts.

BERNE — Just as shareholders have some say in a company’s decisions, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District might hear from “stakeholders” about its future.

The district’s board of education met on Monday for the first time since the May election. Voters passed the school budget, re-elected board member Nathan Elble and elected appointed member Kim Lovell to three-year terms, and elected former board member Helen Lounsbury to a two-year term.

Lovell, elected to a term that begins July 1, sat in the audience during the meeting, and also sat in on an executive session held earlier. Lounsbury, at her first meeting since being elected, called for greater public involvement at the July 6 reorganizational meeting.

Lounsbury suggested, to establish a vision and set goals for the school district, bringing in “stakeholders” — community members, teacher and faculty union representatives, and students. She said the group would set “smart goals.”

The phrase refers to a letter from Glenn Gray, a BKW alumnus and multi-regional manager and director at telecommunications companies. Gray advised the board to have a “specific/measurable/achievable or assignable/relevant or realistic/timely” objective when developing a mission statement.

Board President Matthew Tedeschi suggested having each board member choose three advisers.

“As a board, we can narrow it down to a top 10,” he said. “I think we need to be strategic in how we set it up.”

District Superintendent Timothy Mundell suggested pulling old records of past forums and meetings of these groups to understand past themes.

“Our goals need to be flexible over the course of the year,” he said. “Sometimes, we can box ourselves in with very concrete and specific details. … Sometimes, things change in complex organizations.”

Lounsbury responded that the board should strictly follow the goals and make them specific, so they are not forgotten.

“In our home, which we built 46 years ago, we said, ‘You know, we’re going to paint the inside of those closets. That’s the first thing we’re going to do,’” she said. “Forty-six years later, it’s still not done.”

Elble cautioned against inviting the whole community to create a district goal.

“Those goals, you know they’re a little more, I think, precise than maybe the community would have the knowledge of,” he said. “We can glean from the community what they want to see.”

Tedeschi agreed with Elble. “The community doesn’t do what we do here,” he said.

“The community elected us to do what we do,” board member Lillian Sisson-Chrysler replied. “So, they should have input.”

Lovell later said she agreed with accepting input, but not from too large a group.

Elble said constituents do not have all of the information to make decisions. Lounsbury said this was why the board should be transparent with information.

Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, a former school board member, said from the audience that many could not attend a daytime meeting. Tedeschi suggested holding an evening forum.

Mundell said board members could suggest individuals from “stakeholder” groups, such as the three towns in the district, parents, staff members, and students.

The board voted to hold a community forum from 7 to 9 p.m. after the reorganizational meeting.

Maureen Sikule, a school board member from 2005 to 2013, told The Enterprise on Tuesday that community members have been incorporated into decision-making — most notably the Budget Advisory Committee, which is active and communicates with the board.

Sikule also said community members were on advisory panels for selecting new superintendents or building principals, and occasionally with hiring new teachers.

Tedeschi told The Enterprise Wednesday that using community members in decision-making is not new, such as through community forums.

Currently, the Budget Advisory Committee is the only board-appointed community members in the district, Tedeschi said.

A panel of stakeholders such as teachers and community members helped select secondary school Principal Mark Pitterson and Mundell.

“I think it was important to have them on the superintendent and building-principal searches,” Sikule said. “The community has a stake in that.”

She said it was most effective to develop a community cross section with these members — have them represent all groups — but not let the group get too large.

Tedeschi said the board is open to feedback.

“The goals are the board goals — they’re not community goals,” he said.

Exit poll results

Mundell presented the results of exit surveys at the polls from the May 16 election. About half of the 797 who voted — 331 people — completed a survey.

While the budget passed with a little more than three-quarters of the vote, 92 percent of those surveyed said they voted yes.

Of those who voted yes: about 55 percent felt the budget met students’ needs; 46 percent said the spending increase was reasonable; 40 percent said the tax levy was reasonable (the tax levy was decreased in the school budget); 71 percent supported the budget in general.

Of those who voted no: about 30 percent thought the budget didn’t meet students’ needs; about 40 percent said spending was not reasonable; 35 percent said the school tax levy was not reasonable; 15 percent said they supported education but couldn’t afford it.

On repairs to the elementary school facilities, 88 percent said they were in favor. Eighty-one percent said improving facilities in turn improves student performance.

On the upcoming school’s capital project — up for vote in the fall — 34 percent would pay $21 to $30 per $100,000 of assessed value per year to support the project; 25 percent would pay $31 to $40; 28 percent would pay $41 to $50; 13 percent would not finance the project.

On the cost, 27 percent supported $7 million to $9 million; 25 percent supported $9 million to $13 million; 42 percent supported $13 million to $15 million.

Financial report

The district’s business manager, Sarah Blood, presented the financial report for Jan. 1 to March 31. Blood said the report showed both expenses and revenues in the positive, with a projected end-of-year surplus of $402,156.

One financial hiccup was losing, then replacing, a boiler, unanticipated in the 2016-17 budget. Expenses included a new boiler for the elementary school and increased fuel costs from the second boiler doing twice the work to heat the building. Blood noted that the school is expecting to be reimbursed in June by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses from the March snowstorm.

New ag-sci teacher

The board hired three full-time teachers, as well as new substitutes and faculty members. This included a new position to teach agriculture. Mundell said Michaela Kehrer is certified to teach kindergarten to 12th grade and work-based learning courses. She mostly will teach high school courses and occasionally elementary school students, as well as supervise work-based learning internships.

George Gabe, a former Schoharie Central School District agriculture teacher, applauded Berne-Knox-Westerlo for establishing a position in this field.

Elble’s wife, Carli Elble, was hired as a non-certified substitute teacher and clerical substitute. Elble abstained from that vote.


More Hilltowns News

  • The Albany Water Board, steward of the Basic Creek dam in Westerlo, has received $100,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a design for a rehabilitation project for the high-hazard dam, which is in substandard condition.

  • Co-pastors Greg and Becky Town arrived in the Hilltowns in January 2021 to begin their calling at the Reformed chores in the Knox hamlet and at Thompson’s Lake, after the previous pastor had been abruptly removed by the consistory in early 2019.  

  • A digital equity map, put together by a coalition of organizations including the New York State Education Department and the New York State Library, shows that approximately 15 percent of Hilltown households don’t have internet access, whether because they don’t have an internet subscription or because they don’t have internet-capable devices.

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.