Sanders leaves ‘dream job’ after 18 years as GCSD biz leader

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Neil Sanders every May announced the results of school budget votes; none failed during his tenure.

GUILDERLAND — In an era when top school administrators often use their jobs as stepping stones, Neil Sanders is a rarity.

Sanders, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for business, announced his retirement in July after 18 years in the post.

As the school board applauded his announcement, long-time board member Judy Slack explained they were clapping because they were proud of Sanders’s work, not because they were happy to see him go.

Sanders, always speaking in measured tones with ready explanations for sometimes thorny questions, shepherded the district through the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009 when Guilderland cut over 100 jobs but did not suffer a budget defeat.

His advice as another recession looms on the horizon: “It all goes back to being a team effort. Everybody’s got to be part of that discussion and process.

“We had to make a lot of difficult decisions during that time period, and I think the community supported us and understood the constraints that we were under and the difficult decisions that had to be  made. And, obviously, you know there wasn’t always consensus on those decisions, on what we should or shouldn’t be doing in those difficult financial times.”

As the district now faces the highest inflation since the 1980s, increasing costs of goods and services, as well as supply-chain issues and perhaps a recession, Sanders said, “It comes down to priorities with limited resources: What’s the best way to spend that money and meet our mission?”

Looking back nearly two decades, Sanders said, “When I applied for this job, this was a dream job for me. And I felt very fortunate that I landed here. I’m happy to have served this community, to be a part of this community, to have my children go here … It’s been very fulfilling. I’m going to miss it greatly.”

The job, he said, involves being a team player and a problem-solver.

His wife, a teacher, retired in June and their three sons have all graduated from Guilderland High School. Sanders, at 59, says he looks forward to traveling with his wife, which he hasn't had time for, and for pursuing hobbies.

“We’ll see what opportunities present themselves,” he said.

Asked what he was proudest of in his tenure on the job, Sanders cited a 2017 audit done by the state comptroller’s office on cash disbursements.

“Three auditors were here for four months and they used an automated method to go through and look at cash disbursements. So they actually looked at over 25,000 invoice payments, about $189 million, and over 7,000 checks.”

“They came back and said, ‘It’s a clean audit with no findings.’”

 He went on to say that the clean audit was “attributable to every person in the organization that’s involved with the purchasing and payment function. It’s our business office, but it’s also people in the buildings” — Guilderland has seven schools.

The purchase requisition process, Sanders explained, involves every department and every building — “getting in quotes or bids or whatever is required by our policies and procedures, having people follow those policies and procedures … and then, here at the business office, making sure everything is in order and everything’s in compliance. And then it also gets reviewed by another claims auditor before it’s actually paid.

“It speaks volumes to the work that people do in the district and how careful they are with the taxpayer money that’s entrusted to us. They expect us to be good stewards, and I think that report demonstrates we take that responsibility seriously as a district and we do abide by our rules and regulations, making sure we’re making the best use of the tax money that’s been given to us.

Sanders, over the years, has had to keep up with many new mandates and changing regulations, explaining them to the school board and public.

What’s sustained him all these years, Sanders said, is “knowing we’re making a difference in kids’ lives.”

He concluded, “We’re graduating kids every year. We’re providing supports and services to kids. We’re helping them on their path to success. That’s what it’s all about.”

More Guilderland News

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  • To host two multi-day music festivals this year — one in June and July, and the other coming up at the end of this month — organizer Matthew Burke received mass-gathering permits from the town of Guilderland, per the town’s law. Officials are consulting with an attorney to find out whether events at the same property should instead require a special-use permit. 

  • The Sept. 12 suit includes photographs of Gabriel neighborhood houses in disrepair, overgrown with brush. “The reason for the neglect is now obvious,” the suit argues. “Pyramid ceased maintenance of the neighborhood in order to now argue the area is blighted to support its bid for condemnation.”

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