School budget Board mulls topics reviews format

GUILDERLAND — As the school board gears up to review next year’s district budget proposal, the superintendent provided a list of discussion topics.
The list, which Superintendent Gregory Aidala said is "somewhat streamlined," is based on recommendations made last month by board members and citizens.

At last Tuesday’s school-board meeting, the superintendent also outlined some changes in the way budget-review sessions will be run. Citizen volunteers attend a half-dozen televised meetings where they have, in recent years, listened to administrators make presentations on the budget, asked questions, and, in the final session, offered their opinions on the proposed spending plan.
Aidala proposed, instead, allowing 45 to 60 minutes for questions by limiting presentations to 30 minutes. He will act as a facilitator for each presentation. In reviewing spending, presenters are to discuss 5 percent of the total that is "not absolutely essential." The superintendent’s list notes that 5 percent of an $80 million budget is $4 million.

Other topics on the superintendent’s list include class size, health-insurance costs, transportation efficiency, and administrative structure.
It also says the district will "seek staff input to identify potential areas of savings" and will determine the cost of federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Alternative revenue
Finally, the memo states, "If there is consensus of the board," a committee will be established to review alternative funding sources. These are sources besides taxes that can include foundations, in-school advertising, and pouring rights. For years, the Guilderland School Board has been divided on the issue.

Board member Richard Weisz, long a proponent of studying the matter, once again recommended making a motion to appoint a committee of district stakeholders to review alternative sources.

Vice President Linda Bakst, long an opponent of using alternative revenue sources, said, if the board were to go forward with appointing such a committee, it should be absolutely certain to include representatives of the PTA and booster clubs, which are often in competition with fund-raising.
"One of my problems with this is a lot of it ends up going to bells and whistles...not to critical educational process," said Bakst. She suggested earmarking the funds for tax abatement.
"I’d be much happier if it reduced the burden for needy people," said Bakst. "If that’s the concern, why not put our money where our mouth is""
Weisz said he thinks it would be possible to get a "progress report" from a committee before the budget review process begins in three months, not that it would affect next year’s budget.
He concluded that, based on current inflation rates for school districts, "I don’t think the suburban district as we know it will survive...The taxpayers just can’t shoulder the burden."

Budget-review sessions

Board member Cathy Barber worried that a few citizens would dominate the longer budget-discussion periods.
"How would you hear from all the people rather than just a couple"" she asked.
"I’m going to take a more active role in the presentation," said Aidala, noting he would act as a moderator and facilitator to address that.

Board member Peter Golden said people should be able to go on a bit as it lessens anxiety.
"There has to be a code of civility," said board member Colleen O’Connell. "The level of respect shown for the speaker and, in particular, for the superintendent was appalling."

At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Golden read a statement saying the most distressing part of serving on the board is contemplating ways to control the budget.
"What distresses me as I go through the budget," he said, "is knowing that attached to many of those line items are people, and that, as the board considers expenditures, these hard-working, dedicated people will understandably grow concerned about their own well-being."

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Appointed four teachers to tenure — Dana Cale and Kelly Giagni, both elementary teachers; Maria MacEntee in family and consumer science; and Dawn Farrell, in secondary social studies.
Superintendent Aidala said the teachers had joined the Guilderland faculty mid-year three years ago and he was "very impressed with the strong learning environment" in their classrooms.
"Each of these dedicated professionals is making a difference with students," he said, as the teachers were applauded;

— Accepted delinquent tax rolls and the composite tax-collection report.

The uncollected taxes for 2005-06 total $1.3 million out of a levy of $48.3 million.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders pointed out that the collection rate of 97.3 percent is consistent with the last few years.
He also said the district is reimbursed for the delinquent taxes. "We are held harmless," said Sanders;

— Heard from Aidala that veterans of the Vietnam War are now eligible to receive high-school diplomas as part of the state's Operation Recognition. The program began by recognizing veterans of World War II who were unable to complete high school because of military service and then expanded to veterans of the Korean conflict.
"Our next step will be to put out a call," said Aidala. If veterans come forward, he said, a ceremony will be planned in their honor, similar to the earlier ceremonies for World War II and Korean conflict veterans;

— Approved a bid from Ricoh Corporation of $15,808.80, the lowest of four, for dual-purpose copy paper;

— Approved a bid from Facilities Equipment & Service, Inc., the only response, of $60,600 for additional lockers at Farnsworth Middle School.
The 263 full-height lockers will be placed in Seneca House, the new fourth house at Farnsworth. The locker space in the new house is less than in the three original houses, said Sanders, and replacing the smaller, already-installed lockers would be "cost prohibitive."

Fortunately, he said, there’s enough wall space to accommodate the new lockers. The already-installed half-height lockers will be assigned to students in pairs, one above the other, with the same combination, he said;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that Guilderland High School has been selected as a Grammy Signature School finalist and will submit recordings of performance ensembles, repertoire lists, and programs to try to qualify as one of the 40 public high schools in the country to be named a Grammy Signature School.

Six will become Gold Recipients of $5,000 and one will be named the National Grammy Signature School for $25,000. All signature schools receive grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000;

— Learned that Gregory Piculell, a Guilderland senior, has been accepted into the apprentice program of Albany Pro Musica.

He was also recently elected president of the school’s Music Council Choir Division. A member of The Guilderland Players since 2002, he played Chris Keller in All My Sons and Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace;

— Heard that five students — Beth Schaffer, Jack Qian, Peter Zhu, Wang Sheng, and Devang Bhoiwala — organized as a team to participate in the annual I-Test on-line, a national Internet math contest. They ranked second in the state and 22nd in the nation;

— Learned that Jon Mapstone, a high school social studies teacher, is traveling to Saudi Arabia this month for a 10-day study tour focusing on education, industry, culture, and Saudi-United States relations. The tour is funded by the Aramco Educators, under the auspices of the Institute of International Education, a not-for-profit worldwide organization founded in 1919;

— Heard that Westmere Elementary School fifth-graders are creating a window display for Little Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza to promote First Night in Albany;

— Applauded Andress, who was selected by Channel 13 as an Educator of the Week.
Aidala quoted from nine letters of support for her candidacy calling her, among other accolades, "a mentor," "never too busy to listen," "the consummate professional," and "a treasured asset to the Guilderland school community";

— Heard from President Gene Danese, Vice President Bakst, and board member Barbara Fraterrigo who attended the New York State School Boards convention in Rochester;
— Reviewed a policy on staff complaints and grievances, which affects "eight people not in a collective-bargaining agreement," said Fraterrigo, who chairs the board’s policy committee; and

— Went into executive session to discuss administrative personnel reviews, the superintendent’s contract, and negotiations with the technology and communications personnel unit.

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