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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 13, 2008

After budget passes
VCSD will hire its first curriculum coordinator 

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — After months of discussion, the school board on Monday unanimously approved creating a new post — curriculum coordinator.

Superintendent Linda Langevin described the duties this way: “To coordinate and oversee all the curriculum changes in concert with the principals.” The coordinator will work in classrooms with teachers and will report back to the board, she said.

“There is an evident and pressing need for faculty and administration to be informed, aware and fluent in the use of testing and other student information to make the best educational decisions for children,” says the proposal for the new position.

Next year, the new coordinator will work with the district’s two data coordinators “to develop fully aligned, mapped and functional curricula in the core subject areas K-8 that supports 21st Century student skills,” it says.

The full-time post is included in the proposal for next year’s spending plan. The district will have to pay an additional teacher, estimated at $60,000, to teach the classes formerly taught by the coordinator; $15,000 will come from reallocation of resources. So the district will pay an estimated $45,000.

Langevin said on Tuesday that the search for a suitable candidate, whom she will train, won’t begin until the budget is passed.

When Langevin first made the proposal, it was for two part-time posts — one in the elementary school and one at the secondary level.

The proposal the board considered on Monday was for a coordinator for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Board member Timothy Blow was concerned that would lead to another post being created later for the high school.

“In high school, curriculum is already dictated by the Regents,” Principal Mark Diefendorf said of the statewide exams. He also said that department chairs help with curriculum development and coordination.

Board President David Gibson said the rationale for limiting the post to the elementary and middle schools was: “If you spread it overly thin, are they going to accomplish much?”

Langevin said teachers at all levels had input and they felt serving all the grades would be too much for one person to handle.

The board has spent the year or two before this one concentrating on “stewardship and fiduciary responsibility,” Gibson said. “The primary focus this past year has been on what we teach the kids.”

“We’ve finally had an opportunity to focus on program,” said Vice President C. James Coffin. With the state-required testing and the data it generates, he said, “You’ve got to understand what you’ve done...It’s a lot of work...You’ve got to have a leader...We’re finally there...We’ve got the resources to do it...We’ve got to move ahead.”

Blow wanted to know what kind of “tangible measures” there would be, so it wasn’t just someone “shuffling papers.”

Board member Kevin Kroenke agreed with Blow that the post should be for a curriculum coordinator who “for the time being” would focus on kindergarten through eighth grade.

Langevin agreed to go along with the change in title “as long as the board realizes it’s just K-8.”

“I don’t care what you call it,” Kathy Fiero, president of the teachers’ union, told the board. “We thought of it almost like a pilot...We wanted the person to start small and be successful.”

“I don’t care what we call it,” Coffin said, echoing Fiero’s sentiment.

And so the board agreed, 6 to 0, to call the new post curriculum coordinator.

In other business, the board:

— Heard a presentation on anti-smoking public-service announcements made by sixth-graders and high-school students working together.

Amanda Hooker, the Tobacco Free Healthy Schools representative from BOCES, called the project “truly amazing” and said it “shows the ability for students to learn from one another.” She also called Voorheesville “the standard all-star school, for me, by passing the first tobacco-free policy in the county”;

— Heard from Andrew Huth that, from September 2005 to January 2008, the school district has saved $201,590 in gas and electric costs by participating in the Energy Education, Inc. program, a savings of 16 percent.

The program emphasizes use of data and teamwork “to be able to save forever,” said Huth. Ten-year projected savings are just over $1 million, he said.

Blow questioned the company’s share of 60 percent of the savings. Huth responded that that includes his salary and conferences and said that, after four years, there is no charge for Energy Education’s consultations;

— Appointed Robin Burch as district treasurer, effective July 1, at an annual salary of $43,000.

Assistant Superintendent for business Sarita Winchell praised Burch’s six years of work for the district and Gibson commended Burch for continuing her education;

— Appointed Ashley Tremblay as a modified track coach for $1,414 and Andrew Karins as the freshman boys’ basketball coach for $1,936;

— Appointed Vaclav Sotola as a learn-to-swim instructor;

— Appointed Liza Zautner and Jennifer Markham as substitute bus drivers at $12.52 per hour;

— Approved a Model United Nations field trip to Cornell University in Ithaca from April 3 to 6, at a cost of $225 per student;

— Approved the 2008-09 school calendar, which is posted on the district website and also available at the district office;

— Heard praise for teaching assistant Laura Bye. Elementary School Principal Kenneth Lein said she had created labs for first graders on topics ranging from dinosaurs to penguins and, working with her brother, Dr. James Martin, she had created exciting work for fifth-graders;

— Heard from Michael Goyer, supervisor of operations, maintenance and transportation, that recent heavy rains and flooding of the Vly Creek had not affected the elementary school. The cistern project is working well, he said, keeping the once-perennially-wet gym dry;

— Heard an invitation from Gibson to the community to attend the April 7 school-board meeting when the school report card will be presented;

— Scheduled a special meeting or April 21 to elect BOCES board members and to vote on the BOCES administrative budget.

“It has typically been short but it has not always been a rubber stamp,” said Gibson of the meeting; and

— Met in closed session to discuss two topics — “the employment history of a particular individual” and “the preparation, grading, or administration of student examinations.”

Health co-pay doubles, salaries start at $42K
Teachers have contract at last, compromise pleases both sides

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Both the school board and the teachers sound pleased with the teachers’ new three-year contract, which was agreed upon eight months after the old one ran out. A compromise was reached on the major sticking point — health insurance.

“I’m thrilled,” said Kathy Fiero, president of the teachers’ union, on Monday night. “I think it’s very fair for the district, the community, and the staff. We worked for a win-win scenario in health insurance.”

“Everybody’s still talking to each other,” said board Vice President C. James Coffin, a member of the negotiating team, at Monday’s school-board meeting. “It went longer than we hoped but we got things out of the way.”

“Good walls make good neighbors,” commented board President David Gibson.

The board approved the pact unanimously on March 3, and the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association vote the day before was 96 to 7, said Fiero.

The contract runs retroactively from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2010.

The old contract had expired on June 30 and teachers had expressed their frustration with an unsettled contract in January, turning out en masse to a school-board meeting.

Salary had been agreed upon. The contract offers raises, above increment, of 2.33 percent the first year, 2.02 percent the second year, and 2.18 percent the third year.

The contract has a salary schedule with 28 steps along which teachers progress each year. Under the old contract, a teacher with just a bachelor’s degree on the first step earned $38,150 for 185 days a year. On the third year of the new contract, 2009-10, a step-one teacher will earn $42,100.

Also under the old contract, a teacher on the 28th step, with a master’s degree, now required by the state, earned $80,490. On the third year of the new contract, a 28th-step teacher will earn $85,000.

Fiero had told the board in January, “The VTA’s primary goal in these negotiations was to identify areas in our contract where we do not compare favorably to other Capital Region schools and to attempt to remedy those deficiencies. Given our teachers’ — and more importantly our students’ — performance, we believe this goal is reasonable.” She also said that, “to recruit and retain a fine staff of educational professionals,” Voorheesville needs higher benefit and salary levels.

Coffin, in January, responded through The Enterprise, “Quite frankly, we made significant improvements to the bottom and middle of the salary schedule, recognizing that we need to compete and maintain our qualified staff...Everybody agrees on salary.”

He also said, “It’s damn foolishness to expect we’ll give away taxpayer money. When we negotiate a contract, we have to look at how that sets us up for the future.”

Compromise on health insurance

The stumbling block in negotiations had been health insurance.

Under the old contract, the district paid for 90 percent of individual health insurance on several different plans, and the teachers paid for 10 percent. In the first year of the new contract, the division remains the same. In the second and third years, teachers will pay 11 percent and the district will pay 89 percent of health-insurance costs.

The compromise came in the amount teachers will pay for doctors’ visits and procedures. “We agreed to raise our co-pay from $10 to $20,” said Fiero. “Raising the co-pay is a better financial return for the district,” she said. “It was a compromise. That was big.”

Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell told The Enterprise that most Voorheesville employees use Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan (CDPHP). “The premium decreased 1.6 percent with the increase in co-pay,” she said. “Without that, it would have gone up 9.9 percent.”

She concluded, “It’s a big savings for the district.”

Winchell went on, “The teachers did get a catastrophic pool because we doubled the co-pay.”

Winchell explained that this means, if a teacher has more than 10 co-pays a year with an individual insurance plan, or more than 30 on a family plan, the district will make up the difference. 

The dental plan remains the same; the district pays 50 percent.

Also under the new contract, coaches and club advisors will get a 3.5-percent pay raise, one time only over the life of the contract. “It’s a bump-up once and then it stays that way,” said Winchell.

Additionally, the union gave up one of its two sabbatical leaves, but the district is putting aside $25,000 to meet state regulations on professional development, Winchell said.

“The overall board’s view,” President Gibson told The Enterprise this week of the contract, “is it was very reasonable. Teachers were willing to accept larger co-pays. That was very helpful.

“There’s still a substantial contribution by the district, considering the decreases in many parts of society...The compromise saved money for everyone...It was working together rather than beating each other up.”

Gibson said at Monday’s school-board meeting that, as the board’s president, he appreciates everyone being “very professional.” He went on, “There are times people disagree and get upset...but they don’t let it spill over and affect the children.”

Gibson concluded, “First and foremost has to be the welfare of the students...It makes me proud to be part of this team.”

Sabre Technical Services
Makes a sharp move to old  car dealership

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — The empty Saab dealership on New Scotland Road is no longer empty, thanks to local business owners John Mason and Karen Cavanagh.

The New Scotland couple own Sabre Technical Services, which currently operates out of Watervliet, according to their building design consultant Bruce Houghton.

Houghton, also a town resident, represented Sabre at the town planning board here last week. The planning board approved a site plan application to change the use of the property from car sales and service to office use.

A temporary Sabre Technical Services sign already hangs in the former Saab dealership window between two distinctive blue columns. The Carl family ran the automobile sales business in New Scotland for 44 years, and moved the business to Slingerlands in 1982. The Carls closed the doors on the Saab dealership in 2005.

“The building is perfectly suited for their operation,” Houghton told The Enterprise. The front of the building will be used for office space, and the former automobile service bay will store materials used by Sabre.

“They’re a global corporation. They do air monitoring…a wide range of services, disinfectants for water treatment — chemical parts of what people would use to treat their water,” Houghton said. “They work in the oil fields in Texas doing water reclamation.” Sabre treats vegetables from the fields with materials that are better than the chlorine in Chlorox that other people use, he said.

The company also enshrouds buildings to treat them for mold and mildew, he said.

Houghton said that the wastewater leaving the former Saab building will be less than the amount formerly released by the car dealership. Sabre hopes to connect to the town sewer on New Scotland Road to eliminate the hybrid sand-filter system that now takes storm water and sewage to a stream down the road, he said.

Robert Stapf, the planning board chairman, told The Enterprise that traffic would be less with Sabre than with the former dealership.

“It’s a decent use for the property,” Stapf said.

The converted building will be Sabre’s major administrative headquarters, Houghton said. The site will house primarily office space; only a minimum of testing will occur there, he said. Equipment used to treat areas in the Northeast or along the east coast will be stored there, he said.

Sabre is waiting for financing to reconstruct the building. Houghton said that he expects the building permit to be granted within two weeks, so that work on the interior can begin. On the exterior, the two blue columns and the sign will come down, returning the building to its original form, Houghton said.

Sabre has “an excellent reputation” with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies, Houghton said.

“I’ve checked them out online and with other professionals,” Stapf said. He said that the federal government had sent Sabre to New Orleans to help with issues caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The company currently has 10 to 12 employees, Houghton said. Some will soon relocate here from Texas. Once Sabre expands, there could also be jobs for local residents, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for the town,” Houghton said. “It gets the building back in operation, and back on the tax rolls. It’s good for the community.”

In other business, the planning board last week:

— Set a public hearing for Amedore Homes’ subdivision application for property near the Colonie Golf and Country Club on Route 85A. Neighbors suggested that wood turtles on the property would be disturbed if construction were allowed there.

“The wood turtle is not an endangered species,” Stapf told The Enterprise. “It’s an animal of interest.”

He said that the turtles do exist on the property, but that they probably live in a pit area, which would be preserved as open space under the 35-unit cluster plan.

“If anything, we would be preserving the habitat for that species,” Stapf said;

— Agreed to allow Blackbirds Prime Properties to subdivide its property on New Scotland Road that houses both an auto garage and manufactured homes into two parcels for tax and insurance purposes, Stapf said;

— Tabled a request by Greg Ferentino and Walter Vivenzio for a special-use permit to create a private driveway across four parcels at Salem Court and nearby Fielding Way.

The applicants had told the board that they want a way to get from their interior lots, of which both own two, to Krumkill Road without dealing with their neighbor in the front of the lots.

Stapf had said earlier that a road could not be put in near Salem Court because of a blind curve where there is no sight-distance;

 The board also tabled a request by Mary A. Ferentino to amend her special-use permit for a kennel operation at her Fielding Way property. Stapf said that the two projects are related; a decision on one cannot be made until more information is available on the other, he said; and

—     Continued a hearing for an application by Matthew Fiske to subdivide his 18.82-acre property into five lots. Stapf said that a full storm-water prevention plan would need to be submitted because more than five acres will be disturbed. Wetland delineation also needs to be done, he said, and must be delayed until better weather and an appointment with the Army Corps of Engineers can be made.

Tax levy up 3.92 percent
VCSD proposes $21.7M budget for next year

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — At the behest of the school board, administrators here pared down their budget proposal for next year to $21,662,438, a 2.8-percent increase over this year’s budget.

“You told us you’d prefer for us to sharpen our pencils,” said Superintendent Linda Langevin to the school board Monday night as she presented the revised spending plan.

The budget proposed earlier this month totaled $21.8 million and would have brought a tax-levy increase of 6.2 percent. The new plan calls for a tax-levy increase of 3.92 percent, up $554,043 from this year.

Opening-day enrollment this school year was 1,232 — “just two kids off from 20 years ago,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell told The Enterprise this week. The peak year was 1996-97, when enrollment was 1,369 for the elementary and secondary schools combined, she said.

“The last of the big classes — a class of 119 — graduates this year,” Winchell said. The junior class has 103 students, the sophomore class has  90, and the freshman class has 99. Voorheesville is expecting 90 kindergartners next year, Winchell said, to bring enrollment to 533 for the six elementary grades.

The enrollment decline doesn’t impact the budget, Winchell said. “If you lose 10 to 15 kids, it’s across the board,” she said, and not enough in one place to cut staff positions.

Towards the end of Monday’s meeting, Langevin told the board that, according to the fiscal-accountability report, the average annual cost at Voorheesville for educating a special-needs student is $16,473 compared to $25,026 at similar school districts. Langevin said the reduced cost “has a lot to do with inclusivity.”

For regular education, the cost per pupil at Voorheesville is $8,488 compared to $9,936 at similar schools.

The school board had asked for a shift of about $300,000, combining reductions and additional revenues.

Additional revenues were found, totaling $146,250, which includes $50,000 from transfer of debt and $60,000 from the appropriated fund balance as well as $10,000 more in state aid and $26,250 for renting a second classroom to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Additionally, about $176,000 in expenses were cut in 16 different areas, ranging from supplies to staffing changes. This includes an $18,000 reduction, which was meant for tuition for a Voorheesville student to attend the regional Tech Valley High School, which Langevin said the board would discuss further.

Combined staffing changes will save about $31,000, which the board discusses in closed session. Winchell said the board will make a decision on those changes at its March 24 meeting.

Winchell said that, without the bond issue, which is paying for facility improvements, largely at the elementary school, the budget would have increased $352,280 or 1.67 percent from this year.

She also said of the projected 3.92-percent tax-levy increase, “We don’t have figures yet on assessments. That 3.9 will get lower.” And, if the state budget restores BOCES aid that the governor’s proposal cut, “We’ll be in the low 2s,” Winchell said of the tax-levy percentage increase. 

Board member Kevin Kroenke was wary about the projected $10,000 more in state aid.

“I wouldn’t count on a dime more,” he said.

Vice President C. James Coffin pointed out the $10,000 was for transportation aid, based on increased fuel consumption, which hasn’t been targeted as a category to be cut by the state.

“The worst thing that happens is your appropriated fund balance is $10,000 less,” said Winchell.

“Sarita follows it very carefully,” said board President David Gibson. “We trust her judgment.”

The school board is slated to adopt a budget proposal on April 7.

In addition to the budget vote on May 20, district residents will vote on three new buses and possibly on two other propositions — to make up losses in the lunch program, and to reduce the school-board term from five to four years.

New buses

The board approved a proposition on Monday, which must be passed by the public, to buy three new buses at a total maximum estimated cost of $189,000. This would pay for one 60-passenger bus and two 28-passenger buses.

The request was scaled back $37,000 from an initial proposal that included three 20-passenger buses instead of the two for 28 passengers. The slightly larger buses have a wider chassis and an extra row of seats, according to Transportation Supervisor Michael Goyer.

The 28-passenger buses will hold members of some of the district’s small teams, Goyer said, such as for cheerleading, golf, and bowling. Those teams don’t fit on the 20-passenger buses, so 60-passenger buses are used, which are more costly to run.

Lunch losses

The school lunch program is losing money.

“We are not alone,” said Winchell, stating many school districts are in a similar situation.

“Food prices keep going up,” she told The Enterprise. “We really emphasize serving a healthy menu and fresh is more expensive.”

“We need to face the music,” Winchell told the school board on Monday, stating the board can either “wipe the slate clean with a proposition for the voters” or “gradually eat away” at the deficit through inter-fund transfers.

If voters passed a proposition, said Winchell, it would not impact taxes because the money would come from the unappropriated fund balance.

She declined to tell The Enterprise how much money would be needed, explaining she didn’t “want to get ahead of the board.”

“Is there any chance we’ll be able to stop the bleeding ever?” Coffin asked at Monday’s meeting.

“Yes, charge three dollars for lunch,” responded Winchell.

Current lunch prices are $2 at the elementary school and $2.25 at the secondary school.

“Some of the school districts just bury the costs elsewhere,” said Gibson. “What we charge for students’ lunch more than pays for what the students eat,” he said.

The biggest additional costs are for health insurance and payments to the retirement system, Winchell told The Enterprise. “Health insurance is 50 percent the cost of the payroll,” she said, explaining part-time workers, who work four hours or more, qualify for health insurance. “Family health insurance is 12, 13, 14 thousand dollars,” said Winchell.

She also said that, “because of the profile of our population, we get very little from the state and federal governments for free and reduced-price lunches.” Voorheesville gets about $40,000 annually, she said, since just 6 percent of its students have family incomes low enough to qualify for the program. 

“It’s not like we’re giving them food,” Gibson told the board, adding the audit committee had recommended, “We don’t try to hide it.”

Using round numbers, Gibson said the lunch program lost $24,000 in 2004-05; $39,000 in 2005-06; $45,000 in 2006-07; and through January in this school year, $14,000.

“We’re doing considerably better this year,” Gibson said. “The more students that buy the food, the less our loss...Healthy food that is attractive to students is selling more meals.”

High school Principal Mark Diefendorf said that snack sales are down probably because healthy snacks are being served rather than, say, potato chips.

“We’re either going to have to support it or shut it down,” said Coffin, indicating he wants to keep the school-lunch program.

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