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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 8, 2008
Gun gag resurfaces
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND A directive to the police department from 1992 has resurfaced as fodder in the competition for police chief here.
Three finalists are left, vying to replace long-time chief, James Murley, who resigned last year in the midst of controversy.
During her second-round interview for the chief’s post on Tuesday night, acting chief Carol Lawlor was asked why information regarding the beleaguered chief hadn’t come to the surface sooner. She furnished the town board with an order adopted during Murley’s tenure.
“She presented it as evidence of this gag order, making it difficult to come forward,” said Mark Grimm, a freshman Republican on a formerly all-Democratic board; he asked the prompting question of Lawlor. This order reflects the secrecy that is inherent in the police department, he said, a department for which Lawlor has worked for 30 years.
“The question is,” he said, “what role did she play?”
Within a month of Murley’s departure, Lawlor approached Supervisor Kenneth Runion with the order and decided to rescind it, Runion said yesterday. Lawlor declined to comment directly on the order.
“It was not to quiet officers about any wrongdoing on anybody’s part or anything else, for Christ’s sake,” Murley said yesterday. He wrote the order in 1992 and the town board at the time passed it when the department was in discussions about switching its weapons from service revolvers to semi-automatic weapons. A councilman at the time had asked an officer about the debate, Murley said, and “it was probably an innocent thing… but we don’t have everybody and their brother talking about policy.”
The first segment of the directive says, “If a member of the Guilderland Town Board should question a member of this department regarding policy or department business, you are to answer the question to the best of your ability, responding with only facts, not assumptions. If you are unable to respond to the question of the Town Board member, contact your immediate supervisor and he or she will handle the situation.”
“I don’t think that ever should have been issued,” Runion said yesterday. “It didn’t give an officer the opportunity to go outside of the police agency.”
In its second part, the order, dated July 15, 1992, states: “Whenever any personnel of this department come in contact with a member of the Guilderland Town Board, they are not to question or discuss any department policies or any department business. If a member of this department has a question or concern about anything going on within the department, they are to bring it to the attention of their immediate supervisor.”
Councilman Warren Redlich, the other freshman Republican on the largely Democratic board, was concerned about the restrictions on officers who might see a problem with their supervisor but have no recourse to action since they are barred from bringing their concerns to the board. “That’s an illegal order,” he said.
Redlich, a lawyer who has been critical of the Democrats on the board for what he calls promoting “insiders,” said, “This is a document that says there is a culture of secrecy in the department.” He and Grimm pushed for a process that would include a range of candidates.
“It’s my view that we need somebody from outside to come in and clean up the mess,” he said. The board also conducted second-round interviews with two candidates for the job who come from outside of the Guilderland department.
“That’s a lie and it insults the integrity of the men and women who serve,” Lawlor responded last night. The department is professional, she said.
“It’s not secretive,” Lawlor said. “I rescinded that order.”
“Certainly it was a very open department… but it’s not a nursery school,” Murley said of his time as chief and the need to maintain department privacy. “I don’t know what they’re doing or why it was rescinded… it’s not any of my business now.”
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Neighbors came en masse to hear developers explain their plan for a cluster of houses they hope to build near the Black Creek flood plain.
Greg and Chris Meyer were before the town board with their plans for Dutchman Acres, a residential development on a 40-acre plot near the high school in Guilderland Center. The pair were seeking a change in the zoning designation of the parcel, from its current RA-3, which specifies one house per three acres, to Country Hamlet, which allows for clustered development in one area surrounded by green space.
Town Supervisor Kenneth Runion began the public hearing by reading recommendations from the Albany County Planning Board, which included further analysis of potential traffic flow issues and a storm-water management plan, “given the high water table and history of drainage problems in the area.”
Most of the half dozen residents who spoke had questions about the walking trails planned for the green space on the property and concerns about the flooding in the area and the impact that a development might have on an already tenuous water table.
“Every one of us has an issue of flooding,” said Craig Laviolette of his neighborhood. “It’s an annual occurrence down there.”
Neighbors aren’t necessarily opposed to the development, Kelly Gardner said, just cautious about what the impacts might be.
Rather than granting the conditional re-zone that the Meyers were hoping for, the board voted unanimously to appoint Delaware Engineering as the town designated engineer to work on the studies suggested by the county’s planning board.
In other business, the town board:
Heard from Joseph Bryant that he has concerns about the potential for increased traffic resulting from the proposed Glass Works development on Route 20;
Voted unanimously to appoint Andre M. Delvaux as a paramedic from the Albany County Civil Service list;
Voted unanimously to set a public hearing for Susan Thomas’s request for a re-zone of property at 4770 Western Ave. from Industrial to RA-3;
Voted unanimously to authorize the supervisor to sign a collector’s warrant for the Guilderland water district;
Voted unanimously to appoint Peter Letko as Water Treatment Plant Operator III;
Voted unanimously to authorize the installation of a stop sign on Valley Lane at the intersection of Country Road;
Conducted interviews for the open police chief post in executive session;
Discussed CSEA contract negotiations in executive session; and
Approved a Police Benevolent Association memorandum agreement in executive session.
Burglary at Serafini Village
GUILDERLAND James B. Smalls was arrested after, police say, he tried to break into several apartments in Serafini Village last Saturday afternoon.
A neighbor called Guilderland Police when he saw Smalls, 48, of 404 Brandywine Ave., Schenectady, trying to get into nearby apartments, according to police.
“The witness advised that the subject did gain entry to at least one apartment,” says a release from the department. Smalls was arrested in the Hewitt’s parking lot off Route 20 and charged with second-degree burglary and fourth-degree grand larceny, a charge that stemmed from a stolen credit card, said Sergeant Eric Batchelder.
Smalls was remanded to Albany County’s jail without bail and police are continuing to investigate, the release says, and further charges may be filed.
Saranac Hale Spencer
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND School-board candidates can hand out election flyers on school grounds here up until the May 20 election.
“We have voted to accept the messiness of the democratic process,” said board President Richard Weisz, a lawyer, after the board made the decision in a split vote, 6 to 2, at its meeting last Tuesday night.
The long-standing practice was halted last year by the superintendent at the time, who said, “We have to maintain the appearance of not permitting partisan activities on school grounds.”
The board’s policy committee then studied the matter and drafted a proposal that would have forbidden the practice since it would, according to state law, open the school grounds to campaigning on any issue.
“School property is not a public forum for the purposes of expression,” said Catherine Barber, a lawyer who chairs the policy committee; she is an incumbent, running for re-election. If the school board designates school property as a public forum, she said, “We lose the right to control what happens in that forum.” She added, “The primary purpose of school property is to educate children.”
The district’s current superintendent, John McGuire, warned the board members that, once they create a public forum, “If someone challenges it, it’s a roll of the dice.” He also said if a picketer were asked to leave, he would anticipate litigation and that it “wouldn’t go well.”
Board member Barbara Fraterrigo, who was stopped last year from distributing flyers, has been a strong proponent of allowing leafleting. So have board members Hy Dubowsky and Peter Golden, another incumbent up for re-election.
Board member Colleen O’Connell, who had earlier sounded critical of Golden and Fraterrigo’s stance, spoke strongly in favor of allowing leafleting and was joined by Gloria Towle-Hilt, who had said earlier that she was pulled in different directions.
“I have to side on the side of openness and not restrictiveness,” said Towle-Hilt last Tuesday. She also said that candidates hadn’t been disruptive in the past and that, if they were obnoxious, they’d lose votes.
O’Connell said she frequently goes to school concerts and athletic events and will answer questions about candidates and school issues. “Is that campaigning?” she asked. If she were to write something about a candidate on a scrap of paper, she asked, “Is that leafleting?”
She also said that it was only fair to people who are not incumbents to allow leafleting.
O’Connell, who is also a lawyer, proposed allowing it for this campaign and then re-examining the issue. The board ultimately amended the policy to do that. Candidates there are five running for two seats are allowed to hand out leaflets at the district’s seven schools between the hours of 3:30 and 11 p.m.
”I’m so relieved,” said Fraterrigo after Towle-Hilt and O’Connell spoke. “Our last discussion really left me disheartened.” She cited the Enterprise’s April 17 editorial, “Open schools foster democracy,” and said, “It’s a way to fight apathy.”
“It’s a slippery slope...You may find things happening on your school ground you really don’t want,” cautioned John Dornbush, who, along with Barber, voted against amending the policy proposal. Dornbush, too, serves on the policy committee and is running for re-election.
”I think we’re all for democracy...but school property is special,” said Dornbush. “It’s for our kids.”
Barber calmly reasserted her view. “Policy should not be written for short-term expediency...The constitution will sharply limit our ability to say no,” said Barber. “We will be the ones held accountable.”
“I’d take that risk for the sake of democracy,” said Dubowsky.
In other business at recent meetings, the board:
Voted, 6 to 0, at an April 21 meeting, against approving the $6.8 million administrative budget for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services of Albany-Schoharie-Schenectady-Saratoga Counties for next year. The other 23 component school districts voted in favor of the BOCES budget.
O’Connell said Guilderland’s protest vote was “a symbol” because the 10-percent increase indicated that BOCES wasn’t limiting costs “like we are.”
At that same April 21 meeting, the board met for half an hour in closed session to discuss a consultant contract;
Heard from Weisz at the April 29 meeting about a consultant contract. He said that a request for proposals was going out for legal services “to see what’s available.”
The district has a three-year contract with the Albany firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo that expires June 30.
The firm has been implicated in a probe started by the Attorney General’s Office into what Andrew Cuomo has called “a payroll padding scheme.” Four of the firm’s attorneys, including Jeffrey Honeywell who works with Guilderland, had their membership in the state retirement system revoked by the state comptroller because, Thomas DiNapoli said, they were incorrectly reported as employees by the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES. Employees can collect pensions, while independent contractors do not receive that benefit. (For more information, go to archives for April 24, 2008 at www.AltamontEnterprise.com.)
A copy Guilderland’s contract with Girvin & Ferlazzo, obtained from the district through a Freedom of Information Law request, says there is an annual retainer of $35,000 and services not covered under the retainer are billed at $140 per hour for general matters and $160 for litigation services.
“The district is satisfied with the work they are doing,” said Weisz;
Appointed two new elementary school principals. Each will earn $95,000 and serve a three-year probationary period, from July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2011.
Allan Lockwood, will replace Dianne Walshhampton as principal at Guilderland Elementary.
Christopher Sanita will replace Martha Beck as principal at Pine Bush Elementary School.
Beck and Walshhampton are retiring;
Honored 29 teachers, administrators, and teaching assistants receiving tenure;
Discussed the exit poll that will be conducted May 20; this is the third year of the poll;
Learned that May 23 will be a school holiday since only one snow day was used this year;
Heard from McGuire that a search to replace Nancy Andress, who is retiring, as assistant superintendent for instruction is underway. A committee has narrowed a field of 25 candidates to five. First-round interviews will be conducted May 7 and a final round will be conducted May 12, he said;
Reviewed a policy on backpack mail, first adopted in 2004;
Agreed to hire Bell’s Auto Driving School for behind-the-wheel driver education this summer at a cost of $290 per student and appointed Roderick MacDonald as the in-class instructor;
Approved an emergency preparedness sheltering agreement with the Mohonasen and Voorheesville school districts;
Adopted policies on access to school district records and student records. The policies were revamped to be clear and consistent after the board agreed that lists of students’ home addresses should not be released by the district.
The issue arose because the teachers’ union had used such lists, obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests, the last two years to mail cards in support of the budget and selected school board candidates; and
Met in executive session to discuss contract negations and ratifying a contract with the principals.
Five candidates run for three Guilderland seats
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Five candidates are vying for three Guilderland School Board seats in the May 20 election.
Two of the incumbents Catherine Barber and John Dornbush and a retiring teaching assistant making her first run Judy Slack are running as a slate, supported by the teachers’ union with 750 members.
Newcomer Christine Kenefick, a lawyer and a mother, is running as an independent.
And incumbent Peter Golden is endorsed by Guilderland Parents Advocate, which its founder describes as a watchdog group with a few hundred members.
All five candidates support the $84 million budget on which voters will decide at the same time.
The three-year posts are unpaid and the three highest vote-getters will serve on the nine-member board.
The Enterprise asked the candidates to comment on six topics:
What is the role of a school board member? Candidates were asked whom they would serve. Particularly if there is a crunch for example, because of economic tough times or because of a controversy over personnel issues would their primary allegiance be to the students, the taxpayers, the parents, the teachers, or the administrators?
Supervisors: This school year, the posts for English and social-studies supervisors at the high school were combined into one with the former English supervisor now overseeing 44 faculty members. While the teachers’ union president has said he sees the combining of supervisory posts as part of an ongoing trend, some members of the social studies department have objected. Also, during the budget process this year, the superintendent recommended a supervisor for 11 guidance counselors, which the board cut to a half-time post.
Should the supervisory system be revamped and how so? Is combining posts a good idea? Or is more supervision needed?
Block scheduling: Long periods at the high school allow for in-depth lessons and hands-on learning but the block schedule also limits course choices. The issue came to light this year as the board approved budgeting for Project Lead the Way, which will eventually add a four-year sequence of elective engineering courses at the high school. Board members expressed concerns that the block schedule will prevent many students from taking the engineering courses as they already have to choose between such electives as art and music.
Should the high school schedule be changed and how?
Foreign language study: Everyone on the board seems to agree that the introduction of Spanish in elementary schools teaching kindergartners, first- and second-graders this year was a good idea, and the plan is to continue with third grade next year and fourth the year after. Should other languages be introduced as well? Which ones and why or why not?
Accountability: As the state wrestles with whether tenure should be based in part on student test scores, at least one member of the school board is pushing Guilderland to publicize more prominently the way its test scores stack up with similar schools. How should scores from required tests be used?
Public forum: School-board members were divided on whether to allow candidates to leaflet this year. The long-standing practice was halted last year to avoid the appearance of permitting partisan activities on school grounds. The board’s policy committee studied the matter and came up with a proposal that would have forbidden the practice since it would, according to law, open school grounds to campaigning on other issues. Ultimately the board decided on a trial period to be re-evaluated after the election. Are you leafleting and do you think it should be allowed?
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Catherine Barber, a lawyer and musician, is running on her record for a second term.
“In the last three years, I really tried to consider the issues and come up with a reasonable decision about what’s best for the school and fiscally responsible for the community,” she said. “I’ve done that and will continue to do that.”
She went on, “Board members need common sense to look at these issues. I don’t think we need a premise of suspicion and conflict.”
Barber said a positive attitude is needed “to come to good decisions in the best interest of the school and community.”
As the mother of two children, who are now high school students, Barber said she has had “a long involvement with the school,” going back to when her children were preschoolers and she represented the Guilderland Baby-sitting Cooperative on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee.
She volunteered frequently in her children’s classrooms at Lynnwood Elementary and served on the building cabinet at Farnsworth Middle School.
“I’m just interested in the schools and education,” concluded Barber. She said she wants to continue the “tradition of excellence in Guilderland.”
Barber is endorsed by the teachers’ union. She said she found the statement by Melissa Mirabile, founder of Guilderland Parents Advocate, “shocking.”
In an April 24 story, “GTA and GPA square off: Five run for three seats on GCSD board,” The Enterprise quoted Mirabile as saying, “When the teachers’ union began to use the data base to influence voters and pay candidates to run, the need stepped up for independent candidates.” Last year, the GTA offered each of the two candidates it supported $500; one accepted the money and the other did not.
“There’s no money coming to candidates nor would I accept any,” said Barber. Chris Claus, the union’s president, told her she was chosen because, she said, “I was seen as a reasonable person.”
She stressed, “There are no campaign promises, no offers of money.”
When Barber ran three years ago, in a six-way race for three seats, she said, “I didn’t have union backing and I think I was the top vote-getter.” She was, with 22 percent of the vote; incumbent John Dornbush came in second with 19 percent, and Peter Golden was third with 18 percent.
Barber said she sees her role as a school board member the same way she did three years ago. “My goal has been and continues to be to provide excellent education in a fiscally responsible manner,” she said. “The interests of children and the community are linked. The community does support excellence in education.”
On combining supervisory posts, Barber said, with the English and social-studies departments, “The idea was to wait a full year to see how that was working. I don’t think we have enough information to determine if that was a good idea or not.”
On the guidance supervisor, Barber was the board member who first proposed cutting the post to half-time, with the other half for counseling.
“Having a senior,” she said of her daughter, “I’m aware of the importance of guidance counseling, looking at post-secondary education plans or work-force plans. The guidance counselors play a very big role.”
Barber also said it is difficult to make decisions “piecemeal” and that Superintendent John McGuire will be conducting a review of supervisors’ posts that will better inform the board.
The block schedule, said Barber, is “a question that has come up so often...first in the context of art and music.”
She went on, “It’s more of a building question. The high school has to look at their own internal scheduling issues...It gets complicated.“
The old system, with shorter classes, she said, wasted too much time with students changing classes.
“Other school districts with different variations may be something to look at,” she said.
On foreign language study, Barber said of introducing more languages, “I asked that very question of Mr. Martino,” the head of foreign languages. “He said the plan was to introduce French and German in fifth grade to have familiarity before middle school. I asked about starting earlier, in the fourth grade...
“We do offer a sequence in German and French through middle school and high school,” with which, she said, students should be familiar.
Barber pointed out that the Foreign Language Early Start program was supported by the school board for “a long time” and that, this spring, the board insisted teaching time be added back into the budget for FLES.
On testing, Barber said she has mixed feelings. ”I realize testing is important as a measure of assessing student progress,” she said.
“As far as elevating test scores to make comparisons to other schools in a similar school pool, they may be different than Guilderland. I’m not sure of the usefulness of that.”
Barber went on, “Partly because I’m in a creative field...I realize there are some things tests don’t measure well creativity, innovation.
“I hesitate to assign paramount importance to test scores. I worry that would make tests a primary focus. It might end up taking over the curriculum in a way that would discourage other types of learning.”
She concluded, “Testing has its proper place but it’s not the whole story.”
Barber said she will not be leafleting on school grounds in this campaign and didn’t leaflet before.
She went on, “As always, if people see me at school and want to talk to me about the campaign, I’m happy to speak with them.”
On the policy, she said, “I have some issues on making school grounds a forum for political expression...Restricted free speech is an oxymoron.”
Barber said it makes no sense to “open it up and then shut the door on May 21.” She went on, “I don’t see how that is in furtherance of democracy.”
She concluded of the policy, “That’s in essence a re-write of the Constitution. I don’t think that’s appropriate. As chairperson of the policy committee, I supported not making the school grounds a public forum.”
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND John Dornbush says he is running for a fourth term on the Guilderland School Board because of his commitment to education.
Dornbush, 58, has been on the board since 1999 and currently serves as vice president.
He said about serving on the board, “We’re all in this together and we’ve been successful in the past and will be more successful in the future if we all treat each other with respect, truly listening to each other, and coming to sound decisions.”
He went on, “I don’t believe conflict is necessary in order for change to take place.”
Dornbush, who works as the assistant director of financial aid at the University at Albany, said he is proud to have the teachers’ union endorsement.
He said of himself and his running mates, “We’re not accepting cash, printing, advertising.” And he noted the union is not using the controversial mailing list of students’ home addresses it had used in the previous two elections.
“I’ve had their endorsement before,” he said of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association. “I think the union is not as some have portrayed it a self-serving traditional kind of union….It’s not just about me and the teachers. It’s about the students and the schools…The district and the union have had a positive relationship.”
The school board is currently in contract negotiations with the teachers. “I firmly believe our teachers are not overpaid,” said Dornbush. “If anything, they’re underpaid. I’d like to pay them more. But we can’t. We have to keep taxpayers in mind,” he said, noting Guilderland teachers’ salaries are in the middle of the Suburban Council schools.
About the role of school board members, Dornbush said, “Board members can’t come in with a single point of view and fully serve all of the stakeholders.”
He went on, “The primary focus is the student. That’s what we’re all about. I’m a big believer in free public education…It’s also about what the taxpayer can reasonably afford….Hopefully, the community can unite around the goal of providing each student with an appropriate education for the 21st Century.”
He concluded, “The overriding emphasis is what is good for students….We have a responsibility to a teacher, even if they are under suspicion for something, to treat the person fairly, getting as many facts as we can.”
On supervisory posts, Dornbush said, “The administration has committed to an overall review of supervisory positions in the coming year, something the board insisted on.
“A year ago, when the board agreed to the administration’s proposal to combine the positions, it seemed to make sense. The number of teachers was not out of line with science and math at the high school and other combined [posts] at the middle school.
“The year is not yet out. The wisdom of that decision remains to be seen and will be part of the administration’s evaluation.”
Dornbush had favored the full-time guidance supervisor, recommended by the superintendent. “I suggested a better description might be director of guidance…It was someone to carry out a newer, more comprehensive vision of guidance to better serve our students.”
On the block schedule, Dornbush said, “I’m certainly an advocate of changing our current design…I’ve long been concerned about limitations placed on some students. As explained by the high-school principal, there are lots of ways to do that without taking apart the entire block schedule.”
He went on, “The block schedule has, for the most part, been successful. It’s better for students and teachers…but it can be tweaked.”
Dornbush concluded, “How to do that is not up to me. That’s why we hire…experts to make these kinds of decisions. The board can weigh in and will ultimately approve or not…but I’m convinced our current administration has the wherewithal and the creativity to make it work.”
On foreign language study, Dornbush said, “If it weren’t for the constraints of money, if we’re talking pie in the sky, I’d like to see lots introduced at the elementary level.”
The two most important languages to introduce, he said, are Chinese and Arabic.
Referring to the head of foreign language studies at Guilderland, Dornbush said, “According to Al Martino, Chinese is such a complex language, you would want to introduce it early and study it all the way through….
“China and the Middle East are two challenging areas of the world our students will have to come to terms with and interact with,” said Dornbush. “These would be the languages I’d support. How and when to do that is an entirely different matter.”
On testing, Dornbush said, “I believe test scores should be used for two things to help students both individually and collectively, and the other one follows: to assess our curriculum to see if it’s doing what we want it to do.”
Dornbush said tests can help the district see “where we are doing well, where we could do better…in how our students are learning.”
He went on, “I don’t think it’s any big secret about where we stack up. I think it’s sad people would simply look at test scores to rate schools. Schools do so much more. There are many other dimensions to a child’s learning….It’s unfortunate there is this over-emphasis on testing.”
Dornbush continued, “Testing can be useful to assess students and program. But it’s only a part. I can see some time spent on test preparation. But it’s taking away too much time from learning, and too much time for our teachers to administer and score these tests.
“I’d like to see testing de-emphasized and more time spent on learning that will best serve our students when they leave Guilderland.”
He concluded, “Our students are highly prized.”
On allowing leafleting on school grounds, Dornbush said, “My personal feeling was and is that school grounds and school property are a special place. It’s about the direct education of students…and, although leafleting on school grounds by candidates seems OK or harmless, once you allow that, you have declared the school grounds a public forum where everyone and anyone can espouse any views they want, even views that some of us find objectionable….You cannot control the content of speech.”
Dornbush said at last week’s meeting, when the policy was discussed, that he would abide by whatever the board decided, as has been his pattern throughout his tenure.
“Once the board has made a decision,” he said during his election interview, “that is the decision of the board.” People can look up his different views in past issues of The Enterprise, he said, but he will support the group’s decision.
“The board is not nine individuals,” said Dornbush. “We serve together and support the decisions reached by the group….You don’t have to cheer for something you don’t agree with but you don’t talk it down. That is something I was taught when I first came on the board. It’s an unwritten rule of boardsmanship.”
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Peter Golden, 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.”
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Christine Kenefick, the mother of two elementary-school students, says, “One goal in getting elected is to represent the elementary-school children and parents because that would be lacking if I’m not elected...I think that voice needs to be heard on the board.”
Making her first run for the school board, Kenefick said, “I’m happy to be part of something I think is working very well.” She lists a range of “relevant experience,” from serving on the building cabinet at Westmere Elementary School to serving on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee.
Kenefick, 40, works as a confidential law clerk for Anthony Carpinello, an Appellate Division judge. She likened the nine judges on the court to the nine members of the school board. “Every day,” said Kenefick, “I analyze difficult issues, debate them, and reach consensus in a collaborative way. It never gets personal.”
Kenefick is running as an independent.
She said she was “shocked and frustrated” when she read in the April 24 Enterprise that the teachers’ union had endorsed three candidates without interviewing her. There was no process this year for candidates seeking the union’s endorsement to fill out questionnaires.
“I don’t know how you can make an informed decision when you’re not actually interviewed,” she said. “They’re certainly a valuable organization,” she said of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association.
“It’s tough for me because a lot of teachers support me and I support them,” said Kenefick. “I have nothing but admiration for the teachers I’ve encountered in the district.”
Kenefick is taking her campaign to the people. “My campaign manager is my 10-year-old daughter,” she said.
She will be handing out leaflets at school functions. “This is my only mechanism to reach out to the community,” said Kenefick.
She went on about having the school grounds be a public forum, “It’s important for everybody.”
Kenefick pointed out that the two board members on the policy committee who voted against allowing the leafleting on school grounds Catherine Barber and John Dornbush are both incumbents.
Alluding to a conflict of interest, Kenefick said, “Since they were running this year, it seems others should have” developed the policy proposal.
Asked about the role of a school-board member and which constituency she would primarily serve, Kenefick said it would depend on the issue, adding, “The role of the school board is to set goals for student achievement; students are always a priority for me.”
About combining supervisory posts, Kenefick cited the presentation to the citizens’ budget committee on the guidance counselor supervisor. “It did not convince me the district needed to pay $105,000. However, I’m the first to say I have an open mind. If you educate me, I could change my mind.”
She went on about the budget presentation, “It did convince me an extra guidance counselor is needed. I heard these people have huge loads and the students aren’t getting what they need.”
On combining the supervisory posts for English and social studies, she said, “Off the top of my head, it doesn’t sound like a good idea supervising 44 people...That sounds like a lot for one supervisor.” She re-iterated how eager and qualified she is to educate herself on issues to reach reasonable decisions.
On the block schedule, Kenefick said, “The high-school schedule could probably benefit from being tweaked. I’m not sure a wholesale revamping of the block schedule is required. If we look around for other high schools, perhaps we can learn things from them....You do want students to be able to take electives.”
On foreign language study, Kenefick said she was “thrilled” her kindergartner was part of the Foreign Language Early Start program and disappointed her fourth-grader would miss out.
She described the program as “fantastic,” but said, “It needs to be stronger. Nicholas only had 20 minutes a week, which is not enough.”
Other languages besides Spanish should “absolutely” be introduced, said Kenefick.
“My understanding is Chinese is one of the most prevalent languages,” she said. “Students should have an opportunity to learn as many foreign languages as possible.”
On testing, Kenefick said, “There needs to be a huge distinction between student measures and student outcomes.”
She went on, “Testing is just one small aspect of a student. I have no problems currently with how Guilderland handles testing and the publication or use of scores.
“They are complying with mandates and do a real nice job with preparing students...They let them know this is one aspect; they shouldn’t be defining themselves by a test score.”
On tenure being based in part on students’ test scores, Kenefick said, It’s the same with a teacher...It’s just one aspect.
Kenefick concluded, “I don’t think your score on a test equates with what type of student you are and how you’ll be as a citizen in the community.”
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Judy Slack says she’s making her first run for school board because she cares about kids.
She has three grown children of her own, who all went through the Guilderland school system, and, at 64, she is retiring in June after 24 years as a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School.
“I really would like to continue to be involved in education,” she said.
Slack began her career as a high-school English teacher, first at Troy High, then at Berne-Knox-Westerlo. She became a teaching assistant, she said, because she wanted to spend time with her family.
“As long as you don’t need the money, it’s the perfect job,” said Slack. “You’re with kids who really need you and you get to be with them all day.”
She reiterated her reason for running: “It’s the kids. I want things to be OK for our kids. I’m not sure they’re at the top of everybody’s list.”
She also has been distressed with divisiveness on the board. “A board needs to work together,” said Slack, and to work well with teachers and administrators. “We need to work as a group,” she said.
Slack said she’s pleased to have the endorsement of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association. In addition to meeting the needs of the teachers, she said, “The union’s job is also to meet the needs of the students so I gladly, proudly accept their endorsement.”
Slack said she’s taking no financial support from the GTA.
She said further that she was bothered by a statement made by Melissa Mirabile, the founder of Guilderland Parents Advocate, in the April 24 Enterprise: “When the teachers’ union began to use the data base to influence voters and pay candidates to run,” said Mirabile, “the need stepped up for independent candidates.” (Last year, the GTA had offered each of the two candidates it backed a $500 campaign contribution. Both candidates accepted the endorsement; one accepted the campaign money, the other did not.)
“It bothered me that she said the union pays them to run for the school board,” said Slack. “They don’t pay them to run. They support the candidacy. It’s so far off base, it’s bizarre.”
If elected, Slack said her primary allegiance would be to the students, “to make sure they have...the care they need.” She went on, “The only way to get that is by working with the board and the administrators. It really has to be a unit, working to meet the needs of the students.”
On combining supervisory posts, Slack said, “In a time of belt-tightening, you do have to find ways that may not be your preferred way.”
Referring to the supervisor of English and social studies at the high school, she went on, “It seems to have worked with Patricia Hansbury-Zuendt. Dale Westcott had to take on more and more,” she said referring to the late supervisor of science, math, and technology at the high school.
Slack said she was pleased the board cut back the suggested guidance supervisor post to half-time. “We have to accept there are things not everyone will be happy about. It’s good Mr. McGuire is suggesting new things,” she said of the superintendent’s recommendation for a guidance supervisor. “You go with what the board thinks. He makes recommendations and the board decides.”
On block scheduling, Slack said, “As a teacher, I can see times you would want block scheduling...There are times it doesn’t work as well.”
She continued “I think Project Lead the Way is great but there has to be room for it.” Slack’s daughter, who graduated from Guilderland in 1992 and is now an engineer overseeing the cleanup of Lake Champlain for the state of Vermont, had few courses in high school that were appropriate for her engineering interests.
“I know parents have serious concerns with choices between art and music,” said Slack, adding that an evaluation is needed.
On foreign-language study, Slack said, “In the world we live in, more than Spanish is needed.”
She referred to Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, and said, “We’re all in this together.”
But she went on, “I don’t know how much more we can squeeze into an elementary day...I know the program is successful. The kids talk. They know colors and words.” She praised the Spanish teachers and said of the sessions, “The kids are all participating and happy.”
But she said, “Time and money is a concern.” She concluded, “We need to not expect the world will talk to us. We have to be able to communicate both ways. We can’t expect everyone to speak our language.”
On accountability through testing, Slack said, “I don’t think tests should be used to decide tenure. Students have such different needs. Sometimes they aren’t going to make it. Does that mean we’re not doing our job well?”
She went on, “I’m not totally in favor of mandated testing. It takes so much time from classroom learning, and it doesn’t always show what kids are learning and the depth or variety of what we have to teach.” Teachers, she said, are sacrificing some of their more innovative approaches because of the testing constraints.
Slack also said, “I don’t think you need to compare [Guilderland scores] to other schools’.”
Slack then spoke forcefully about the effects of testing she has observed on the struggling students with whom she works: “I’m in learning workshop,” she said, “and help out in all the fields.”
In administering tests to students, she said, “They look at you and say, ‘I don’t understand the question.’ These kids already feel ‘dumb.’ Just when they’re starting to think they’re OK, do we have to have them go through this ordeal? We know they can’t do this. I’m sitting at the bottom of the pile. It’s heartbreaking sometimes.”
Of leafleting on school grounds, Slack said, “I don’t think it should be allowed...It doesn’t seem to be a legal practice.” She cited comments made by her running mate Catherine Barber at the last school-board meeting. (See related story.)
“I think it was expedient,” she said of allowing candidates to hand out flyers in the weeks leading up to the election between the hours of 3:30 and 11 p.m., something Slack isn’t planning on doing.
“What if someone comes from an unwelcome group we seriously disagree with or don’t think the children should be exposed to?” she asked. “We have to let them be there. We’ve opened a door we shouldn’t have.”