[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 11, 2008

As state cuts loom
GCSD turns to the community for answers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In response to the governor’s promise of massive cuts in school aid next year, the superintendent here said Tuesday that “deeply and dearly held” community values will be tested.

“The government takes a state-level problem and creates crises in each local district,” Superintendent John McGuire told the school board Tuesday night.

Governor David Paterson has said he will release his budget proposal for next year on Dec. 16, a month ahead of what has been traditional.

Guilderland is planning an open forum on Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the high school to inform the community about the aid cuts and to get a sense of priorities as administrators craft a district budget for next year.

New York State aid to schools is below the national average, making taxes higher, McGuire said.

Guilderland gets roughly a quarter of its $84 million budget from state aid. The biggest share comes from property taxes.

In November, the governor proposed mid-year cuts, which for Guilderland would have amounted to $1.9 million, McGuire said, $911,000 less than the district received last year. The State Legislature did not enact the cuts, but Paterson has since sent an open letter to school-board presidents and district superintendents statewide, saying they can expect larger reductions next year.

The Guilderland Central School District has for many years been well managed and has an ample fund balance, said McGuire. “We don’t want to spend down all our reserves,” said McGuire, as that would leave the district “ill-prepared.”

Guilderland has already instituted partial freezes in key areas, he told the board.

Yesterday, McGuire itemized the areas that have been partially frozen: Equipment purchases are being reduced to only the essential; use of substitutes and overtime work is being reduced; and expenses for field trips and conferences are being reduced.

“We’re reducing but not eliminating,” McGuire told The Enterprise. “We’re trying to do this without eviscerating the program”

In a forum that will be led by a facilitator from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Guilderland residents on Jan. 13 will be asked for input on academic programs, extracurricular and athletic programs, facilities, staffing, and finance.

The New York State School Boards Association, which represents nearly 700 boards across the state, conducted a poll this month that showed 60 percent of respondents supported renegotiating existing contracts with employee unions as a way to save money; 27 percent said they would not favor re-opening contracts and 13 percent were undecided.

The association issued a statement from its executive director Timothy Kremer: “We agree with Gov. Paterson’s recent suggestions that school district costs must be reduced…Rather than laying off teachers and cutting programs because of a tax cap or forced consolidation, school leaders would much rather find areas where they can achieve cost savings without hurting the educational process.”

“The ante has been raised,” McGuire told the school board.

School board President Richard Weisz said the Jan. 13 session has a three-fold purpose.

First is to begin to explain the consequences and challenges of the governor’s numbers.

Second is to have the community engage in an open dialogue, in small working groups, to experience, Weisz said, what the board experiences all the time — competing priorities.

Finally, he said, the session will be used as a springboard as groups face priority challenges, bringing the community to a consensus.

Guilderland, Weisz said, will be “trying to maintain programs with a lot less.”

The dialogue will help with drafting the budget, he said. The draft will then be presented as usual to a citizens’ budget review committee before the board finalizes and adopts it. The voters have the final say in May.

“We’re hoping by starting early...and sharing information, we’ll get better results,” said Weisz.

Vice President John Dornbush urged residents to submit topics they would like to discuss at the forum. “Go to the website, call or write,” he said.

Weisz gave some sample questions groups at the forum might consider. One was: “Should we use reserves all in one year or over how many years?”

Another might involve what Weisz termed “a long historical commitment” to small class sizes: “At what point does it run into economic impossibility?”

Weisz concluded, “We may have to look at areas where Guilderland will have to change.”

Other business

In other business the school board:

—  Watched a video made at Lynnwood Elementary School describing the Everyday Math program, which balances teacher-directed instruction with hands-on activities, as concepts build on each other “like climbing a spiral staircase.”

“It’s fun because you always get to learn stuff and that’s why I love math,” said one girl.

“If you don’t know math, you don’t know the score of a game,” said a boy;

— Accepted the resignation of Deborah Drumm, Westmere Elementary School principal. She will be retiring in June after six years with the district.

“Your contributions...have been phenomenal,” said McGuire.

Westmere’s being named a Blue Ribbon school this year, he told Drumm, was “a fitting tribute to your leadership”;

— Restated its 403(b) arrangement, a program that offers incentives for public employees to save, similar to a 401(k) for private employees.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders described it as a “highly regulated retirement investment vehicle,” allowing workers to save without paying state or federal taxes until they withdraw the funds for retirement. The program costs the district nothing, he added;

— Amended exemptions for senior citizens and for property owners with disabilities and limited incomes.

The percentage of assessed property value changes based on a sliding scale linked to income. In both cases, those with annual incomes of $28,000 or less get a 50 percent tax exemption. At the other end of the scale, those who earn between $35,500 and $36,400 get a 5 percent tax exemption;

— Accepted a bid of $21,840 from Leland Paper Co. for 840 cases of paper, the lowest of three bids;

— Accepted a donated stationary bike for Lynnwood Elementary School;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that students at Guilderland High School would present a concert of great masterworks on Dec. 10, including Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, an impassioned plea for divine intervention to save humanity sung entirely in Hebrew; and

— Met in executive session to discuss updates in negotiations and litigation and a tenure recommendation. No action was taken after the hour-long session, McGuire said yesterday.

[Return to Home Page]