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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 21, 2009

In BKW: School board eliminates assistant superintendent and elementary librarian

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — At a special meeting on Monday, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education officially eliminated the positions of assistant superintendent and elementary librarian. The budget, up for vote on Tuesday, remains the same. The $19.8-million plan will not raise the tax levy.

A motion to restore Karen Canfield’s position of elementary school librarian in the 2009-10 budget was voted down, and the position of assistant superintendent, currently held by Kim LaBelle, will be eliminated as of Aug. 16, the day after Superintendent Steve Schrade’s retirement takes effect. LaBelle will then assume the role of interim superintendent for the 2009-10 school year.

The board also voted unanimously to begin a search for a new superintendent for the 2010-11 school year.

The meeting, which began with an emotionally charged outcry from district parents for the board to address the growing problem of bullying, saw those same parents pleading with the board to restore the position of elementary school librarian. The general sentiment was that the elementary librarian helps students on the path to being lifelong learners.

Amy Anderson, a parent, asked, “When we look at eliminating a librarian, are we minimizing the importance of reading?”

Schrade assured her that this was not the case.

“I’ll be the bad guy and say that we can carry on the program and cut that position,” Schrade said.

Cutting the librarian’s post saves about $80,000 in salary and benefits, Schrade said earlier.

Maureen Abbott, of BKW’s Parent Teacher Association, asked if the board had considered making the elementary librarian a part-time position. Schrade said that, while this possibility was discussed, a more cost-effective solution would be “putting a teaching assistant in the computer room, and another in the library, instead of having one librarian-media specialist.”

Board member Maureen Sikule supported Schrade’s proposal.

“I think he’s given us a viable solution,” Sikule said. Fellow board member John Harlow concurred.

“It’s a survival issue,” Harlow said. “It’s not a prosper time; it’s a survival time.”

School board President Helen Lounsbury disagreed, emphasizing the importance of the one-on-one interaction between the students and the elementary librarian.

Lounsbury’s motion to restore the position of elementary librarian to the 2009-10 budget was voted down, 3 to 1. Sikule and Harlow were joined by Michelle Fusco in voting down the proposal. School board member Sean O’Connor was absent from the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, school-board candidate Carolyn Anderson read aloud an e-mail she had sent to the board, in which she stated that, while she felt former Assistant Superintendent Kim LaBelle was fully capable of assuming the role of superintendent, a proper search should be done before the board considers appointing her as Schrade’s permanent replacement. Lounsbury later expressed a similar opinion.

“The district is deserving of a search,” Lounsbury said.

Sikule added later, “We have to look at how we have to go through the interim process, which might mean a re-distribution of duties.”

The board then went into executive session. As the duties formerly done by the assistant superintendent will be distributed among the current administrators, the board privately discussed the capabilities of those administrators to carry out the respective duties.

After a brief closed session, board member Fusco made a motion to abolish the position of assistant superintendent; it passed unanimously.

Currently, the assistant superintendent oversees nearly 200 special-education students with a budget of $2.3 million, works on curricular initiatives, and oversees testing and data reporting requirements sent from the State Education Department.

The assistant superintendent post costs the district about $120,000 in salary and benefits.

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