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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 12, 2009

School board looks at changing budget review

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As district administrators start shaping next year’s budget, they are to keep in mind priorities set by the school board.

President Richard Weisz, at last Wednesday’s board meeting, listed technology, special education, full use of the elementary-school day, and professional development as “recurring themes” named by board members. (For the full story on board members’ priorities, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com, and look under Guilderland archives for Oct. 29, 2009.)

Board member Colleen O’Connell said she had used the word “evaluation” and others had used the word “reflection” to mean the budget process should include a way of figuring out what is most valuable.

Board member Julie Cuneo said “technology” is too broad and Vice President Catherine Barber asked if it would include distance learning.

Administrators, said superintendent John McGuire, had been discussing how distance learning has evolved into web-based learning.

Barber also said that many board members had wanted to continue foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, and to maintain programs in tough financial times.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo also reiterated her views on the importance of teaching students about financial matters.

“I think you’d be surprised to know how much we have,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton.

Once the budget is drafted, the superintendent will present it to a panel of citizens for review in televised sessions. McGuire said that the board’s communications committee has discussed re-structuring the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee so that it better represents the school community. (In recent years, some have complained that the volunteers are largely parents of elementary-school students.)

The committee identified seven constituencies: students, parents of elementary students, parents of middle-school students, parents of high-school students, senior citizens, residents with no children in school, and representatives of businesses.

The committee discussed having four members of each of those groups on the review committee, on a first-come, first serve basis, said McGuire.

“We would say no?” asked Weisz.

“First come, first serve,” reiterated McGuire.

“Otherwise, it just gets too big,” said board member Judy Slack who serves on the communications committee. She added, “We’ve been getting terrific citizens, but not a broad spectrum.”

“I can’t support that,” said board member Colleen O’Connell, noting other school districts do limit membership. “I think it looks very controlling,” she said, adding, “I can support reaching out.”

Barber pointed out that, before the sessions were televised, the committee was larger. (It had numbered in the 60s in the era when the school budget was voted down.)

Weisz said he liked the idea of identifying constituencies and reaching out to invite people in, but he did not like limiting membership.

“I thought one of the hallmarks was to have citizen soldiers,” he said.

Additionally, Weisz, who serves on the board’s business practices committee, mentioned that a study group would allow community members to “come in on where our budget is going” in light of the governor’s proposal for mid-year cuts in state aid, which, if adopted by the legislature, could amount to $811,000 for Guilderland.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Observed a moment of silence for longtime Westmere Elementary School teacher Daryl Farley who died on Oct. 31 at the age of 49. McGuire called her “beloved and respected” while Weisz noted “how many lives she touched”;

— Authorized spending an estimated $2.4 million from a $27 million project approved by voters to upgrade the five elementary schools, increase technology throughout the district, and move the district offices to the high school.

Because of the economy, bids came in lower than predicted and the project now has money to spare, so projects that were initially foregone can now be added.

At the Oct. 20 school board meeting, board members were enthusiastic about adding close to $2 million in projects — all for the same $27 million voters had approved.

At the board’s suggestion, another $400,00 in projects were added, including roof replacement at Guilderland and Altamont elementary schools; new windows at Westmere and Pine Bush elementary schools, and an asphalt walk at Farnsworth Middle School;

— Learned that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded Guilderland a $334,028 grant to install a photovoltaic system at the high school.

Fred Tresselt, the district’s energy manager who submitted the grant application, estimates it will save about $9,000 a year in electricity costs.

The panels will be on the gym roof, Tresselt said, slanted to the south. “We’ll get credit from National Grid when the sun shines,” he said.

“This is really living what we’re trying to teach our kids,” said Weisz.

Guilderland was one of 87 grant recipients statewide from among schools, municipalities, hospitals, not-for-profit organizations, and public colleges and universities;

—         Learned that, because of local and national headlines on zero-tolerance policies for weapons, the board’s policy committee reviewed Guilderland’s policies on dangerous weapons in school and on penalties.

Only police or peace officers are allowed to carry weapons in school, according to Guilderland’s policy. Penalties for weapons and other violations can range in severity from warnings to suspension.

“We feel very comfortable…our policy addresses the needs of the district,” said Barbara Fraterrigo, who chairs the committee.

“The concept of zero tolerance sounds so good until you look at enforcement,” said Superintendent John McGuire. With a zero-tolerance policy, a Cub Scout who brought a knife-and-spoon set to school would receive the same discipline as someone who brought a gun, he said.

“Believe me,” said McGuire, “when we have serious incidents, we take them seriously”; 

— Accepted a Baldwin piano console, donated by Ann Matt;

— Heard that James Dillon, principal at Lynnwood Elementary School, was to host a Nov. 9 session for parents and their children on metacognition, or thinking about thinking;

— Heard congratulations for Max Collins, a 2009 Guilderland High School graduate, who won the Best Short Fiction Award and $1,000 at the Reel Teens Festival, for his piece, Dan and the Red Sea;

— Learned that the high-school’s student-run newspaper, The Journal, received 12 awards from the Empire State School Press Association, in a contest on 2008-09 work judged by professors from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications.

Gold awards were received for: front-page design, Chris Levy’s layout and typography, and Briana Del Bene’s sports picture and overall photography.

Silver awards went to: Del Bene for overall photography, and Sohee Rho and Becky Glazier for in-depth coverage for their article on sexting. Rho also earned an honorable mention for an on-site writing competition.

Mike Marcantonio won a Bronze Award for a sports story on girls’ lacrosse; Priyanka Tanavde received an honorable mention for a sports feature on the cross-country ski team, and the staff received two honorable mentions for their editorial pages and their special election section; and

—         Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Teaching Assistant Unit of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association.

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