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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 19, 2009

Board sings praises of music program, plans for cuts to school aid

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The music department at Guilderland High School is hitting a high note again this year as 19 students were selected to perform in a statewide festival, and as the school was named a 2009 Grammy Signature School finalist.

The 100 public high schools with the best music programs in the country are recognized each year as Grammy finalists.  Guilderland made it to the top 100 in 2005 and again in 2007 as well as this year.

“I hope we end up in the top five this time; then we get some money out of it,” said Lori Hershenhart, the district’s music supervisor.

The top schools receive grants between $1,000 and $10,000, and the very top finalists have Grammy Award-winning performers come to their schools.

The screening, based in Santa Monica, Calif.,  is done by leading music educators and industry professionals; they announce the winners in January.

“They do a blind listening,” Hershenhart said, meaning the judges don’t know, when they listen to CDs of performances from various schools, which school it is.

Guilderland will submit five-minute selections from the choral, string, wind-percussion, and jazz band programs. Hershenhart said that the five high school music teachers — Nancy Casellini, Kathy Ehlinger, Jeff Herchenroder, Lee Russo, and Rae Jean Teeter — will make the selections.

“They are marvelous musicians in their own right and have a critical ear,” she said.

Hershenhart noted that the music program at Guilderland begins in the earliest grades and builds through the middle school and high school.

All of the school concerts as well as special performances that Guilderland students have made, for example, for the New York State School Music Association, will be considered, she said.

School concerts, all of which are free and open to the public, are recorded. Hershenhart is especially excited about the district’s upcoming Dec. 21 masterworks concert, during which students and alumni will perform selections from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, the German composer. Orff composed the cantata in the 1930s, based on medieval poems, largely in Latin.

In addition to high school vocal groups, sixth-graders will sing parts written for unchanged voices, Hershenhart said, and 50 alumni are returning to sing solo roles.

There are too many performers — over 300 singers — to fit on the Guilderland High School stage, she said, so the performance will be given at the Voorheesville Performing Arts Center; it begins at 7:30 p.m. and a reception will follow the concert. She noted that Voorheesville’s high school, on Route 85A, is just a few miles from Guilderland’s.

“We’re entering in the category of musical excellence,” said Hershenhart of the Grammy Signature award.

She filled out the initial application, which includes an essay, and a list of honors and accolades the school has received.

“It’s a reflective process,” Hershenhart said of applying for a Grammy signature award. The reflection is good for the program, she said. “We’re always looking to grow forward,” said Hershenhart.

20 stand-outs

The district’s superintendent, John McGuire, announced the top-100 designation at Tuesday’s school board meeting along with the news that 19 Guilderland High School students were selected to perform in the Area All-State Music Festival on Nov. 20 and 21 at Saratoga Springs High School. The performance is open to the public; tickets are $5 for adults with a $2 discount for seniors and students.

The ensembles were chosen from a nine-county area, he said, based on students’ scores at last spring’s NYSSMA solo evaluation festival.

Alison Cramer, Amanda Dame, Daniella Giardina, and Noah Rubin will play in the concert band, directed by Brian Doyle.

Alex Dvorscak, Kathryn Janower, Joshua Palagyi, Bobby Ruggles, Cecilia Snow, and Serena Stevens will sing in the chorus under the direction of composer Anthony Maglione.

Greg Barber, Megan Crouse, Samantha Crouse, Graham Lerch, Kyngduk Rho, Scott Rubin, Paul Travers, and Matt Walsh will play in the symphony orchestra, directed by James Robinowitz.

Jon Bintz and Drew Mallon will represent Guilderland in the jazz ensemble.

“Congratulations to the entire music department, from the very beginning to the end,” said school board President Richard Weisz.

Budget forecast

McGuire told the board on Tuesday that there is “no news at this point” on the governor’s deficit reduction proposal and how it may affect aid to Guilderland schools.

In October, David Paterson had proposed mid-year cuts in school aid, which would require legislative approval. McGuire said then that the cuts to schools wouldn’t be equally distributed but rather would be based on district wealth. “Ours is in the range of 9 percent,” he said, referring to the high end of the range. Guilderland would stand to lose $811,000.

“I anticipate bad news; I’m just not sure when,” McGuire told the board on Tuesday night. He stressed that he does not anticipate the district will have to borrow money. “That’s a downward spiral that we don’t need,” he said.

Looking beyond this year’s $85 million budget to the years ahead, Weisz said that the community will be issued an open invitation to join a group “to explore significant aid reduction…not to have a vote or decide anything…more to see if we can reach a consensus.”

The committee will consider the governor’s proposal as well as the fact that federal stimulus funds, which helped schools maintain programs despite state aid cuts, are slated to disappear in two years.

A proposal on the scope of the committee is to be finalized in early December, said Weisz, and it will meet in January.

“We want to reach a community consensus on what is the nature of the challenge,” said Weisz.

“Next year, we have a potential $2 million deficit in just state aid,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo.

Weisz said that he hopes volunteers will come from a cross-section of the community, including business people.

“It’s really budget forecasting,” he concluded. “We’re really looking for community dialogue.”

Other business

In other business, the school board, at its Nov. 17 meeting:

— Ratified, by a vote of 7 to 0, a four-year contract with Guilderland’s teaching assistants. (For the full story, go online to www. altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Nov. 19, 2009.)

After months at impasse, McGuire said on Tuesday, “This is the result of a lot of hard work…I’m delighted to see us take this step forward.” Although he called the settlement “imperfect,” McGuire said it is a first step for “valued employees.”

The four-year contract is to run retroactively from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2012. The teaching assistants are currently paid on a 25-step system, earning $9 an hour on the first step and twice that on the top step.

The new contract will gradually reduce the number of steps to 20 in the final year.

Under the new contract, for the first, retroactive period, first-step TAs will earn $9.70 an hour and those on the top, 24th step will earn $18.70. Then, starting in February of 2010, first-step TAs will earn $10.40 and those on the top, 23rd step will earn $19.40 an hour. In the next phase, through June 2011, first-step TAs will earn $11.10 and those on the top, 22nd step will earn $20.10. In the final year of the contract, first-step TAs will earn $11.25 and those on the top, 20th step will earn $21.25.

Additionally, the as-yet-to-be adopted contract will offer longevity pay, adding cents per hour for years served. Salary was the only major change, with health insurance remaining the same — teaching assistants, like teachers, pay 20 percent of their health-insurance costs while the district pays the other 80 percent;

— Heard from McGuire that Guilderland has been selected to receive a Learn and Serve America award of $15,000 for 400 students across the district who participate in a variety of service learning projects, including the community garden, native plant sanctuary, and butterfly house, all at Farnsworth Middle School;

— Accepted delinquent tax rolls amounting to $1.6 million.

“We turn the uncollected taxes over to Albany County,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders. “The county will reimburse us”;

— Awarded a bid to Pyramid Contracting for asbestos abatement for $136,000, the lowest of 10 bids;

— Appointed Penny Smith-Bogert, the only one to respond to a request for proposals, to perform speech and language pathologist services at the rate of $100 an hour.

The services will be provided at the child’s residence;

— Accepted a change order, deducting $1,795 from the contract amount being paid to S & L Roofing and Sheet Metal, Inc. The money is to replace books that were damaged when water leaked during roof repairs;

— Accepted a donation from Bruce Weeden of 55 tickets to various University at Albany women’s basketball games for girls playing on Guilderland’s basketball team.

“He’s done this for several years and we appreciate his generosity,” said Sanders;

— Re-adopted policies on dangerous weapons in schools and on penalties. The policies were re-examined because of local and national headlines on zero-tolerance for weapons in schools.

Guilderland’s policies allow only police or peace officers to carry weapons in school, and penalties for weapons and other violations can range in severity from warnings to suspension;

— Postponed a vote, because two board members were absent, on extending the superintendent’s contract, authorizing a salary of $174,000 for the 2009-10 school year;

— Heard from Colleen O’Connell, who chairs the board’s audit committee, that the hotline service the district pays for received its third call.

The caller complained that a middle-school student was receiving reduced lunch rates for which the family wasn’t eligible. O’Connell contacted Linda Mossop, the food services director, who had already looked into the matter. Mossop found that, since the family applied, their circumstances had changed and they were ineligible.

Anyone aware of fraud or abuse in the school district may call 1-888-208-3103.

Would-be whistle blowers can speak anonymously about their complaints. EthicsPoint operates the hotline and also can be reached on-line at www.ethicspoint.com, which is linked to the district’s website. The system started running in May 2007.

After Tuesday’s meeting, O’Connell and Weisz said that the first hotline call was about an out-of-district child attending a Guilderland school, and the second was an unfounded complaint about a maintenance worker from another staff member.

O’Connell said that the push for the hotline came from the two citizen members of the audit committee. Weisz said that, in the wake of corruption at a Long Island school district where top administrators were involved, the point of the hotline is to give people direct access to the board’s audit committee; and

— Heard a statement from McGuire, in honor of Nov. 17 being School-Related Professionals Day, acknowledging the “significant contribution of our support staff members to our district and the students and community we serve.”

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