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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 25, 2010

Three form a slate
Four incumbents run for Guilderland School board

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — All four of the incumbents on the nine-member Guilderland School Board are seeking re-election — and three of them are running as a team.

While school board races do not involve traditional political parties, incumbents Colleen O’Connell, Gloria Towle-Hilt, and Emilio Genzano are running on a single slate.

Barbara Fraterrigo, the board’s longest-serving member, is also seeking re-election, running as an independent.

Petitions for school board candidates, with 68 signatures of eligible district voters, are due in the district office by April 19 at 5 p.m. The election is on May 18. The top three vote-getters will each serve a three-year unpaid term. The candidate who comes in fourth will serve for one year, filling out the term left vacant by John Dornbush; he died of cancer last July.

Fraterrigo, who has been on the board since 1997, said she is running for another term because she enjoys the work and has “a good long-term perspective.” She works part-time, helping to manage her husband’s medical practice. Her children, Guilderland graduates, are all grown.

Two of the things Fraterrigo is most proud of during her time on the board are helping to implement a program to prevent bullying and pushing for the teaching of Spanish at the elementary schools.

“Elementary students are like little sponges, picking up a second language, and learning about the culture,” Fraterrigo said. Referring to the Foreign Language Early Start program, she went on, “Currently, it’s on the chopping block…I don’t think anybody anticipated this kind of a crunch. Taxpayers couldn’t bear the increase.”

The $87.5 million budget proposed by the administration for next year cuts 81 jobs in order to keep the tax-rate hike below 4 percent.

Asked about her goals for the coming term, Fraterrigo said, “As a board, we really hope to provide an excellent education for the kids. They are our future.” Referring to the March 11 Enterprise editorial, “A wage freeze would warm us all and work for the common good,” she went on, “ As you pointed out in your editorial, we should share the pain….The private sector has been hard hit, with no raises for several years. If we’re here for kids, you have to make sacrifices.”

Slate of three

Genzano, who had lost school board elections in 2001 and 2002, was one of eight men who vied for appointment to Dornbush’s seat. In October, the board chose Genzano to serve until the May 18 election.

“I made a commitment to finish John’s term,” Genzano said this week when asked why he is running. “I look at the intensity and the time it takes…I want to bring my background to the table to come up with the best budget we can in these difficult times.”

The assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center, Genzano said his background in construction is unique among the board members.

Genzano also said, “I have kids in the system. The community has helped me and my family. I just want to help out.”

Genzano and his wife, Jill, have three children — a Guilderland graduate and two students still in the district.

Colleen O’Connell, who has been on the board for six years, said of her reasons for running, “A lot of it has to do with the fact we’re searching for another superintendent. I think I have something to offer with my six years of experience.”

O’Connell is heading a board committee of four that is spearheading the search. The current superintendent, John McGuire, will have been at Guilderland for less than three years when he retires on July 1.

“We need to find a school leader to guide us, hopefully, for the next five to seven years,” she said of her goals.

O’Connell, a mother and a lawyer, describes herself currently as a community volunteer.

She said she is proud of the work she has done on the board’s audit committee, which she chairs. “It’s not the sexiest committee,” she said, “but it’s important work to reassure taxpayers that every dollar is spent responsibly.”

O’Connell also said of the current budget process, “Given the budget woes, we’re in the middle of dismantling. That’s sad.”

Towle-Hilt, a retired Farnsworth Middle School teacher, said she has worked 15 to 20 hours a week as a board member and gained a perspective she didn’t have as a teacher. Although she’d enjoy more free time and an opportunity to travel in her retirement, she said, when asked why she is running for a second term, “To tell you the truth, realizing we are in such difficult times, I really needed to stay and be of help…I’ve watched this system and given so much to build it and I’m so proud of it. I don’t have the heart to leave now.”

A high point for her, Towle-Hilt said, was, during last year’s budget discussions, being able to explain to board members the worth of the middle-school program for at-risk students, which she had helped to found.

“As a teacher, I thought the board didn’t understand,” said Towle-Hilt. Now she appreciates the work, energy, and passion of board members, she said, and she also has the perspective of a taxpayer, and of a parent whose children graduated from Guilderland.

“It’s a daunting task to find the right path to take,” she said.

Her goal for the next three years, Towle-Hilt said is “to preserve what we have in some way and to keep moving forward in any way we can, as efficiently and economically as we can.”

Towle-Hilt said she was struck with a recent comment at a Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee meeting — reference was made to the African proverb made famous by Hillary Clinton’s book: It takes a village to raise a child. Towle-Hilt said of the economic crisis, “Is this an opportunity to step back and say, ‘What can we do to help raise our kids?’ Schools have taken on so much. Maybe we have to step up and take back responsibility.”

O’Connell and Towle-Hilt ran together three years ago. In this race, with Genzano, too, Towle-Hilt said, “This doesn’t mean we all agree on everything. It means we have the same basic outlook — we have to be fiscally responsible, but, at the center, this is about the children.”

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