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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010

BKW School Board candidate: Jill Norray

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Jill Norray, 44, is a lifelong Berne resident who thinks her open-mindedness will make her a valuable addition to the BKW School Board.

“I will listen to everybody, and then I will do the research and find out what the best solution is to a problem,” said Norray. “I’ve lived in this town, I went to the school, and I care about the education our kids get.”

And, having served on the board of directors at the Berne Fire Department, at Helderberg Ambulance, and for USA Canoe/Kayak has prepared her for the work that awaits her if she is elected to the school board, she said.

Norray currently works as an information-technologies manager for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, a job that demands a great deal of mediation, she said.

“I have a very strong interest in making sure the kids get a good education,” said Norray, “and I also want to make sure we do that in the most cost effective way, keeping in mind that we don’t want to raise taxes to do that, but it’s important that they get a good education, and we don’t make cuts where it’s going to compromise their future.”

But on which constituency she primarily serves, Norray opted not to choose one.

“I have a tendency to sit down and look at each individual situation separately,” she said. “There are all sides to a situation, and you can’t just have one blanket answer for that because I like to look at the big picture. To say I’m pro-student, pro-teacher — I don’t think that would be accurate.”

While Norray thinks the students’ education will suffer as a result of the cuts in the adopted budget, some of the restored programs have made the spending plan more tolerable, she said, and she supports the adopted budget. Still, she regrets seeing cuts to the music and athletic departments, and the elimination of the elementary school’s foreign-language program, which her fifth-grade daughter had participated in.

“She was learning a lot in the language program that they had started,” Norray said. “I have a son in eighth grade that didn’t have that opportunity, and I can see a huge difference in what they’ve learned. And people learn these things much better at a younger age than when they’re older.”

Another unfortunate cut, she said, is that of two academic-intervention-services (AIS) teachers.

“My concern is that some of these students are in the middle of the road,” said Norray. “Maybe they’re not failing bad enough where they absolutely need these services, and students that are just barely passing may not get the extra help they need because the resources aren’t available.”

If the budget is voted down on May 18, Norray hopes the district has a better idea of what aid it will be receiving by then. Norray thinks that, if the spending cap for the contingency budget has no increase, districts will have an even more difficult time putting together a spending plan for the coming year.

“If we have to go to contingency budget, there’re going to be more extreme cuts,” Norray said. “There’s a possibility of coming up with a third budget somewhere between the current budget and the contingency budget, so we wouldn’t have to cut programs as drastically.”

A revised budget, with a smaller tax levy, should be put up for a second vote, she said.

“The answer to making sure the kids learn everything can’t be that we have to raise taxes,” she concluded of the budget. “That’s unacceptable, because the tax base here is not strong; we don’t have that many businesses here.”

Further, Norray said she is interested in learning more about how the BKW teachers’ contract measures up to those in other districts across the state.

“I do think the teachers need to give some,” Norray said. “In a lot of organizations, your biggest expense is your employees and benefits, but I think this is an area where we could do better. I think my avenue is, if you can sit down and show them what other districts have, they may see that what they have is way beyond what other districts have.”

On the district’s superintendent search, Norray thinks that the board needs to hire a well-rounded manager.

“They need to be able to manage projects, they need to be able to manage people, and they need to be able to make sure the people working for them are able to manage their people,” she said. “I believe the superintendent has a job, and the school board has a job. The roles are clearly defined, and we have to be careful as a school board that we don’t micromanage the superintendent. The board’s job is to keep an eye on the superintendent, and make sure he’s doing his job, but not to do the job for them.”

Concerning how public opinion affects the board’s decisions, Norray thinks that part of a board’s struggles is dealing with unfounded objections from district taxpayers.

“There’re a lot of rules and strings tied to the money that a school has, and people who aren’t closely involved in school, or don’t have anyone to talk to about it, don’t realize that it’s not as easy as moving money from one account to another,” she said. “That petition had a few things in it that were inaccurate, or things that couldn’t be fixed or changed.”

On the other hand, the board represents the public, and needs to know what the people want.

“There are a lot of voices that are loud, but don’t represent the whole,” said Norray, “but a lot of people are not outspoken, so you have to make sure you have an open-door policy so people will come to you.”

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