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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010

GCSD schools open smoothly as board gears up for next year’s budget

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district has seven fewer students this year than last — 5,267. The interim superintendent, Michael Marcelle, was bid a fond farewell at Tuesday’s school board meeting as he declared “a very successful opening of school.”

Elementary enrollment, spread over five schools, is up by two students — to 2,193 — when it was expected to decrease by two score.

High-school enrollment is down by five to 1,839 when it was expected to be down by 52.

Middle-school enrollment remains basically steady as predicted at 1,235, with four fewer students than last year.

Marcelle highlighted “pockets of growth” in second grade at Lynnwood and Guilderland elementary schools, describing those as “very packed,” and also said seventh grade at the middle school has “very healthy numbers” — 425 students compared to 411 last year.

“We’re taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure students have what they need,” he said.

All but one-tenth of a post was used of the positions set aside in the budget in case of growth, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

“You’ve been a breath of fresh air, and restored our energy,” school board President Richard Weisz told Marcelle.

“The way you approached this job was not as a place-holder,” said board member Colleen O’Connell who headed the search committee for a new superintendent. She praised Marcelle’s “gusto.”

Marcelle started on July 1, earning $600 a day, after John McGuire retired: he had been Guilderland’s superintendent for three years. The new superintendent, Marie Wiles, will replace Marcelle on Oct. 1.

“It’s a true team approach,” Marcelle said of his work at Guilderland. “It was a pleasure; it was fun and challenging.”

The row of administrators sitting at the table in the back of the meeting hall gave Marcelle a standing ovation as the board and a dozen onlookers applauded.

The board also heard an update on construction work completed over the summer. “We’re mostly at the end of the project,” said Sanders of the $27 million project that, over the last two years, upgraded technology in the district’s elementary schools and moved the district offices from the middle-school campus to the high school.

The district staff moves tomorrow. The old offices will be occupied through December by construction staff. In deciding what to do with the vacant building after that, Weisz said, “We’ve asked about demolition costs and rental costs.”

The board approved 25 change orders for the project, totally $186,752. Sanders said, “We have a pot of money set aside” to cover unforeseen expenses.

Sanders thanked district staff members for their efforts.


The board heard that state aid to Guilderland, delayed until after the tax rate was set, came in lower than expected.

In August, the board decided, in a split vote, to set aside extra funds that came from higher-than-expected assessments in Guilderland, keeping the tax rate as predicted before the May vote — at $20.04 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for Guilderland residents.

Weisz said Tuesday, in light of the state numbers, that was a wise choice.

He also talked about a recent discussion the board’s business practices committee had with its insurance consultant. Weisz characterized the talk as “entertaining, informative, and depressing.”

“We’re doing about as good as I think any public entity can do,” he said, noting insurance costs for next year will go up 10 to 11 percent for Guilderland.

“The budget impact is around $9 million,” said Sanders.

“We were trying to brainstorm a way to save additional expenses and we didn’t get very far,” said Weisz. He concluded that, compared with other school districts, “We got an A, but we still flunked the course.”

On Oct. 5, school district residents are invited to “share their thoughts” on next year’s budget, said Sanders. Then, on Oct. 19, board members will each present what Weisz called their “wish list or want list.”

The administration will use these priorities in crafting a budget draft, which will then be reviewed by a citizens’ committee. The board then adopts a final plan on which residents vote in May.

Special education

Tonight, members of a committee that includes school board members, parents, teachers, and support service providers will meet at the high school to analyze a report on revamping Guilderland special-education services.

The district hired, for $40,000, Futures Education, based in Springfield, Mass., to evaluate its programs for students with disabilities and to make recommendations. The report from Futures Education says that programs and organizational structure are “inexorably intertwined with district finances.”

It recommends re-organizing the administrative staff — centralizing the committee admitting students to special-education programs and heading the process with a single point person — and also reconfiguring the teaching staff — cutting back on the speech pathologists, the occupational therapists, and the teaching assistants — in conjunction with a “bring back” and “keep in” initiative, bringing some out-of-district students back to Guilderland.

This “will result in substantive savings while maintaining the district’s well-deserved track record for educational excellence,” the report says.

Guilderland’s special-education population has grown 9 percent in the last five years, the report says, while the growth at similar districts has been 2.5 percent; the report speculates this may be because Guilderland lacks “precise quantitative parameters.”

Marcelle said Tuesday that, before he leaves on Oct. 1, he will summarize the data so that his successor can work on developing a multi-year action plan. That plan will be worked out in November by the district office team and special education providers and then will go back to the committee for review. In December, a public forum will be held to get feedback from the community.

“We did a lot of thinking with this…We’re going to do our best to make it work,” said Marcelle. He also said of the process for implementing any changes, “This is going to be very, very wide open.”

“This is exactly the kind of plan I was asking for,” said Weisz.

Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt agreed, saying it was “an excellent example of a structure that allows for shared decision-making.”

“I’m not expecting a unanimous report,” said Weisz.

State surveys

The board hired CSArch to conduct two state-mandated studies — the Building Conditions Survey and the Five-Year Capital Facilities Plan.

Four architectural firms submitted proposals; two of them were about $10,000 lower than the CSArch proposal at $75,200. After aid reimbursement — estimated at about 65 percent —the cost to the district will be $26,470.

The state requires that, once every five years, a licensed architect survey every school building, and the state also requires a plan that collects, analyzes, and prioritizes building needs.

A committee made up of Marcelle; board member Allan Simpson; Sanders; and Clifford Nooney, director of physical plant management, determined “CSArch will provide the most thorough and complete evaluation and documentation of our facilities to assist the district in managing and maintaining its multi-million dollar capital investment,” according to a memo Sanders sent to the board.

The committee also recommended that the board approve spending an added $18,800 ($6,618 net of state aid) for CSArch to do its work using Facilities Inspection Technology. The FIT program, the memo says, uses hand-held digital tablets and software to collect the required data.

“The database can be sorted and searched and includes photographs of selected areas coordinated with existing condition floor plans, leading to greater efficiencies in maintaining, upgrading, and improving our facilities,” the memo says.

Sanders told the board that, for professional services, work does not have to go to the lowest bidder but should go to who is best suited to provide the service.

None of the other three vendors offered the new technology, he said.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

—Hired Mark Brooks as an assistant principal at Guilderland High School for a three-year probationary term, starting Oct. 2.

He replaces Brian Bailey who resigned on Aug. 20 to work as the high school principal at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk;

—  Heard an update from board member Emilio Genzano on the Friends of Guilderland Athletics. FOGA, headed by Genzano, was formed in the wake of budget cuts to raise money to restore freshman and repeat sports for this school year.

Originally, $59,000 was needed but, Genzano said, since there were not enough freshman boys for lacrosse,  that number dropped to $55,000.

Only $3,500 remains to be raised, he said, adding that an Oktoberfest fund-raiser will be held Oct. 23 at Tawasentha Park.

Board member Judy Slack praised Genzano for his role in raising the funds. “You got beaten hard by your vote on the budget,” she said. “You rose above that.”

Slack’s remarks were greeted with applause;

— Approved the use of Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy for eighth-grade health classes. Deuker’s book tells the story of a high-school football player who feels pressured to use steroids, or “gym candy,” and later attempts suicide;

—  Heard from Marcelle that some in the community were interested in setting up an educational foundation to raise funds that could be donated to school-related projects.

“It can be very beneficial,” he said. “The only caution I have…We want to make sure we’re not going to the well too often.”

He suggested focusing on alumni and alumnae rather than local businesses;

— Awarded ETM Solar Works, the lowest bidder, a contract for installing solar panels on the high school gym’s roof, for $230,860.

The project is being paid for by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

“Every dollar spent will be reimbursed…” said Sanders. “We also recoup the energy savings as well.” ETM also did the work on the solar panels at the Guilderland Public Library;

— Approved renting 10 classrooms to the Albany-Schoharie-Schenectady-Saratoga Board of Cooperative Educational Services for $12,000 each — a total of $120,000. The district will also be paid $193,000 by BOCES for ancillary services like gym, art, and music;

— Awarded W.B. Mason, the lowest bidder, the contract for 840 cases of paper for $21,739.20;

— Awarded E.A. Morse & Co., Inc. a contract for rock salt and John Deere Landscapes for ice melt; both were the lowest bidders;

— Heard about the summer curriculum projects completed by teachers;

— Heard thanks from Towle-Hilt for the support she and her family have received after the Sept. 9 death of her husband, Robert Hilt, a long-time Farnsworth Middle School teacher.

“It’s validated what I’ve always felt about the community,” she said; and

— Met in executive session to discuss personnel issues and tenure recommendation.

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