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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 19, 2011
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND After the second year in a row facing drastic cuts, Guilderland voters again passed the school budget by a comfortable margin: 55.5 percent.
In a district with more than 30,000 residents, 3,720 voted on the budget, about 250 fewer than last year.
After the vote count on the $89 million budget was announced Tuesday night to a handful of supporters, mostly school board members and administrators who gathered at Guilderland Elementary School, Superintendent Marie Wiles thanked community members “for their contribution to the process.”
This was Wiles’s first Guilderland budget and she said she had been “cautiously optimistic” that it would pass.
She started work as Guilderland’s superintendent in October and, with the board’s backing, oversaw a substantially revamped budget process this year. An in-depth budget review by a committee of volunteers was replaced by two community forums before the budget was drafted during which residents, parents, and staff talked in small groups to discuss what they valued in lists of proposed cuts.
Despite the tough economic situation with increasing health-care and pension costs, a stagnant tax base, and cuts in aid Wiles said Tuesday, she had no regrets about taking the job as Guilderland’s superintendent. “It’s the best decision I ever made,” she said. “Great community. Great colleagues. Great things to come.”
“Taxes are up, teachers are laid off, programs are trimmed. That’s a tough budget to back. But I think people respected the compromises we made,” said Richard Weisz, the school board president, moments after the unofficial results were announced at about 10:40 on Tuesday night.
With decreasing state and federal aid, 40 more jobs will be cut next year after 56 were slashed this year. The $88,961,475 budget represents a 1.73 percent increase in spending over this year while the tax hike is estimated at 3.48 percent. This means Guilderland residents next year will pay an estimated $20.73 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The proposal raises class sizes slightly and cuts foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, moves the middle school from a four-house to a three-house system, and cuts many extra-curricular activities at the middle school and high school.
Weisz said he was gratified the community appreciated the choices the board had to make. The school budget passed at all five elementary-school polling places; the vote was closest at Altamont where 308 voted for it and 274 against.
Guilderland was in the majority Tuesday as statewide close to 94 percent of school budgets passed, according to results gathered by the New York State School Boards Association. Last year, according to NYSSBA, 92 percent of the budgets passed; the average passage rate since 1969 is 84 percent.
Voters in the Guilderland School District also passed a $778,100 bus proposition with 53.3 percent of the vote; that will buy nine new buses, and about 60 percent will be returned in state aid. The vote for the bus proposition was tied at Altamont, at 287, but passed at the other four school polling places.
And voters passed a $3.38 million budget for the Guilderland Public Library with 58.8 percent of the vote. As usual, the library budget passed with the most votes 2,130 to 1,490. While the school district has gone through two periods of budget defeats, the Guilderland Public Library has never had a budget voted down.
Rose Levy, making her first run for the school board, garnered the most votes, followed by incumbents Judy Slack and Allan Simpson. Each will serve a three-year term. Emilio Genzano, who had been appointed to the board twice, came in fourth in the four-way race, meaning he will serve for one year, filling out the term of a board member who resigned.
The results reported Wednesday afternoon by Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders after a dozen affidavit ballots were counted and added to the tally from the voting machines Tuesday night follow:
Rose Levy came in first with 2,535 votes, or 26.3 percent. She said Tuesday that she didn’t know what had made her the top vote-getter on her first run.
The mother of five children, she works as a family court attorney, representing children who have been neglected or abused by their parents.
“My basic reason for running,” she said earlier, “is we have a wonderful school district here academically and with all the extra-curricular activities. My kids were involved in clubs and sports.” She said she wanted to keep those things in place.
She also said “It’s easy for all of us to sit back and criticize until you’re actually on the board and see it all, and struggle with how to keep it without raising taxes every year.”
Levy said her primary allegiance on the board will be to the students “because the students are the ones being educated.”
Levy came in first at Guilderland, Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere; she finished third in Altamont.
Judy Slack came in second with 2,467 votes or 25.6 percent. A retired teaching assistant, she is just completing her first three-year term on the board.
“I’m very pleased the budget passed in every school,” Slack said on Tuesday night. She saw the results as “a show of support” and said of the voters, “They recognized times are tough but saw we were fair.” She concluded, “We have a tough road ahead of us. I hope the community will continue the support.”
Slack, who said earlier that her primary allegiance as a board member is to the students, began her career as a high-school English teacher, retiring in 2008 after working for 24 years as a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School.
“It’s a way for me to be involved in retirement and to watch kids grow,” said Slack of serving on the board. Slack summed up the unpaid job of a school board member, “I like it more than it hurts.”
Slack came in first at Altamont, where she lives, and second at Guilderland, Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere.
Allan Simpson came in third with 2,329 votes or 24.1 percent.
“My accounting and business background gives me ways to ask questions and look at new ways to get the biggest bang for the buck,” said Simpson earlier about what he brings to the board. He works as the director of accounting operations for the State Insurance Fund.
He has served on the board for a year, having been elected to a one-year term last May after coming in fourth in a six-way race. Simpson hesitated this year in deciding whether to run again since the unpaid post requires so much time away from his wife and two children, both Guilderland students.
“The board is elected by the taxpayers,” said Simpson when asked whom he primarily serves. He said it is his job on the board to represent the community.
Simpson came in third at Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere; he finished fourth at Altamont and Guilderland.
Emilio Genzano came in fourth with 2,300 votes or 23.8 percent.
“I’m glad to be back,” he said on Tuesday night, “and I’m glad the budget passed. It was a good budget, and 55 percent is not that bad.”
Genzano has been on the school board for two years because of two separate appointments. He works as the assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center.
Last year, he spearheaded the drive by sports boosters to raise over $60,000 to restore the freshmen and repeat sports cut from the 2010-11 budget. This year, he convinced the board at the last minute, in a split vote, to restore half of the funds for freshmen sports.
“I love the Guilderland school district,” Genzano said, citing the education his children have received.
Genzano came in second at Altamont, third at Guilderland, and fourth at Lynnwood, Pine Bush, and Westmere.
Twelve write-in candidates for school board each garnered a vote or two.
The library’s $3.38 million budget for next year is 2 percent less than this year.
“We try to keep it as close to the bone as we can,” Barbara Nichols Randall, the library’s director, said earlier.
Although spending is down, so are revenues, meaning the amount to be raised by local property taxes would go up by about 2 percent. Guilderland residents currently pay $1.07 per $1,000 of assessed value for the library budget.
Two seats were up for election, each with a five-year term, on the library’s 11-member board of trustees.
Only one of the incumbents, Robert Ganz, ran for re-election. He garnered 2,466 votes.
Ganz was appointed to the board in 2000, elected in 2001, and re-elected in 2006 in a four-way race for three seats. He helped initiate the Guilderland Library Foundation, which has been successful in getting grants, and he has chaired the committee that developed a long-range plan for the library, leading the library as it acquired adjacent property and drew up plans to nearly double its size to meet increased use.
Those plans were put on hold because of the downturn in the economy although Ganz’s committee has been working to develop a detailed schematic design, he said earlier this year, for two reasons: to get a firm estimate of costs, and to submit a plan to the New York State Education Department for preliminary approval. Although no decision has been made, Ganz said, trustees hope to put the plan to public vote in 2012.
Ganz is a lawyer and he and his wife, Dorothy, have three grown children.
Bryan Best, on seeing that no one had filed a petition for the second open seat, which had been held by Diane Rosenbaum, launched a write-in campaign. He garnered 48 votes; 15 other write-ins got one or two votes each.
“I saw the board had two openings and only one person running,” Best said on Tuesday. “The library has always been important to me. It’s a fantastic community resource, so I decided to run.”
Best, 24, who works for the New York State Senate as a legislative aid, said, “I was born and raised in Guilderland.”
He graduated from Guilderland High School in 2005 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University at Albany.
Asked about his goals on the board, Best said he’d like to expand library programs, lauding the recent exhibit and speakers on Abraham Lincoln. “I’d like to get the word out about the library as much as possible,” he said.
Describing himself as a “history buff,” Best said his favorite book is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, about the Battle of Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Many people, he said, are familiar with the film, Gettysburg, based on the novel, and with its prequel, Gods and Generals, based on a novel by his son, Jeffrey Shaara.
“You should read the book,” said Best. “It’s fantastic.”