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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 12, 2012

Super proposes cutting two leaders’ posts

GUILDERLAND — As the school district faces a $3.3 million revenue shortage for next year’s budget, Superintendent Marie Wiles on Tuesday reviewed the leadership structure for the school board, concluding with four short-term recommendations for change and six options for future consideration.

“Resources are limited and likely to remain so,” Wiles told the board, citing the slow economic recovery, the stagnant aid to schools, and the new tax-levy limit without meaningful relief.

In the last two years, the Guilderland district has cut about 100 jobs.

Wiles recommended eliminating the post of assistant director of health, physical education, and interscholastic athletics, combining the role with that of director. The current director, Wayne Bertrand, is retiring at the end of March.

She also recommended doing away with the post of elementary special-education administrator, reassigning the duties to “a non-administratively certified individual with requisite skills.” The person who currently holds the post, Bonita LeBlanc-Bailey, is retiring.

Further, Wiles recommended keeping the coordinator of elementary programs but refocusing his or her responsibilities to “provide teachers with tools to intervene early with students who struggle.”

Finally, she recommended revising and updating the job descriptions for all leadership posts.

The long-term options — which Wiles stressed were not recommendations at this point — come with pluses and minuses, she said. Wiles emphasized the importance of timing changes to coincide with retirements or resignations “to maintain the district’s high quality and relatively newly hired leadership staff.”

One option is to change from having instructional administrators oversee teachers in a particular building to a system where they would oversee kindergarten through 12th grade, as most neighboring districts do. This would increase continuity, Wiles said, but would sacrifice “the richness of leadership” at the building level.

A second option is to reduce instructional administrators and assistant and house principals to 11-month, rather than full-year, employees.

Other options include cutting a house principal at the middle school and an assistant principal at the high school.

A final option is consolidating elementary schools. “As we look at declining enrollment over the next decade,” said Wiles, the pros and cons have to be considered. In 2002, the district had 5,667 students and it is expected to have 4,901 in 2021. Guilderland currently has five neighborhood elementary schools.

The short-term recommendations will be included in Wiles’s 2012-13 budget proposal. “It is definitely a savings,” she said of adopting the changes but it is “too soon to know” exactly how much would be saved.

“I understand the economic climate. I understand we have to be leaner,” Wiles told the board. “I want to make those moves in such a way we preserve the talent we have.”

Many of the board members praised Wiles’s report as the most comprehensive in a string of evaluations of administrative structure — one every two or three years since 1997.

Wiles prefers the word “leader” to “administrator.”  “This is not leadership for its own sake but leadership that makes a difference,” she said at the start of her presentation.

Near the end, she concluded, “I’ve worked in districts that have too few administrators to get the work done…When you are too lean, you react; you don’t create, you don’t lead.”

In her report, Wiles stressed research that showed school leadership — both at the building and district levels — made a measurable difference in student performance. Of the 21 responsibilities that good school principals have, the most important include being aware of details and undercurrents; insuring staff is aware of current theories and practices; involving teachers in the design of important decisions; and being willing to challenge the status quo.

Research shows that effective leadership at the district level involves setting goals collaboratively and following them; that the time a superintendent stays with a district improves student achievement, and that superintendents should establish “what” is to be accomplished but leave the “how” to the building staff.

By the numbers

Guilderland currently has 30 people in leadership posts, overseeing 977 employees (including 416 teachers) and 5,122 students.

The district leaders consist of a superintendent and three assistant superintendents.

The high school has a principal and three assistant principals. The middle school has a principal and three house principals, one of whom has taken on duties administering the special education program. The high school, Wiles noted, encompasses 340,000 square feet with 1,700 students, and handled close to 3,000 discipline matters last year. The middle school, with 1,193 students, covers 250,000 square feet and had many fewer discipline problems, partly because of the house, school-within-a-school structure, said Wiles.

The five elementary schools (which range in size from 548 students at Guilderland to 294 students at Altamont) each have one principal.

Additionally, there is an administrator for special programs, a special-education administrator at the elementary level as well as one at the high school, and a coordinator for elementary programs and professional development.

Guilderland also has seven instructional administrators, as well as a director and assistant director of health, physical education, and interscholastic athletics.

Noting that top administrators have foregone raises in the last two years, Wiles cited “average” salaries and benefits for various posts, including $212,680 for the superintendent; $163,210 for assistant superintendents; $138,520 for principals; $142,270 for special-education administrators; $126,800 for instructional administrators; and $119,870 for assistant and house principals.

Wiles presented a chart that showed this year Guilderland has 29.40 administrators, the lowest level since 2003-04, when the district had 31.75. Enrollment has declined in those years from 5,664 to 5,122 this year.

The administrator-to-student ratio in that span has gone from 178:1 to 174:1 and the teacher-to-student ratio has gone from 13:1 to 12:1. Of all the Suburban Council schools, Guilderland has the lowest administrator-to-student ratio. The highest is 223:1.

A chart for student achievement in the Suburban Council, based on elementary test scores in English and high school Regents scores in math and English, placed Guilderland sixth out of 13.

“Vital web”

Gloria Towle-Hilt, the board’s vice president, said she worried about Guilderland’s leaders being stretched too thin. “When you’re too busy, it’s easy to solve the problem yourself and just tell people the solution,” she said.

Wiles and several board members referred to comments made near the start of the meeting by Kerry Dineen, an elementary music teacher. Dineen said that teachers had not been consulted about proposed changes in scheduling. (For the full story, go inline to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Dec. 15, 2011: “At GCSD: Shaping the scshool day for flexibility and economy.”)

“We had no input whatsoever and I think that’s a shame,” she said, noting that teachers are often the most knowledgeable.

Dineen was particularly distressed that a district newsletter invited the public to comment on the proposed schedule changes while the teachers had not. “The average person isn’t going to know our day-to-day workings,” she said.

Towle-Hilt, a retired teacher, spoke of Guilderland’s shared decision-making process as “a vital web that holds us together.”

Wiles agreed that teachers “see it at eyeball level” but noted administrators have to manage the day-to-day running of their buildings while also having to come up with changes to meet new demands.

“We are in rough waters right now,” she said. “We need to act but we need everyone on board.”

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said that, while Guilderland’s budget is not yet “bare bones,” it is close to that. She said that removing a few administrators wouldn’t close the looming $3.3 million gap.

“Our top leaders have all given in the last couple of years,” she said of salary concessions. Alluding to impasses in contract negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers Association and with the Guilderland Employees Association, Fraterrigo concluded, “Unless we get cooperation from all of our unions…it’s not going to be the same district we all have grown to love.”

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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