GUILDERLAND — “I feel you need to give back to your community,” said Allan Simpson, explaining why he is running again for the school board. “I can offer expertise with my financial background,” he added.
Simpson works as director of accounting operations for the New York State Insurance Fund.
He has served on the school board for four years, having been elected to a one-year term in 2010, after coming in fourth in a six-way race, before being re-elected in 2011.
“I enjoy it,” said Simpson. “In the last four years, I’ve learned how the school operates.”
His time on the board has coincided with cutbacks. “It’s a hard thing to do,” said Simpson. “You’re being asked to figure out how to squeeze money out of something that’s tight.”
He takes no credit for any individual accomplishments but said, as a member of the board, he is pleased with the stability that has come with hiring Superintendent Marie Wiles. “I jumped right in,” Simpson said of being part of that hiring process.
He also noted the recent changes in middle school and high school leadership. “We, as a group, have done a good job replacing leaders...to maintain stability and make it easier for teachers,” he said.
Asked about goals for his upcoming term, Simpson said, “I don’t know how the New York State economy will be. I’d love to, rather than cuts, have things go neutral or have increased funds.”
Simpson said it takes time and effort to be on the board. “When I had young kids, I didn’t have time,” he said.
He and his wife, Renate Simpson, a teaching assistant at Guilderland High School, have two children — Tyler, 20, and Ashley, 16.
Simpson was elected by the board members this year to serve as vice president. “Being vice president is no different than being a board member,” he said. “I try to look at the board collectively.”
He praised the leadership of the current president, Barbara Fraterrigo; the immediate past president, Colleen O’Connell; and the president before that, when Simpson first came on the board, Richard Weisz. “All three did the same thing — it’s what I try to do — a leader includes everyone,” said Simpson.
Asked about being the only man on the board, Simpson said, “In today’s society, men and women are equal. I look at them as peers.”
Asked about the role of a board member and who he primarily serves, Simpson replied there are “three prongs”: students — “for the best possible education we can give with allocated resources”; parents — “we need to insure they’re happy” so they don’t move to other districts or send their children to private schools; and voters —“not everyone has a child in school,” said Simpson.
He added that the board works collaboratively with teachers and administrators.
Simpson said he supports the $92 million budget because it gives “the best value for educating children.” Simpson said, “It’s the best we could do under the circumstances.”
He had no specific items he would have liked to add or delete, stating, “The administration and board did a good job.”
Simpson said that, while the former and current budget processes each have advantages and community support, “The current process is good.”
He served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee for two years and said, “You got to know a lot.”
The current process, he said, has yielded high passing rates on the budgets.
While he hopes the budget this May won’t be voted down, Simpson said, if it were defeated, the board would need to “work collectively with the administration and community to see why it was defeated and make compromises so it passes.”
He said, “The most important thing is to come back with a budget that gets approved.”
Simpson stressed the importance of avoiding a contingency budget where taxes would be frozen. “We’d have to take dollars out the program if we can’t spend more on the total,” he said.
On raising taxes over the levy limit in order to preserve programs, Simpson said, “You’re betting against the odds.”
He cited figures from the assistant superintendent for business, showing how sporadic it was for Guilderland voters to reach the 60-percent mark.
He wouldn’t advise going over the limit, Simpson said, “unless we had a real good reason to justify to the community.”
On state tests, he said, “Testing is mandated by the law. We’ll have to collaborate and come back with a test that is fair and meets the law’s requirements...It’s an evolving process, eventually evolving to value down the road.”
Simpson concluded, “With any program, there are bumps and hurdles you have to go over.”
On declining enrollment, Simpson said, “The best thing we can do is collect the data.”
Referring to the data collected by the consultant, he went on, “Unfortunately, its so voluminous, I can’t cite different things out of it.”
Simpson continued, “It’s up to us to take his points and work with the community for something we can all live with.”
He likened the shared decision-making process to that used with the capital improvement project. “That’s the process I’ve seen in my four years,” said Simpson. “We have to include as many people as we can for a collective decision.”
On contracts, Simpson said, “We have to look at economic conditions when the contracts come due. In the last four years, that practice has worked well [resulting in] contracts that district employees can live with.”
He noted that, although “no law says you need to,” he recused himself from voting on the contract with the teaching assistants since his wife works as a teaching assistant at the high school.