BKW school board open for two seats

Berne-Knox-Westerlo, serving the Helderberg Hilltowns, is faced with problems typical of rural school districts — declining enrollment and resources. Board candidates have varied views on solving these problems.

BERNE — A three-way school board race will determine who will hold two votes on a five-member board that has passed significant motions with three votes.

The outcome — among two incumbents, Chasity McGivern and Vasilios Lefkaditis, and a newcomer, Russell Chauvot — could break up the three votes that have together passed two collective bargaining agreements, or it could oust Lefkaditis, the current vice president who has warned that the district could be set up for financial trouble resulting from decisions of the majority based on miscalculations by administrators.

Board members Earl Barcomb and President Joan Adriance have two more years left in their terms, and Gerald Larghe has just one.

A memorandum of agreement with the BKW Teachers’ Association was recently adopted with three in favor — McGivern, Barcomb, and Adriance. Lefkaditis and Larghe, who started their terms earlier than the rest, abstained from the vote.

Negotiations with the teachers had not come to such a resolution in the last five years. Union President Kelly Smith said the process had a new tone this year, both on the board, and in having the district’s interim superintendent and a new representative from New York State United Teachers.

Lefkaditis voted against the district’s budget proposal, projecting a grim future for the district given the amount of new spending created by the proposed budget.

Voters will decide on two school board seats and the $21.9 million budget on May 20, along with a $230,500 bus proposition. The two highest vote-getters will get the three-year terms on the school board up for election.

The Enterprise asked the three candidates about their reasons for running and what they wanted to accomplish, and also asked for their views on these issues:

— Role: Candidates were asked who they serve. Certainly, each board member must balance the needs of taxpayers, parents, students, staff, and administrators, but, with issues that cannot satisfy all of them, what interests should guide decisions, especially if the district is faced with larger tax-levy increases in the coming years?

— Budget: Candidates were asked if they support the $21.9 million proposed budget, and why or why not.

With many changes to how the district’s money is spent, candidates were also asked what they would have liked included, taken out, or changed.

Candidates were asked, too, what they thought of the budget process overall. Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer led the board with a set of recommendations, framed their decisions with a “menu” of spending and savings measures, and had fast-tracked meetings with the budget advisory committee. Two large meetings on the budget were held for the community, and surveys were taken from students and residents.

If voters defeat the budget, the board can put up the same budget for a vote, put up a revised budget for a vote, or move to a contingent budget, which, liked the proposed budget, wouldn’t raise the tax levy, but it would place strict limitations on the spending changes made by the board. Candidates were asked what the board should do if the budget were voted down.

— Superintendent: Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer’s year with the district will be finished by July, and Adriance has said the board is seeking another interim superintendent for a one-year term. During that period, the search for a superintendent would be conducted, she said.

Candidates were asked about the value of having a second interim superintendent as opposed to a permanent replacement. They were also asked what they want for the process of hiring a new superintendent and what qualities they desire in the new administrator.

— Academic performance: Available data for BKW’s test results show its elementary students are behind statewide averages in English and math. Candidates were asked what should be done to improve education and academic performance in the district.

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