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Bickering halts Guilderland town board meeting

The Guilderland Town Board meeting broke down into quarreling along partisan lines Tuesday, March 4, and was adjourned by Supervisor Kenneth Runion with the support of Democratic board members Patricia Slavick and Paul Pastore, and Town Clerk Rosemary Centi.

The fighting began during the approval of minutes for the Feb. 12 meeting. Republican board member Mark Grimm contested the validity of the minutes and claimed that the minutes were not a fair and accurate representation of the meeting. He said that some of his comments were not included in the minutes and others were summarized too briefly compared to those of other members of the board.

He argued that the minutes should be recorded as either a word-for-word transcription or a bare bones outline. Grimm claimed the current process of recording minutes is unfair and not conducive to open government, and he made the accusation that the minutes are being used as a partisan tool.

In response to Grimm’s accusations, Centi stressed that the recording of minutes was her responsibility and that during her past eight years as town clerk no one had complained about inaccuracy.

Slavick agreed and stated that she had reviewed minutes from previous years and found that they were a sufficient and accurate representation of previous meetings.

Pastore stated that it was each board member’s personal responsibility to review the minutes, and Centi pointed out that Grimm could review the minutes and include anything that he felt was omitted as an attachment. Centi also pointed out that the alternate version of the Feb. 12 minutes that Grimm submitted to the board did not include comments made by Guilderland residents during the public comment period. Centi accused Grimm of omitting the comments of residents who disagreed with him and stated that it was a process not conducive to open government.

During the public comment period Caroline Williams questioned Grimm’s and fellow Republican board member Warren Redlich’s claims that the current assessment process is unfair and stated that neither board member had provided information on how the process was broken. Williams stated that the assessment process was a state process and that if the board members felt that it was broken that they needed to address the issue on a state level.

Christine Marshall, a civil service employee of many years, discussed how the position of police chief is a competitive class civil service position and sought to explain the process of open competitive appointments.

Redlich requested to question each of the speakers, but only Marshall agreed. During questioning, Redlich rephrased Marshall’s comments in a manner she contested.

Interactions among board members became even more heated during this time, as voices were raised and members interrupted each other and the speakers. Runion moved to adjourn the meeting due to this lack of civility and the board’s inability to move on to the items on the agenda, and all members were in favor except Redlich and Grimm. The audience applauded the adjournment.

After the meeting Runion described the conduct as inappropriate and `treating the public poorly, totally disruptive.` Runion stated that he was `sending a clear message to the board to clean up its act and be respectful to each other and the public.`

The board met on March 4 with the intention of discussing a re-zoning request, the Safe Routes to School Program, Glassworks Village, and other issues pertinent to the Guilderland community. The issues and the other items on the March 4 agenda will be discussed at the next board meeting on Tuesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the Guilderland Town Hall. Meetings are also broadcast live on Channel 17. “

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Niskayuna school board begins budget process

The Niskayuna Board of Education met Monday, Feb. 25, and Monday, March 3, at the Van Antwerp Middle School Auditorium to discuss the 2008-2009 preliminary budget and the $94.5 million dollar construction project to renovate and expand Niskayuna schools to better accommodate both current students and an increasing number of new enrollees.

The preliminary budget is a revision of the board’s original baseline budget and includes cost adjustments and spending requests from teachers and administrators. Budget revision will continue until a final proposed budget is presented to voters on May 20.

According to Matt Bourgeois, assistant superintendent for business, the 2008-2009 preliminary budget is approximately $66.3 million, but the board is confident that this figure will be reduced further before a recommended budget is adopted on March 24. Bourgeois stated that both the spending increase and tax levy will be increased by less than 5 percent, and he estimates that the tax levy will be approximately $46 million. Because taxes will be influenced by the reevaluation of property value, exact tax rates per $1,000 of assessed value could not be determined at this time.

The preliminary budget reflects the projected increase in elementary enrollment through the addition of 2.5 staff and also includes a reduction in class sizes and a reorganization of classes that Dr. Deborah Shea, the assistant superintendent for educational programs and instruction, on Feb. 25 said has softened the differences in class sizes between buildings.

The preliminary budget also includes a list of potential adjustments that the board will review to determine which requests are of greatest priority to Niskayuna schools.

Included in the list of preliminary budget adjustments are requests from several schools for additional staffing for 2008-2009; including staff for kindergarten, special education, fourth grade, fifth grade, art, music and physical education. There are also requests for a new library automation system, new equipment for grounds maintenance, and expanded counseling services.

At the Feb. 25 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Kevin Baughman described the board’s ideal budget as `a productive budget that’s responsible and moves ahead.`

The need to be fiscally conservative while still meeting the needs of schools and students was stressed by Baughman.

When discussing the need for school expansion, he pointed out that although the Niskayuna schools construction project resulted in over $3 million in new debt for 2008-2009, this debt is fully offset by state aid, savings, and interest earnings for the next year. Because the construction is fully offset, it does not contribute to the cost of the 2008-2009 budget and causes no adverse affects for taxpayers.

The construction project is currently in progress at four Niskayuna schools: Craig Elementary School, Glencliff Elementary School, Van Antwerp Middle School and Niskayuna High School. Managed by Sano-Rubin and The Thomas Group, current construction includes building expansions to create more classrooms, the creation of larger classrooms, replacing heating and air-conditioning systems, creating a new courtyard at Craig Elementary, and building larger, fully accessible bathrooms for students. Construction at Birchwood Elementary School, Hillside Elementary School, Rosendale Elementary School, and Iroquois Middle School will begin later this spring or summer. Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2010.

When discussing the construction project with George Weingartner from Sano-Rubin and Garrett Hamlin from The Thomas Group, the board emphasized that the safety and wellbeing of Niskayuna students and staff is their top priority.

Replying to parental concerns about air quality raised at a January parent-teacher organization meeting, Bourgeois stated that to ensure public safety the new buildings will not be using any hazardous materials, such as asbestos. The board has also decided to randomly test soil from the construction site to ensure that there are no health hazards. In response to staff’s concerns about traffic problems and noise disruptions caused by the construction, both the construction managers’ communication team and the board are eager to resolve any issues.

The board has not come to a final budget decision yet, but will continue to review the budget over the next three weeks. A recommended budget will be adopted on March 24 and a final budget will be presented to voters on May 20. Board meetings take place every Monday at 7 p.m. The next meeting is March 10 at the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium. “