School board candidate sit-down

Photo by Dion Ogust

With a two-percent tax-cap in place and finances tight, how can Saugerties maintain quality schools that prepare students for the future? This was one of seven questions we asked each of the four candidates for the Saugerties Board of Education.

Their answers were revealing.

The School Board represents the community. Members usually do not have the professional training of administrators, who actually run our schools, but they serve an important policy-making role. Their single biggest function is budgetary. Administrators use past expenditures, projected future demands and state and federal mandates to devise preliminary budgets, but it’s up to the School Board to decide if the community would like to see something different. Often, that means lower taxes or cost-savings, but it can also mean investing to improve facilities or programs. Other times, the board doesn’t do much to change what the administration presents. It depends on the board; particularly, the board’s relationship with the superintendent. In Saugerties, the board has gone from a cozy relationship in the early to mid-aughts, to a contentious one, and back to a good one under superintendent Seth Turner, the former principal of Morse Elementary.

Four candidates will vie for three open seats this year. The terms are three years.

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Incumbents Teresa Bach-Tucker and Richard Petramale have filed petitions, as have Donald Tucker, a former school board president who left the board to focus on his work as a police sergeant, and newcomer Lawrence Quick. Incumbent E. Duane Taylor did not file a petition.

The election, to be held May 15, will also include a referendum on the school district proposed $54.7 million budget. Last year, the board put two versions of its budget to voters, and both failed at the polls. This time, school officials say there’s no way they can cut anything from the budget without directly affecting students.

 

 

Teresa Bach-Tucker

Teresa Bach-Tucker served on the Saugerties Board of Education from 1992 to 2001. She left to devote her time to raising her son. And, she said, as board president at the time, she found it was virtually a full-time job. She is employed as produce manager at Hurley Ridge Market. She returned to the board in 2009, and is seeking another term.

Why are you running for the board?

I returned to the board three years ago, and I want to continue. Now my son is 20, and I have the time. The school district has had a few tough years, and I can contribute experience to help get through the tough times.

I also want to work with Seth [Turner, school superintendent]. I hired him as a teacher, promoted him to assistant principal and to principal, and I want to see him be successful. I think my experience of the years I served will serve him well.

What special strengths do you believe you bring to the board?

The district has had difficult financial times recently, and I think my financial education and bookkeeping experience would be valuable. We are finally on solid ground again, and I would like to keep the momentum moving in that direction. I’m part of the negotiation committee, and I’d like to see that through.

One challenge for School Board members is that over the past three years, state aid has decreased by $3.5 million, and after I had been on the board for one month, they told me about the deficit of $1.6 million. The current board has done a good job of turning the deficit around, and I believe my experience helped them achieve that. I studied management at Cornell University and though I didn’t graduate, those courses helped me in the financial realm. I also took many of the courses offered by the New York State School Boards Association, including a course in finance.

The school district has seen its budget defeated over the past several years. How can the district budget to meet the needs of students and also the needs of taxpayers?

I think the public is angry at the fact that the unions haven’t given any givebacks. I think they’re angry that the board only cut last year’s budget by a dollar (after two defeats at the polls) so I’m concerned that in that anger they may vote down this budget. I would hope that they will educate themselves to really understand what we’ve been through over the last three years. With that financial deficit and with decreased state aid, we have managed to maintain education. I’ve said this before – there’s very little wiggle room left in the finances. Hopefully, I’ve built enough trust with the public that they will trust me when I say to them, we need this budget passed.

School boards all over the area are trying to maintain programs; it’s really a balancing act. The state acted to bring spending under control with the 2 percent cap, but what the state has to come across with is funding the mandates – or cutting out the mandates. I wish we could come up with another way to fund education, but realistically I don’t think that’s going to happen.

In the past, there was waste in the budget. When I first came on the board, I saw there were 14 teaching positions we could do away with. We have reduced and tightened up in a lot of areas, so there isn’t waste.

The recently released “school report card” shows a graduation rate of 75 percent, while the state minimum for an effective school is 80 percent. What can the district do to improve graduation rates?

I have a question on that, and I called Seth and gave him the question so he would have time to research it. This comes as a mother, not so much a board member. In 2003 we changed the attendance policy. It used to be if you missed 18 days of school you did not graduate. Now there’s not a limit on how many days you can miss. My question is, can you give me graduation numbers since 2003 and see if this issue hasn’t increased since there isn’t a mandate any more of how many days students are allowed to be absent. Being in attendance is important in improving grades. I think the issue should really be studied a little bit more – what is the reason children don’t graduate. Could we send a survey home with these students; I don’t think anyone has done that, really gotten down to the nitty-gritty of why are kids leaving? I think that type of thing needs to be done.

With declining enrollments, do you see a need to close a school?

Not at this time. When I was first on the board and looked at the enrollment numbers, I could see where the areas were that we could decrease. We basically have done that when we laid off the 68 positions. Your savings comes from the salaries of the staff in those buildings. We eliminated that staff so we achieved the savings. Seth’s point to me was that neighborhood schools build communities. I do feel that every one of our elementary schools has a very strong PTA, and they have a very strong sense of community. We had achieved the savings by reducing the positions, so we were able to keep the elementary schools open. Down the line, in a few years, I’m hoping that we will see more enrollment, and we’ll be ahead of the game if we haven’t closed a school.

With control of expenses a great concern, what can the School Board do to ensure Saugerties is preparing students for the jobs of the future?

I think we’re doing a good job. We have a very dedicated staff and regardless of the finances they come in and they focus on the children, and I think that’s our best asset. I think we have a very active superintendent who really has his thumb on the pulse of the district. Mr. Apostle [the assistant superintendent] does a great job on superintendents’ days, working with the staff to develop professional development. The teachers have a committee that works with Mr. Apostle to develop those professional days. We pay the least per student, but I think we have remarkable students that come out of the system.

Is there a particular goal you would want to concentrate on as a board member over the next year or two?

Finish the policy book. That has been a huge undertaking. I would like to settle the contracts. I would like to work on the graduation rate and I would like to keep us on solid financial ground. And maintaining our buildings; that’s important.

 

 

Richard Petramale

Richard Petramale is the owner of Saugerties Carpets on Route 9W. He has a son at SUNY Plattsburgh in a Reserve Officer training program. He has served nine years on the Board of Education.

Why are you running for the School Board?

I had not intended to run again, but I find this board a good group of people to work with. They’re really interested and want to be involved in education. In the past there were a lot of problems, and the board was pretty divided, but now we all have the same thing in mind; it’s for the school, for education, the kids. And taxes. But everyone is working hard to make everyone happy. It’s a good bunch of people. They wanted me to stay on, so I said, sure, I’ll stay on now that we’ve got it running smoothly.

There’s only so much money, and we try to make sure the kids get what they need. I think everyone is happy, and when everyone’s happy things run more smoothly. In business, when my employees are happy, we all do better.

We’ve accomplished a lot in the nine years I was on the board. We got the building refitted, and the track. When there was money, you could do a lot, and everything looked fine. Then the crash came, and we looked bad because we were taking from everyone. We were left with a deficit. I’m not a school business administrator, I didn’t see it coming. The administration said we had money coming to us, and we ended up going into a deficit. We came out of that in the last couple of years with everyone mad at us. We went through all the bad stuff, now I think other districts are dealing with that. They had surplus they had to use; now we’ve gained a little surplus. The administration is working really well. It’s a happy place again, so I would like to stay on.

What special strengths do you believe you would bring to the board?

I have participated in running my family business for 30 years. I know budgeting, bookkeeping, and purchasing. Educational and financial decisions are for the administration to make, but I do bring a good financial background to the board.

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This school district has seen budgets defeated year after year. How should the district be budgeting to meet both the needs of the students and the needs of the taxpayers?

I think this budget will pass. The past couple of years were definitely high, very high, and we were cutting in those years – not even spending. I think the way things are, with this 2 percent cap, if it does get defeated and we have to make cuts it would be very hard to add those cuts back in next year. So as a board we are going to try to make sure we are all together on it, and hopefully we can get the people to pass it. I don’t know how angry they are, but in the last couple of years it was mainly the high increase in taxes that was the problem. Most people, they’re only worried about their tax bill. If it is advertised the right way, and put to them, I think they should be happy. They can see we have a surplus, and they can see that it has been pretty conservatively run with this administration and board. We have tried to keep what the kids have; we could strip them, but we don’t want to do that.

The recently released school “report card” showed a graduation rate of 75 percent. The state’s minimum for an effective school is 80 percent, which some say is still too low. What can the district do to improve this?

I pretty much leave that up to the administration to work on that, Seth [Turner, school superintendent] and Mike [Apostle, assistant superintendent]. It seems low, but it depends on how they get those numbers. The board would work with Seth, and want him to address that. He’s the CEO, we can only direct him. I think he had a lot on the table over the last few years; when you can breathe a little easier from the economic problems you can put more time to the other things. Not that they shouldn’t be doing it all, but it was very tough dealing with the employees and the money situation over the past few years. You can use a surplus up over a short time – major repair to a building, kids with special education needs, can eat it all up.

School enrollments have been falling over the past several years. Is it time to think about closing a school? Which one would be your first choice?

I don’t think so. There’s a lot involved in busing kids to all the other three schools, I don’t see us taking that on in the near future. Before I would support it, you would have to show me quite a bit of savings. You would have to prove it to me. The building would have to be maintained or you would lose the investment. I don’t know of any businesses coming into the area that would rent it or buy it. You would need teachers in the other schools to cover the children anyway. You would also have to consider class sizes and transportation.

With controlling expenses such a big concern, what can the School Board do to ensure Saugerties is preparing students for the jobs of the future?

Not unless health insurance goes down. Most of the increase is in contractual costs – salaries, the health insurance plan, retirement – you have to meet those. And with a 2 percent cap, whatever is left you have to make do with. That’s what the problem is going to be in the future.

Do you have any special goals you want to concentrate on over the next couple of years?

I guess if we can add more electives for the children – more programs, rather than just running on what’s needed. If we can take care of that, maybe if the economy improves, we can offer more electives, more programs for the kids. We’ve been taking from the children to pay for things that had to be paid for. Now, with a 2 percent cap, it’s going to be very tough. If we can maintain our spending to give to the children, that would be a goal.

If we have to go to a second vote, we would have to take something out, and the only thing left to take out is children’s programs.

 

 

Lawrence Quick

Lawrence Quick is a retired computer specialist, who formerly worked for IBM. He has a grown son, who is a doctor. He has also worked in the printing industry.

Why are you running for the school board?

I would like to introduce suggestion programs and cost effectiveness programs. These have been very effective in the computer industry. The way a suggestion program works is you come up with an idea that would bring some money into the school district you would get paid a percentage of that. The way a cost effectiveness program works is if you find a way to be really cost effective — say you found a way to save $10,000 or $20,000 on electricity — you would get a percentage of that. A couple of programs like that would help because the taxpayers, you have a hard time getting money from them. So if you want to get money you’ll have to use your brain power to find new ways to raise money.

What special strengths do you bring to the board?

Thirty years of being in the work force. I’ve worked in computers for 16 years and, and nine years of working on printing presses. I have a lot of experience working with people, and how to effectively run businesses and keep them going. I also talk to a lot of people to get their ideas. The ideas I am bringing to the board come from the computer industry. Suggestion and cost effectiveness programs are some of the ways the computer industry developed. They paid you for your brain work. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from working in the computer industry – how we run those businesses.

The school district has seen budgets defeated year after year. How should the district be budgeting to meet both the needs of the students and the needs of the taxpayers?

The way it is right now, there’s a tax cap. I think they will be lucky if they can get the budget passed. They are doing the best they can in trying to keep it there. It isn’t easy because you have the rest of the economy out there, and it’s very hard to control inflation in the economy. Even if inflation in general is fairly flat, certain costs keep going up, like fuel prices that are rising quite rapidly. And that spreads through the economy – the guy that’s driving a truck is going to raise his prices to cover his fuel costs.

The recently released school report card showed a graduation rate of 75 percent. The state minimum for effective schools is 80 percent, which some say is still too low. What can the district do to improve this?

That’s not good. The way things are in our world you really need a 100 percent graduation rate because it is such a competitive society you really need that (high school diploma). I don’t have a solution right off the top of my head, but I will do some thinking about this to try to figure out better ways to keep the kids in school. It’s a very difficult problem, because some of them have very hard home lives and they have a hard time just getting to school.

School enrollments have been falling in the Saugerties School District over the past few years. Is it time to think about closing a school? Which one would be your first choice?

That would have to be looked at, and the numbers would have to be crunched, but it might have to be a possibility. I’ve been talking with people, and some people are even saying they would like to see schools where there is even a first- and second-shift deal. They could shut down some schools and have less superstructure. When they start getting into high school, they could have two shifts or year-round high school. But if enrollment are falling, they might have to think about closing one of the schools. Which one? It would be a number thing: you would look at the numbers and say “this is the one to close” because the numbers would point me in that direction.

With controlling expenses such a big concern, what can the school board do to be sure Saugerties is preparing students for the jobs of the future?

I don’t have a thought on that. I think they’re doing a fairly good job of that right now, or trying their best. I don’t have any thoughts on how they could do it better.

Do you have any special goals you hope to achieve over the next year or two?

First, as I said before, to implement the suggestion and cost effectiveness programs for the schools.

In general, I realize the taxpayers are strapped and are paying all they can afford. From going around to everybody’s homes, that seemed to be the general idea I got. Another impression I got from talking to people is that some of the younger teachers feel the older teachers should share more. They wouldn’t have to lay some of the younger teachers off if the older teachers would share a little bit of their money, but the older teachers are saying ‘my retirement is based on how much I was making in the last three years.’ Board members say the unions are hard to budge. The unions have to be more willing to budge.

 

 

Donald Tucker

Donald Tucker served on the Saugerties Board of Education from 2003 to 2009. When he left the board, the Town of Saugerties Police Department’s chief was suspended and two sergeants, one of them Tucker, had taken charge. He now serves as a sergeant with the Saugerties Police Department.

He is married to Barbara, who is employed as a school aide, a job she’s held since before they married. His daughter, Theresa, is graduating from Mount Saint Mary College with a bachelor’s in education. After graduating high school, Tucker went directly to work with the police department.

Why are you running for the school board?

The community has given me a lot; the ability to support myself as a police officer in the community for 35 years, and a good education for my daughter in the Saugerties school system. My wife and I feel that she got a very good education, which helped her in her college. She will be graduating in May, and she’s going into the teaching field.

To sum it up, the community has been very good to me, and this is a way to give something back. I have done that my entire career.

I’m a paid police officer, but I think it extends far beyond pay into the community. The School Board is a lot of work but it’s also rewarding, and it’s my way of helping out.

What special strengths do you bring to the board?

I bring sincerity and honesty; I treat everyone with respect, diplomacy if you will. When I was involved with negotiations with the teachers, I felt we had a good working relationship. I showed them the respect that they deserved, and certainly they gave us back the respect that we deserved, and there were times we didn’t agree, but we did it in a way that no disrespect was shown to the membership.

The school district has seen budgets defeated year after year. How should the district be budgeting to meet the needs of the students and the needs of the taxpayers?

The community has defeated the budget because we are all in a crisis we can’t afford. We’re all living week-to-week on our paychecks. I’ve said this before: when they have it, they give it. And they don’t have it right now. The extra money is just not there.

We’ve seen a reduction in the number of pupils attending the schools and the staff has been reduced quite a bit. I looked at the new budget, and the numbers are there; they’ve gone down considerably. I don’t think we’re out of a budget crisis, we will be in it for some time to come, I believe. Not just the school district, the community itself. People have not rebounded from where we were before. I’m including myself in that batch. My taxes are $6,000 a year, and I’m sure there are a lot higher than that.

I’m sure there are a lot more cuts that could be made, but where do you take it from? Do you take it from the administration? Do you take it from the staff? From art? Music? You can only take it so far down; then it directly affects the children.

The budget is coming in at 1.89 percent, which is under the 2 percent cap set by Governor Cuomo. If the budget fails, there are $600,000 more in cuts that have to be made, and with that it will severely impact the children. And I don’t like it any more than my neighbor, and I know it will mean an increase in my taxes, but it has to be. I think the present administration has done a good job with presenting the budget, of keeping the public informed, making the necessary cuts that they have made to date. When you really look at it, they’ve done a pretty good job.

The recently released “school report card” shows a graduation rate of 75 percent. The state’s minimum for effective schools is 80 percent. What can the district do to improve this?

There is room for improvement, which they are working on, and they are doing. I’m optimistic that that number will come up. Attendance affects it, new curriculum – different items in the curriculum. They are doing it, I’ve seen the reports. And there are now mandates coming from the state, geared to the education of the students and the teachers. I’ve seen the reports, the timelines and evaluations. Hopefully, that will do it.

But there are so many mandates put on the districts, and not just the districts, it’s the community at large. There are mandates for every work place that are not funded. And we certainly need more state aid.

School enrollments have been falling over the past several years. Is it time to think about closing a school? Which one would be your first choice?

That has been kicked around by previous boards. I have not seen that study, so I’m a little bit at a loss to answer that question. I know there was a study done, and I believe Seth Turner said it wasn’t feasible at this time. I don’t want to quote him, but I do know that as a result of that study nothing happened. Could it happen sometime in the future? It’s something that should be looked at and given some consideration. If enrollment goes down, and there’s a shift in population, I would be [in favor]; if overall it would save money, and it doesn’t affect the students. But I can’t give you a flat answer until I see the study.

With controlling expenses such a big concern, what can the School Board do to ensure Saugerties is preparing students for the jobs of the future?

We can. The guidelines coming out will affect the accountability of the students and the accountability of the teachers – in a positive way. When I was on the board, I used to go around and talk to a lot of the teachers to see what they felt about the programs that are coming out. They are ultimately the ones that are teaching our children, and many of them will give you honest answers. If it is beneficial they will tell you, and if it’s not they will tell you that also. The new mandates coming out will be a test for everybody.

Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve on the board in the next two or three years?

I would like to go back to the days when you would present a budget to the public and they would be satisfied with it, and they accepted it. They were satisfied with it because they felt it was reasonable and something they could afford. And certainly to enhance the quality of the education. That’s a never-ending thing, it always continues.

 

 (Candidate photos by David Gordon) 

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