Schenectady County

Schenectady school board OKs contingency budget

The city school board finally set a budget Tuesday night — and without eliminating JROTC.

The city school board finally set a budget Tuesday night — and without eliminating JROTC.

A group of JROTC students and their teacher sat through the nearly three-hour meeting in hopes that their presence would dissuade the board from killing their program.

Chief Master Sgt. Jayne Thompson, who runs JROTC, told the board that the program came to Schenectady to turn the high school around by creating an “environment of respect.”

One of her students described the 1,300 hours of community service each member is required to do. They also create “Operation: GPA” plans to improve their grades.

“This is a program worth saving,” Thompson said.

In the end, the board agreed. Instead of cutting the $87,000 JROTC, it cut $40,000 from auditing services and $47,000 in salaries.

The salary cut is a guesstimate — the board will offer a retirement incentive to certain teachers and administrators who make much more than their replacements would earn, but don’t have enough time in the state pension system to retire. The board would have to make cuts elsewhere if workers choose not to retire.

The final cuts also included the $59,000 chief of security, over board member Jeff Janiszewski’s objections.

“I still think that’s a vital position,” he said.

Security will now be coordinated by an assistant superintendent and the building principals.

The new budget is $160.7 million, which is precisely the amount allowed by the state for contingency budgets. Two previous budgets were rejected by voters.

The new budget includes a $53.6 million tax levy, up 2.96 percent from this year.

The board also voted on three controversial employment resolutions, all of which passed by a vote of 4-2.

Board members Diane Herrmann and Andrew Chestnut voted against each one. Board member Ron Lindsay was not present.

The first resolution was a one-year contract extension for Chief Technology Officer Lawrence Murphy, whose contract would have expired next June.

Chestnut called Murphy’s employment “troubling” because he was given a $116,000 job immediately upon leaving the school board. Murphy had been board president.

But board member Gary Farkas said the job was critical, arguing, “In the business world, to have no position like this in a company of this size would be irresponsible, because then you’re wasting the technology you do have.”

Top school executives have contractual agreements to, essentially, a year’s notice of termination. The contracts must be renewed or rejected by June 30 a year before the expiration date.

Chestnut proposed changing that to July 30 in future contracts, which would allow newly elected board members to vote on extensions while giving rejected executives 11 months to find a new job.

Janiszewski disagreed, saying employees could become “a political football.”

Chestnut and Herrmann also fought school attorney Shari Greenleaf’s $115,000, one-year contract extension on the grounds that it might be cheaper to hire attorneys as needed. Like Murphy, her contract would have expired next June.

Board President Maxine Brisport accused them of voting against Greenleaf for personal reasons, and told them they could not get rid of every district leader.

“You can’t remove everything all at once or we will be in even more of a crisis than we already are,” she said, likening it to a house that would collapse if the entire foundation was removed.

Chestnut responded, “What if we’re at the dentist? Do we really want the foundation of cavities to be built on?”

Chestnut and Herrmann continued their fight with the hiring of Catherine Janiszewski, who for five years held a $53,715 job without taking the required Civil Service test.

When she took it, she was not among the highest scorers, but four others who scored above her decided not to take the job when it was offered to them.

Janiszewski’s supervisor, Lori McKenna, said the others may have declined the job because they were told that the position might end in one year. The position is funded by a federal grant that ends in August 2011.

Residents who came to the meeting hotly opposed Janiszewski’s hiring, calling it nepotism. Catherine Janiszewski is the wife of board member Jeff Janiszewski.

“It is time for a clean slate and an end to the silent deals and cover-ups,” resident Adam McIlravey said.

Robert’s Rules of Order, which McIlravey read, state that board members can’t be forced not to vote, even in cases of conflicts of interest. But the rules say members should choose not to vote.

Jeff Janiszewski refused to recuse himself. But he did not speak in defense of his wife’s job. Instead, Ely urged the board to hire her, saying she has “been doing this job admirably.”

Chestnut said school officials clearly abused the Civil Service system to find a way to keep her.

“I’m very troubled by this,” he said, and asked the board to “turn the corner” on corruption by voting against her hiring.

She was hired by a vote of 4-2. Again, Chestnut and Herrmann voted no.

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