Interim Superintendent of Schools John Yagielski reflected on the state of the district since his April appointment during a progress report to the Board of Education on Tuesday night.
Following a goal of teamwork and cooperation set out at one of his first board meetings with the district, Yagielski guided the creation of a code of conduct for the board. Rosemarie Perez-Jacquith and Barbara Mauro teamed up to write the document, and on Tuesday night the board agreed the current draft was positive and well-written. They will vote to approve it at the next board meeting.
“I see it as one of those important ingredients as we go looking for a new superintendent, having this sort if thing on the record that this is our code and this is the way we’re going to behave,” Yagielski said. “That will be very helpful.”
Not long ago, board members didn’t seem to agree on much of anything, let alone a document governing their conduct. The contentious and expensive departure of previous superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio caused heated disagreements among board members. Yagielski said during his progress report he had witnessed districtwide efforts to improve, but could still pinpoint organizational shortcomings that distracted from the district’s most important responsibilities.
“It has to be unequivocal that student learning is our focus,” he said.
Lack of clear organizational structure, insecurity and unwillingness to take responsibility, and unhealthy competition between different schools and departments led his list of problem areas.
Yagielski has already established his willingness to be blunt with the board. A roles and responsibilities presentation in May set change in motion, and a working session July 29 focused on the ways board members do business with each other and the community. The July session resulted in the newly drafted code of conduct.
It’s tenuous territory, but Yagielski encouraged board members to be detached and professional about changes, rather than place blame.
“Resist thinking about people. Think about functions,” Yagielski advised.
Cooperation was the buzzword in another special item on the agenda, as well, this time regarding transportation. Niskayuna is in talks with the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Scotia-Glenville school districts to share bus routes that cost districts tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes for one or two students.
Yagielski used St. Coleman’s School in Watervliet as an example: Niskayuna sends three students, and Burnt Hills sends one. Combining the routes would save about $30,000 over the year.
How to distribute those savings is still in question, as are policies to ensure students feel safe, comfortable and confident in the new routes.
The Scotia-Glenville school board has already approved a partnership, and Burnt Hills is expected to vote soon.
“I suspect that will add up to a lot of dollars,” Yagielski said.
“It’s at that stage where it’s between two attorneys, doing the final touches,” he added.
During the meeting, the board also approved the tax warrant for the 2014-15 school year. In three of the four towns that make up the district — Niskayuna, Glenville and Clifton Park — the levy increased by less than the recommended 2.3 percent. In Colonie, the rate increased by 4.4 percent.
The total tax levy for the upcoming school year is expected to top $54 million. In addition, the district’s state aid will come to almost $19 million.