CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — When he raised his hand to take the oath of office as a recently re-elected member of the Shenendehowa Board of Education, Gary DiLallo officially began his 19th year on the board.
His long tenure there springs from a deep desire to use his years of experience in the field of education to better the community.
Originally from Schenectady and a Linton High School graduate, DiLallo first ran for a board seat in 2000, a time when controversy enveloped the Shen community due to the need for a larger high school. He advocated there be two separate high schools and was defeated.
“I wasn’t in agreement with what the board was proposing, and I wasn’t in agreement with what the other candidates were proposing,” he said describing his first run. “I will say the two-building arrangement has worked out well.”
With the expansion issue settled, he ran for a seat the following year stressing his many years as a social studies teacher in the Mechanicville School District. This time he was successful.
“I felt I had something to offer,” he said. “My 28 years in the classroom and as union leader gave me an insight that no one else on the board had at that time.”
A 1960 Linton High School graduate, where he played football and competed in track and a freshman football player at McNeese State University, DiLallo coached both sports as well as an age-group swim team for Mechanicville.
In addition to being a former Shen Board of Education President, he has also been the board’s representative to the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA) for many years. In that capacity, DiLallo has been instrumental in getting two questionable state education regulations reversed and one federal regulation modified.
It was a resolution from DiLallo, to NYSSBA that moved the organization to lend its support to overturn a New York State Regents rule that reduced the number of years new teachers were allowed to obtain their graduate degrees. The Regents’ ruling had reduced the time allotted from five years to three.
“When you are brand new to teaching you probably have two or three preparations to do each night depending on how many grade levels or different disciplines you’re given within your area of expertise,” DiLallo said. “It could be different grade levels or, in smaller school districts, you could be teaching several grade levels and multiple disciplines. To do all that and work on your Master’s Degree at the same time is way over and above what I think is reasonable to ask people to do. Plus, a graduate degree is not cheap. You’re talking big money when you’re making the least you’ll ever make and most people are carrying college debts.”
Despite NYSSBA lobbyists throwing cold water on his idea, DiLallo wrote a resolution with Board of Education support asking NYSSBA to adopt a resolution supporting a return to five years, which it did. That acceptance by NYSSBA got the organization’s governmental relations body behind it and eventually moved the Regents to reverse itself.
Another resolution DiLallo submitted to NYSSBA got the ball rolling on a state law that now allows school districts the authority to create a reserve fund dedicated specifically to stabilizing each district’s contribution to the state’s Teacher Retirement Fund.
“The money in the [state] Teachers Retirement Fund goes up and down based on the stock market,” he said. “I’ve seen it go from 20 percent [of a district’s total tax levy] to 0 percent. What school districts want is something that doesn’t fluctuate so dramatically; something stable. My resolution asked NYSSBA to support districts being given the authority to establish a reserve.”
That action could only be changed by the state Legislature.
After an initial stumbling block which centered on who would control the reserves, the Legislature approved the bill allowing districts the authority to create the reserve fund.
DiLallo was also successful in defeating the federal government’s “Cadillac Tax."
His efforts, again as the board’s representative to NYSSBA, helped defeat a federal effort to reduce the number of high-quality health programs school districts were offering their employees.
When the federal government began considering instituting a financial penalty for those school districts that exceeded a numerical cap from offering their employees better health care programs DiLallo saw red.
“The cap was not going to keep up with inflation and the increases from the insurance companies. It became apparent that school districts were going to break the cap quickly and the penalty would go into effect,” he said.
DiLallo wrote a resolution urging NYSSBA to have the National School Board Association adopt a recommendation to get the cap eliminated as part of the organization’s national legislative program, which it did.
“The regulations in the Affordable Care Act for that section were changed shortly thereafter,” he said.
Asked to name a few successes that he’s most proud of as a member of the Shen Board of Education, DiLallo noted the approach the district has given in its yearly budget review to its facilities, changes made to the district’s elementary schools that now give students similar experiences whichever school they attend, the transportation facility upgrade that allows for on-site bus repairs, the expansion of the number of classrooms in the district, and the addition of the swimming pool.
Questioned as to what he would like to see the board undertake this school year DiLallo didn’t hesitate.
“I’d like to see us go forward with acquiring land in Halfmoon for the future,” he said. “There’s no telling how long that’ll be and whether we’ll get more mandates in the meantime, but getting some land over there is a priority. I’d also like to see [the district] develop a stronger partnership with the community, so our students have opportunities to do things other than academics; hands-on things.”
He added that a personal goal of his is to have future leadership capacity developed on the Board of Education and within the district.
“It’s just a good idea to have people internally that can step in and lead,” he said. “There’s too many people out there who are place holders. They’re not leaders. Shen wants leaders.”