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Veteran educator looks back

Financial crisis dominates in Colucciello’s 53rd year

Monday, January 7, 2013
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To Raymond Colucciello, the year 2013 simply marks another year of work in the field of education.

That career began when he first served as a fourth-grade teacher at the Scotia-Glenville district ­— in 1960.

Since then, he’s held leadership posts in urban, suburban and rural districts including Schenectady, Voorheesville and Sharon Springs.

Colucciello’s recent appointment as interim superintendent at the Fonda-Fultonville school district in Montgomery County represents year 53 for the Scotia resident.

And he hasn’t called in sick once.

Colucciello retired in 1993 after serving 22 years at the Schenectady City School District, ending as superintendent there.

His tenure in Schenectady followed work for nine years as a teacher in grades 4-6 in Scotia-Glenville schools, then at the high school teaching history and geography in grades nine and 10.

He rose to serve as principal at Scotia-Glenville’s Sacandaga Elementary School before serving as assistant principal, technical services manager and curriculum director.

Colucciello played a critical role pulling the Schenectady district out of a $10 million deficit when he served as superintendent before “retiring.”

He’s been working for school districts for 20 years since then.

In more than five decades, he’s held other posts including interim principal and interim superintendent at the Albany, Sharon Springs, Voorheesville, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Schoharie school districts.

Colucciello is one “unique” Capital Region resident, said Patrick Michel, superintendent at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Education Services.

“It’s rare to find somebody who is as energetic and as involved as he is,” said Michel, who has been filling in as interim superintendent at Fonda-Fultonville since former superintendent James Hoffman left to lead the Averill Park district this past summer.

Michel said Colucciello was one of three “very good” candidates considered to serve as interim superintendent.

“Ray definitely was ahead of the rest because of his experience and the fact that he’s been through fiscal crisis. What Fonda’s going through is old news to Ray,” Michel said.

After deciding that juggling both the BOCES and Fonda-Fultonville superintendent positions was too much and the Board of Education agreed to search for an administrator, Michel said he called Colucciello to see if he’d consider it.

Ultimately, the Board of Education decided on Colucciello.

“I’m glad he got the job. It was really the board’s decision, and I told the board ‘you’re hiring Derek Jeter here,’ ” Michel said.

The son of Italian immigrants, Colucciello, 75, has some advice for those looking to stay active: work hard and eat plenty of vegetables.

He arrives at the Fonda-Fultonville district to assume a difficult task of finding nearly $100,000 in spending cuts to balance the school’s budget.

If there’s one constant he’s noticed over five decades in local schools, it’s the struggle for funding.

But one thing that’s different today, Colucciello said, is the widespread nature of financial difficulty.

“The part that’s throwing a lot of us is it’s the first time in 80 years this nation’s been broke,” he said.

“The U.S. has never had to go to China to borrow money. That’s new. We’ve always said we don’t have enough money, we’ve always said we don’t have enough resources. Now, the entire nation is really in free-fall, economically,” Colucciello said.

Despite less-than-cheery economic forecasts, Colucciello maintains a positive attitude. But he believes the Fonda-Fultonville district’s plight foreshadows difficult times to come at other districts.

IN THE HOLE

After an audit, Fonda-Fultonville officials learned their fund balance, believed to be $500,000, was actually nonexistent.

The discovery forced midyear budget adjustments, and projections for the 2013-14 year suggest the district faces a $1.4 million budget gap.

“If this one is the first one off the cliff, we’re going to get company,” Colucciello said, pointing to a recent report issued by the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

The report, “Can’t Get There From Here,” showed that more than 40 percent of superintendents participating in a survey expect their districts to be unable to pay some bills within four years.

Though the situation sounds dire, Colucciello said hard times draw out good solutions.

“The nice part of this crisis is that it will bring better solutions, and creative ones. You can’t waste a good crisis,” he said.

Colucciello said he doesn’t have any instant solutions, but he’s confident answers will surface once he’s made inroads drawing suggestions from people in classrooms.

“Boots on the ground have to help you. I can tell you a lot of stuff but until I talk to boots on the ground, I could be doing the wrong thing. I’ve got to do it prudently. These kids only come here once, and we’ve only got one shot at it,” Colucciello said.

Input from other administrators, teachers and staff members is critical and always part of solutions to difficult situations, he said.

“It’s got to be a ‘together’ thing … so that everybody has an opportunity to give. You’ve got to keep the strength of your organization.”

OPTIMISM

“My mantra right now is this is going to be fixed,” Colucciello said of Fonda-Fultonville’s financial plight.

Optimism, he said, is one trait he got from his mother.

“My mother died at 106 and she was still thinking about the future. She talked about tomorrow,” Colucciello said.

He believes hard work, another value passed down from his parents, is also a key to longevity.

His father, Michael Colucciello, married Maria DiSimone in Fontanarosa, Italy, before fighting in World War I and being injured in 1915. He then moved to America in 1923, leaving his wife and three children behind.

Colucciello recalled in a Daily Gazette article by late Schenectady historian Larry Hart how his dad worked for six years at General Electric, sending money to his family in Italy before they moved to the U.S. in the middle of the Great Depression in 1930.

The family grew to eight children, one being Raymond Colucciello, who hasn’t yet gotten tired of working.

“I tell people you may be stuck with me for another 25 years,” said Colucciello, who eats mostly vegetables.

“Vegetables and hard work every day. Those two combinations we were taught early on,” he said.

He counts himself as one of the lucky ones, though, because he sees his career as one with a purpose.

“This is about making things better for students. If you keep in mind that you’re here for these students, it’s doable,” he said.

“You get your satisfaction from the success of the students.”

 
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