In a telephone interview on Tuesday, D'Orazio
said, "Closing a school is a very divisive decision for
a community. I've been through the Indian decision [when the
board attempted to remove the high school's Indian mascot several
years ago], I was involved in that decision. It was extremely
divisive and caused people to be elected to the board on the
back of that issue who had other agendas. And the more I hear
from various departments, the more I feel even financially,
closing the school doesn't make sense. There are hidden expenses.
Although we'll be saving of logistical and financial problems
with transportation. We're not sure we have a tenant for the
building; BOCES might not want it.
The superintendent tells me that the other
three schools would be at capacity, and what if we need more
space? Mr. Rosato said it might cost a lot to reopen the building
later."D'Orazio feels the Princeton Plan would actually
be beneficial to the district. "It's a sound educational
plan as presented to me by the superintendent, and Meg Carey
good. It will unify the young people at an earlier age than
they are now. Students and parents [from West Hurley and Woodstock]
will be forced to interact with each other sooner rather than
later," he commented, referring to problems reported at
the middle school, where children from different elementary
schools are stereotyped and treated with hostility by other
Teachers, too, would be mixed together as some
Woodstock teachers would go to West Hurley and vice versa."Closing
a school is serious business," D'Orazio continued. "It's
a psychological blow that sends a message of pessimism. I don't
want to do that to the community. Now the board enjoys a quiet
feeling of doing business. Once the community is mad at us,
people start making accusations of trustees having ulterior
motives—it creates a bad environment."
To accommodate the reduced savings of the Princeton
Plan proposal, administrators have been scouring the budget
for more areas to cut, said Rowe, including custodial staff
and equipment, deeper cuts in cafeteria services, supplies,
textbooks, BOCES, and possible reductions in programs rather
than elimination of entire programs. When student requests for
next year's high school classes are made, he said, "We
will review everything with a low enrollment."
If the voters reject the board's budget, the
board has a chance to bring another budget proposal to a vote.
A second rejection will result in a contingency budget, limited
to a three percent increase over this year's budget. D'Orazio
said the board would have to discuss how to handle an initial
rejection. "We can decide to reduce it more [before the
second vote] or we can put it out again, ask the voters to think
about it." If the district is forced to go to a contingency
budget, said D'Orazio, "Even then I would still not favor
closing a school to deal with it. We
could probably find other areas to reduce."
The contract was originally approved by county
legislators on April 11, 2002 and signed by county legislature
chairman Ward Todd and county attorney Frank Murray on April 15,
2002. It was set to run for nine months, but legislators last
week approved an extension for an additional three years by a
20-10 vote. The contract calls for the tribe to pay the county
$15 million per year for seven years, if the casino is ever built,
in exchange for which the county must support the Modoc's application,
and actively help it to get situated.
But the signed contract resulted from a series of apparentlyunannounced,
unrecorded meetings that included Todd, Murray and county legislative
majority leader Richard Gerentine with tribal respresentives.
How long the meetings have been occurring is unclear, but they
began no later than the winter of 2002. The April 11, 2002 vote
to approve the contract initially was 25-8 in a body where Republicans
hold a 24-9 majority. But legislators learned of the contract
for the first time the night of the vote, and were not given a
chance to examine it before voting. At least some of the meetings
that led to the contract were under auspices of a five-member
special committee appointed by Todd, and chaired by Gerentine.
The meetings were apparently attended by Murray. At least some
of the meetings took place in Todd's office, but those involved
say no records are available on who attended or when they took
"First of all, I didn't know it had to be in the public eye,"
said Gerentine regarding the Special Committee to Study Casino
Gambling. Gerentine was responding to a Freedom of Information
act request for minutes and other records of meetings that the
special committee or any other county officials had in relation
to the Modoc Tribe and its casino applications. "We had various
meetings, there were no official minutes taken at those meetings,"
said Gerentine. "There's no minutes. And I was not aware
that any minutes had to be taken."But the lack of meetings
is an apparent violation of existing statutes.
"It's been part of the state law since 1977," said Robert
Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.
He said public officials are obligated to keep written records
recording what transpires, even motions that fail. The outcome
of any votes, who voted and what their vote was are the minimum
acceptable records required in minutes. "That is the function
of minutes. The minute constitute the official record, so we can
look back and say, this is what we did," Freeman said.The
meetings of the special committee have never been announced to
the media or the public, either before they occurred or even afterwards,
which violates the open meetings law.
"Every meeting of a public body must be subject to public
notice, given to the news media and the public," said Freeman.
Special legislative committees must comply with open meetings
statutes. "The law applies in the exact same way to the committee
as to the governing body," he said.
Even the appointment of the special committee was done quietly.
On March 7, 2002, one month before the county legislature approved
the deal with the Modoc, Todd sent a letter to the county clerk
appointing its members. But rather than notifiy the entire legislature
of such key appointments, as is customary, Todd's letter reads
only "cc: All appointees" County legislator Joan Feldman,
the lone Democratic appointee to the committee, was the only Democrat
on the legislature to vote in favor of the contract. She said
the special committee has had "about four" meetings,
but is not certain if she attended all of them. "When there
was a meeting, they would call and tell me, Joan there is a meeting
at such and such a time. I was personally informed," she
said. But when asked what had precipitated the three-year extension
of the contract, she said, "I didn't sit in on that. There
wasn't any meeting, I
just got a phone call."
The committee was not given any charge but was officially titled
Special Committee to Study Casino Gambling. Despite a resolution
passed by the county legislature requiring use of county departments
and personnel, including the planning department, sheriff's and
health, no studies were ever done. Who was in charge of ensuring
follow up? "Ward Todd and Gerentine, they were running this
thing," Feldman said.
Todd said that it is not his responsibility to
ensure that minutes are taken at meetings of the county legislature,
even if he is attending those meetings. "I didn't call the
meetings, I didn't schedule the meetings and I didn't do any of
the work that went along with those meetings. So it was not my
responsibility," he said. At least some of the meetings took
place in Todd's office at the county office building in Kingston,
but Todd said, "I'm not sure if I attended all of them or
not." Feldman said that David Lenefsky, an attorney working
for the Modoc Tribe, had turned in at least one study to the special
committee. She said she believes it isa transportation study,
but has not seen it, saying Lenefsky said he had only one copy
and would leave it with Todd.
Gerentine said he did not know what had become of the study Lenefsky
provided. "I have no idea," he said. "I don't have
a copy. I don't know who has a copy." Asked what the committee
had done to study gambling in Ulster, he said he was researching
consulting firms. "That's part of my job as committee chairman,"
Gerentine said. "I
wrote to two or three different firms, I specifically outlined
things I would like them to look at and that's what I asked them
to look at."
Those documents should be available, since all
Gerentine's official correspondence to private vendors is a public
document, but the letters were not in the file for public viewing
available at the county office building. The new contract brought
forth by Todd and signed on April 15, 2002 and extended last week
between Ulster County and the Modoc Indian Tribe contains some
potentially unsettling and costly clauses for the county environment
and taxpayers. The contract acknowledges that state environmental
laws will not be the standard used in determining the environmental
mitigation measures associated with the casino, "by reason
of variances, grandfather provisions or other similar laws or
provisions." As a sovereign nation, Indian tribes are not
held accountable to state laws. Todd and county attorney Frank
Murray say the environmental review for any Modoc casino will
be the responsibility of the federal bureau of Indian Affairs.
They saidsafeguards in that law are comparable to state law.
The $15 million annually paid to the county "are in full
and complete satisfaction of all local government" claims
against the Modoc for impacts from the casino, "whether or
not [the impacts are] identified in this Agreement," reads
a clause on page two. School taxes may be jolted even higher by
a casino project. The contract, on page four, says the Modoc may
be responsible for providing funds beyond those agreed to in the
contract, for public school enrollment increases attributable
"to persons residing on tribal lands."Asked abut the
provision, Todd said, " I'm not sure whether the contract
additional money to impacted school districts, but claimed it
will protect local towns and villages."
However, the Modoc cannot be asked to pay any additional money
beyond the $15 million annually to the county. And Ulster County
has "sole discretion" over how that money is spent,
and will compensate what the contract calls Locally Impacted Entities
"according to their impacts as determined by the county,"
reads a clause on page five.
But to receive any payment, the clause requires the community
must" Support and not oppose the 'Project.'" Additionally,
the contract requires the county "Assist the Tribe in responding
comments about the Project."
The county must also go to court in support of the tribe. Todd
and Murray defended the contract as an insurance policy to Ulster
County taxpayers they would at least receive some financial considerations
if a casino is sited and built in the county.
Hal Rowe taught in small Nebraska prairie towns
while continuing his education at U-Nebraska. He took his first
principalship in 1962, his first superintendency in 1963. By the
late 1960s, Rowe was teaching high school administration at the
University of Illinois, and participating first-hand in some of
the major changes taking place in education on a national basis.
But it turns out the man, despite great friendships in the academic
world, wanted back in the trenches of actual administration. So
he moved back to Nebraska. He went on to Ohio, took a second stint
teaching at Bowling Green University in the late 1970s, and eventually
remarried on condition that he move east. Thus, Hal Rowe ended
up as superintendent of the East Lyme School District in coastal
Connecticut. And from there he moved to Onteora 11 years ago,
eventually settling in Woodstock.
What drives the man? He loves the field he's in. He's proud of
the work he's done bettering staff, tweaking the education processes
he's been put in charge of.And as a person, what gets him. "I
love seeing people live up to their greatest potential. I love
the mentors I've had, as well as the mentoring I've done."
The morning had started, Pastor Granger said,
with the Church Youth Group's annual pancake breakfast. Perfect,
again, given how Nelson Shultis, the local legend being celebrated
that afternoon with a rousing, crowded funeral service and afternoon
Church Supper, had always supplied the maple syrup for the occasion.
At first from his own Sugar Bushes, first in Wittenberg and then
up on his thousand-acred stretch of land in Olive's Moon Haw,
and then as bought from those he'd originally taught the maple
"Wittenberg was the place where he grew up, where he took
over the family sawmill when his dad died when Nelson the woods
were his cathedral." Mike Shultis spoke of what Nelson used
to call the "Shultis Curse." "He told me any Shultis
who puts up a chainsaw in his hand is destined to have only daughters,"
he said, describing the birth of his four daughters. Then finally
he had a son, at which Nelson said, definitively, that the curse
was finally gone. Alice Bailey, Nelson Shultis' "kid sister,
" spoke at the service about how her brother would pick a
skunk up by its tail and heave it out of spraying distance.
Later, from home, she explained how the first
Shultises came into the area in 1709 from Germany's Rhine Valley.
Three brothers arrived at the Livingston's Clermont estate on
the Hudson in Germantown, where they worked chopping pine trees
for the pitch tar used in shipbuilding. Within a few years, they
headed across the river and inland, where two settled in the Bearsville
valley, and one up in Wittenberg. "Only two of their names
are remembered now, for some reason," Bailey said with a
little laugh. "Oh my, there are now so many Shultises around
here, with relations in every other family you can think of, that
it's impossible to get them straight."
"We grew up in a very nice time, when church,
school and home defined who we all were," Bailey said, quietly.
"Everybody knew everybody and you made your way in the world
by helping others. My brother showed people how to do the things
he'd learned to love, like hunting and fishing. He'd give people
wood, and he'd take his bulldozer out to help when that wasn't
"Towards the end of his life, we'd put together
a group of carolers eachholiday and go to Nelson and Fran's house
the Sunday before Christmas and sing for them," Pastor Granger
said. "This last year, it took more effort than usual for
Nelson to get out of bed. But he did it, and he blessed us. There
was a feeling that he was saying goodbye to all of us. It was
like the closing of a great chapter...