Up on the News
Parents voiced concerns during public commentary, primarily
over Phoenicia's class having an unusually high number of
special education and non-English speaking students.
"I understand there was a budget passed that accommodated
for two kindergarten classrooms and whether or not that is
ideal or not, the resources are there for students who have
special needs," said parent Brett Barry. "For the
students who don't have special needs - I hope they don't
get lost in the shuffle."
Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory said there are two
special education students and four in the English as second
language program at Phoenicia. The classroom will have a full
time teaching assistant along with an offering of other services
such as speech and consultant teacher services. At Bennett
Elementary there is one special education student in the classroom
and a part time teaching assistant. Administrators warn that
if the classrooms are split in two, special services might
get split since a specialist would be addressing two separate
groups instead of one, thus cutting their time in half.
Gregory said, "Just to address some comments by the parents
(such as) what happens to a class if it grows, well we grow
with it and if it becomes necessary the next year for two
classrooms, then we grow with it."
The Onteora population is shrinking partly because of what
appears to be a choice for alternatives to public education.
A recently submitted Freedom of Information request (FOIL)
revealed that the 2009-2010 Home School/Private School population
in the Onteora district was at 222 students. That is an increase
of 17 students compared to the previous spring of 2009.
Trustee Dan Spencer asked for an exploration as to why so
many are seeking alternative schools.
Gregory noted an overall drop in Population State wide.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news but New York, I
think because of its high taxation and financial situation,
is losing people to the south and I spent time tracking where
people are going... The last time I looked we were over a
million people down,""
She listed states such as North and South Carolina and Georgia
as new destinations.
Trustees said a decision on this topic would not be made until
the next meeting on August 24.
In other business, a policy banning the use of electronic
devices by students in school will finally include cell phones
and MP3 players. However, students can use electronic devices
on the bus or after school. The first offence will result
in confiscation of the device, which the student would pick
up at the end of the day. The second offence would result
in confiscating the device and contacting a parent, who would
be required to retrieve it for the student at the end of the
High School principal Lance Edelman said cell phones have
been a major problem, "since that cell tower went up
last year." He also said between classes and during lunch
students have been recording other students then placing it
on YouTube or Facebook, which is a violation of privacy.
Allegedly, another violation of privacy action occurred when
letters were mailed to parents within the district during
the teacher contract negotiations of October, 2009. The letter
stated that teachers might not be coming to work on a particular
day, because of a possible strike. School Board President
Laurie Osmond said. "It was obvious that student records
have been accessed and used to compile a mailing list and
this is a breech of confidentiality." At first she said
the board and administration were told the information came
from the phone book and former Superintendent Leslie Ford
investigated but was unable to find the person who accessed
Trustee Tom Hickey said, "Moving forward, this will not
be tolerated; it's a serious breech of the law and this needs
to be spoken in the strongest terms."
Gregory said what occurred is a violation of the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a Federal law that protects
student's records. She suggested they seek legal council and
issue a statement to the union.
Finally, recent events that have spawned the possibility of
a curfew in the town of Woodstock have raised people's concerns
on abuse of drugs and alcohol during school hours. Several
board members said parents have approached them asking about
district policies and procedures. Trustee Tony Fletcher wondered
if drug and alcohol abuse is getting worse.
"What we are hearing from the town of Woodstock is that
it is cyclical, we are going through a really bad patch right
now, and maybe some of those anecdotes are coming back to
us as a school board," Fletcher said. "I think that
we're better off saying 'we have a problem and we need to
hear about it.'"
"I would like to direct the Superintendent to report
back to the board exactly what the situation is among substance
abuse in our buildings, buses, on school property, what has
been happening in the past year, what the enforcement is,
what is being done and what will be done," Osmond added.
Based on a 2008 County wide student survey on high risk behavior
presented to the school board in December 2009, Onteora and
Saugerties school districts grades seven-through-twelve rank
highest in the county on drug, alcohol abuse and high risk
behavior. Alcohol abuse was highest with marijuana use coming
Osmond said anyone interested in joining the Onteora school
board could apply by calling the Secretary to the Superintendent
at 657-6383, extension 264. There will soon be a posting with
instructions on the district's website at Onteora.k12.ny.us.
The board will appoint a person to take the place of Donna
Flayhan at the September 14 board meeting at Woodstock Elementary.
Flayhan, who resigned because her family will soon be moving
outside of the district, has one year left on her term. Candidates
are expected to attend the September meeting and will be asked
a few questions.
For The Polls
It's basically a means of augmenting a library's budget directly,
without having to go through a town board's approval or disapproval,
or a school board's. The funding mechanism was established
in 1995, based on the assumption that MOST voters will okay
spending $25 to 100 a year or so to fund a local library.
In dollars and cents amounts, what the Olive Free Library
is proposing translates to a proposed shift from what was
budgeted by the town at $43,000 for the current year, according
to Olive Town Supervisor Berndt Leifeld, to a new minimal
level of $129,000 in annual funding henceforth, to be revoted
on each time the library wants to raise its revenue. "The
Board of Trustees of the Olive Free Library has decided to
take this step in order to insure a guaranteed funding source
for the library," current Olive Free Library President
Mary Ann Shepherd wrote of what's been started as a petition
drive this week. "The Library has been very fortunate
to have many generous members and benefactors who have supported
the library and have enabled the library to become a vital
community resource over the years. It has become very difficult
for the Board of Trustees, however, to continue to prepare
a budget to meet the community' needs without a guaranteed
funding source. After much discussion over the past year,
the Board of Trustees voted to pursue 414 status in order
to set the amount of the tax dollars designated to the library."
The release went on to note that the requested amount adds
up to approximately $10 per $100,000 of assessed value, or
approximately $25 for a property worth $250,000... "the
cost of one hard cover book." According to petition laws
accompanying any items to be added to a ballot, ten percent
of the last general election's electorate must sign, and be
validated, to allow the proposal to stick. According to Olive
librarian Ruth Anne Muller, that adds up to about 400 signatures
from registered voters. "The amount approved will remain
unchanged until another Chapter 414 vote is initiated by the
library board. Should a subsequent 414 vote fail the amount
approved through the previous successful vote remains in effect.
Should the initial vote fail the library will need to negotiate
with the municipality for funding as it has done in the past.
This means initial contact with a town supervisor and town
board prior to a library's first 414 vote should include a
discussion about the realities of a failure and how the town
would fund the library in that case," reads a Mid Hudson
Library System informational brochure on the funding system.
"History has shown that when the public votes on how
much to tax themselves for public library service, public
libraries are funded better. It doesn't get any simpler than
that." "They came to us with this idea about three
months ago and at that time we were given the impression that
they have the right to do this," Leifeld said last week,
adding that he's been answering questions about the proposition's
legality from townsfolk and his own board members during the
interim. "Personally, though, I think it's one of those
things that could backfire on them." Olive, over recent
years, has consistently voted down all school budgets put
before it, and begun questioning its own municipal budgeting
since revaluation of its tax base shifted the amount it was
receiving annually from New York City for its massive property
ownership in the town.
Shepherd, however, noted this week that Shandaken had successfully
utilized a Chapter 414 means of upping its budget twice in
the last decade, as have a majority of other libraries in
the Mid Hudson system. She said the vote would not entail
any changes to the library's charter, and that Leifeld and
other board members, as well as Town Clerk Sylvia Rozzelle,
had been supportive of the plan ever since it was first brought
up several months ago. Furthermore, the library president
said the feedback she'd been hearing from the community has
been "99 percent positive." Funds from the new budget
would cover new books, better computers for community use
(an item Shepherd noted was much in need these days, especially
for those seeking jobs), and some building maintenance not
covered by the same fund that built the library building half
a century ago. "We need a roof and we're pricing out
a new heating and air conditioning system we can get grants
help for," she added. "Our fuel bills have been
very high these last few years." In addition to its main
function, the Olive Free Library has long served as a base
for local group meetings, concerts, and events. In the future,
the new library board is planning movie nights and other activities.
"Town officials have always said the library is our community
center here in Olive," Shepherd concluded. More on all
this after the petitions come in...
"A light went off in my head and I immediately thought
of Louis and Maria," Henderson said in his bright, ever-enthusiastic
manner. "We only had a month to organize everything but
we put on the concert and several hundred people showed up,
despite a massive downpour."
Todaro mentions how fortunate everyone was to have thought
to rent a tent for the occasion.
"One of the impetuses for this festival was our appreciation
of how much the community pitched in to make that event work,"
adds Otey. "Everyone grabbed a hammer... It wasn't like
we were fighting upstream."
"After that, people were asking when we would be doing
this again," said Henderson.
"We talked about it right away but then we were all traveling
for our work, with Kerry and Louis both in Germany, so we
didn't get back to serious talks about a Voicefest until December,"
added Todaro. "We had our first formal meeting in January
and then things really got started up in March."
Todaro, a noted French mezzo-soprano, had started her own
company in Paris, as well as a voice festival, along with
several choirs (including her latest in Phoenicia). Henderson,
a native New Zealander and noted baritone, also had experience
starting and running a festival... and company.
Otey, one of today's most critically-acclaimed baritones,
with a growing stable of roles at the Metropolitan and other
top tier operas, had deep connections with all the world's
A group of key players came forth to help get the party happening,
from former New School dean Linda Dunne coordinating fundraising
to Amy Wallace handling administration and Barbara Mellon
Kolb doing treasurer duties. Former Onteora school board president
Maxanne Resnick, Calandra Cruickshank, and Athena Baer took
on marketing and promotions, and Cindy Jewett harnessed local
volunteer power. Musician Dennis Yerry was put in charge of
a world music element for the festival, and pianist Justin
Kolb assembled a festival Board of Advisors now including
Bard College President Leon Botstein, composers Robert Cucinotta,
Robert Manno and George Tsontakis, conductors Christopher
Lyndon-Gee and Alexander Platt (of the Maverick Festival,
Woodstock Percussion's Garry Kvistad, pianist/educator Idith
Meshulam, and opera stars Frederica von Stade and Deborah
At first, plans were to hire the Hudson Valley Philharmonic,
but costs proved prohibitive and to their credit, the festival's
key organizers quickly realized that fluidity would be important
to making sure a festival, no matter how big, be established
first... then go for the dream picture.
"We felt we had to maintain our momentum from last summer's
success," Todaro said.
"We simply couldn't wait a year," added Henderson.
"We focused on the quality of the performers," chimed
in Otey. "We ended up getting opera stars who have sung
all over the world... and they've agreed to do it without
The three speak note that what they're doing should be costing
in the $200,000 to $300,000 range, but is ending up in a budget
range a quarter that. Making the difference are artists performing
at their own cost, to see their friends' dream come to life,
loads of volunteer help, and the entire community coming together
to make something new happen.
For the 8:30 PM opening night concert on August 13 in the
park featuring Elizabeth Futral, the renowned soprano will
be bringing along her own pianist. For the full cast performance
of Verdi's Falstaff on Saturday night at 8:00 PM (also in
the park), featuring Otey in one of his most acclaimed roles,
the baritone has brought in one of his mentors, Roger Cantrell,
to provide back up on a grand piano.
A stage has been built in the Parish Park, incorporating existing
trees... as well as the space's great views and surprising
acoustics. Filling out the festival's premier outing will
be a wide panoply of events taking place in venues throughout
the hamlet, from an 11:00 AM Saturday morning gospel performance
with Broadway star Rozz Morehead at the Methodist Church back
to a 1:00 PM concert featuring renowned Native American flute
player and singer Joseph Firecrow in the park at 1:00 PM (bring
your lunches and blankets!); a 2:30 PM STS premiere of a new
musical, Closer Than Ever, in the STS Playhouse and then a
4:30 PM Uncle Rock concert at the Phoenicia Railway Museum,
follow3ed by locally-based composer Mitchell Bach's Sacred
Music performance in the Catholic Church at 6:30 PM.
On Sunday, things will return to the park with a 2:00 PM recital
by pianist Kolb, an always-delightful presence, followed by
an everyone-sings Choral Closing, with a number of local choirs
in attendance (and copies of "Amazing Grace" for
all) at 3:30 PM.
Colorful banners, created by a group of Onteora high school
students under the auspices of Pine Hill-based painter Brenda
Goodman, have been hung throughout the hamlet, lending the
place a festive air. Andrea Cabane Gallery, down Main Street,
is hosting a Saturday evening opening reception for an innovate
Music/Sound/Art exhibition featuring a number of key regional
artists curated by Kate Menconeri and Cabane herself, as well
as a number of other receptions. Barneche Designs, in Chichester,
has arranged a special sale of jewelry items by Serena Van
Renssalaer, for the diva in all of us. Mystery Spot is holding
its regular Music For Porches concert at 1:00 PM Sunday afternoon...
Combined with the usual flow of Upstate hipsters, tubers,
and sophisticated locals, it should all add up to one major
aria of a party, especially if - as Todaro, Otey and Henderson
all enthusiastically suggested - festival attendees dress
to the nines... but bring picnic gear and stay prepared for
rural fun. Talk about a new aesthetic fitting a new Phoenicia,
more true to its name now than ever.
"The more, the better," Todaro says in her inimitably
infectious way. "Culturally, you can never have too much.
We seek to be complementary and not competitive."
"We saw a very big niche in the market," said Henderson,
"and we chased it."
All started talking together about the new rise of vocal music
in pop culture, as well as the acknowledged healing attributes
of singing... especially when done in masse.
Then, needing to get back to preparations, all spoke to how
they're planning to get organized on next year's Voicefest
immediately after this one finishes Sunday night. They mention
Spoleto, in Italy and Charleston, and how the arts can bring
money to a community.
The night before, Todaro mentions, the three organizers sang
an operatic version of "America The Beautiful" at
the opening of the Ulster County Fair.
"Everyone knew what was happening," said Henderson.
"We have quite some buzz, I guess," added Todaro.
All agreed that more plans are coming, but will be discussed
after this first festival finishes.
For further information on The First Annual Phoenicia Festival
of the Voice, please call 888-214-3063 or visit www.phoeniciavoicefest.com
Daido died on October 9, 2009 and was honored
in a tribute in December at Ulster Performing Arts Center in
Kingston, where upwards of 800 people from around the world
gathered to mourn the dynamic teacher, writer, and photographer.
Ryushin was installed at midnight on New Year's, following an
intensive six-day retreat.
"Daido trained both Shugen and myself really well,"
says Ryushin, referring to the abbot of the monastery's Brooklyn
branch. "I'm doing what I've always been doing, but the
safety net has shifted a few hundred million miles away. Of
course, the sense of community and support are still here. And
in the sense of the integrity of the teachings, there hasn't
been much change. We're still offering the same spirit of Buddhist
teachings. Students are coming, and we're growing since last
Recent years have seen a rise in income for the monastery, which
is funded largely by the retreats it holds year-round for the
public, blending training in Zen meditation with activities
that range from archery to pottery to animal tracking.
"That's our livelihood," explains Ryushin. "We
charge $250 for two nights' lodging, food, teachings, and training.
The people who live here offer their labor for free-that's the
only way we can pull it off."
With more money in the coffers, the monastery has embarked on
two building projects, one to provide solar energy to several
structures on the property, and the construction of a 9000-square-foot
retreat center, to begin in the fall. Two long ranks of solar
panels already stand in the field across from the main building,
which now draws 40 percent of its electricity from the sun.
The 24-kilowatt (kW) system was built by Solar Generation of
Woodstock, which donated the labor for the installation.
Another 5 kW will soon be mounted at the end of the row of panels
to power a nearby cottage, and a third array, also of 5 kW,
will be completed in September for a cluster of cabins on the
Ryushin declined to take credit for the solar installations,
saying it has evolved as a manifestation of "a group of
people with the collective consciousness to be aware of environmental
issues that need to be addressed. In 1989, Daido started the
Born as the Earth Program, to get people into the wilderness.
It was our first attempt to do something environmental, to get
people to notice the loving relationship they might have with
nature. We were, in a sense, too poor to do environmental things.
Around 1990 things changed. Slowly we would insulate buildings,
look at buying better economy cars. We bought a hybrid. There
was a natural progression, looking at how we recycle, what kinds
of light bulbs we're using, not using paper and plastic bags
to shop at Sunflower. The idea about going alternative with
solar and wind power started appearing on the radar screen in
2006, 2007. We were able to think this project through last
fall, we filed applications, and over the winter we made enough
The retreat center is a more ambitious project that will also
be solar-powered. "Although we offer retreats every weekend,
we don't have enough space" says Ryushin. Often two retreats
are operating at the same time, and the dining hall has to be
converted back and forth to a classroom at every lunchtime.
In the new building, he says, "There will be three different-sized
spaces that can also be used for events and performances open
to public. A room with a stage will have seating for 125 to
150 people. We'll have offices and an art studio. The main building
will become the residential and religious training building."
Outside the dining hall, architectural drawings and computer-generated
pictures depict the forthcoming structure, with airy, sunlit
rooms. It will be located adjacent to the main building, set
back from the road.
Ryushin was born in Poland and immigrated to New Jersey with
his family in 1967, at the age of 13, later moving to Massachusetts.
He studied anthropology at Yale University and then trained
as a pediatrician. He served in the military as a doctor and
was stationed in Guantanamo Bay in 1983-1984. Later retraining
in psychiatry, he ran a mobile crisis team in Albany, doing
psychiatry on the street and at homeless shelters.
"We were working with a population that could not enter
the system because they were too resistant or disorganized.
It was cowboy psychiatry," Ryushin recalls. "At that
time, I came into contact with the monastery and began practicing
here in 1987."
By 1991 he had moved into the monastery. "It became clear
that this is where I needed to be," he says.
And how does he find his new role as abbot? He smiles. "There
are moments of calm and moments of attempting calmness in the
face of the challenges."
For more information about Zen Mountain Monastery and its retreat
programs and meditations, see www.mro.org or call 845-688-2228.
A Jar Of Olives...
Too Much Information
Nowadays, I get information on my cell phone in the form of
texts, voicemail, or actual calls. My home phone records messages
and lets me know who called through called ID. My i-pad duplicates
emails from my computer and adds another account to check. The
television offers a thousand channels that can be recorded or
Marshall McLuhan is often quoted as a shortened, "Don't
kill the messenger." These electronic devises: cell phone,
land line, i-pod, i-pad, laptops and such are only the vehicle
for the message. They are the messengers, and we can chose to
let each medium enter our lives. What is frightening to me is
the message. With everyone having the ability to be a broadcaster,
how do we know what is factual, what is commentary, and, most
frightening, what is slanted, exaggerated, or pure fiction.
At least in a newspaper, letters are labeled editorial. When
someone is posting a comment or writing a blog or forwarding
information through an e-mail, the reader has to be a filter.
A good example was Chelsea Clinton's wedding. The media hype
for the two weeks prior was filled with speculation. Oprah was
coming! The wedding was going to cost five million dollars!
President Obama was being helicoptered into Rhinebeck! Since
the wedding was local, I really would be interested in some
of the details of what actually transpired. I do know a local
woman who did refreshments for the spa where Chelsea got dressed.
Not a peep on the news two days after the event. Sometimes what
we can imagine is more interesting than what is.
I like to follow the stock market reports, and, aside from the
numbers in the banner, the rest is just a financial fairytale.
One day we are in a double-dip recession with the bears at our
heels. The next day we are bullish and investing in emerging
economies. The pundits are merely "bloggers" with
a Wall Street jargon of "double-speak."
The same goes for politics. One channel is sounding the doom
alarm while the other is patting itself on the back. The fingers
are pointed like dueling enemies brandishing cocked pistols.
The "News" has evolved into something much more insidious.
We are getting too much information (TMI) because facts are
so much more entertaining when dressed in hyperbole and personal
I know I don't often expound on such global topics, but I am
remembering how relaxed my husband and I were throwing sticks
into Lake Sacandaga for our dog to fetch in the water. For three
days there was no information. We had no wi-fi, phone, newspaper,
or reliable cell signal. Even though we had "an app for
that" and a weather channel, we regressed to the past when
we would go outside and look at the sky to decide whether to
go swimming or not. Even though I could read an e-book on my
i-pad, I read a real book, with pages, that I borrowed from
our library. So, even though I have been lamenting TMI, I will
close by using my keyboard to pass on some important information.
The Olive Free Library, which requires funding because nothing
is totally free, is seeking to have its operating expenses included
as a line item on the town budget. Trustees are circulating
petitions to put this proposal on the fall ballot for a public
vote. They are going person to person so they can give you first
hand information about this proposal and all the wonderful services
our library provides.