Letters to the Editor 6/21/2007
We are writing in response to some of the comments made at the school
board meeting on June 5th by representatives Rita Vanacore, Cindy O’Connor
and Dave Patterson, in which they defended their majority votes to create
a Grade 5 through 8 middle school.
Although no board member has stated it publicly, everyone knows that
this decision could very likely sound the death knell for Phoenicia
Elementary. Like many, we are convinced that this loss would radiate
into the social fabric of the entire district; in addition to adversely
affecting the local Phoenicia/Shandaken children who would spend much
more time on the bus, Woodstock and Bennett classrooms would become
more crowded. Resentments could cause inter-town relationships to suffer,
and the Phoenicia economy certainly would suffer.
Two reasons cited for the move to a 5 through 8 middle school/closure
of a school are Òfiscal responsibilityÓ and the co-called
Ònegative aspect of diversity.Ó The opinion that we are
Ògetting stuck in the philosophy of community schoolsÓ
has also been voiced.
Regarding both the fiscal responsibility angle and the notion that Òthe
philosophy of community schoolsÓ is something of a concern, we
are reminded of what the architects from KSQ advised: three distinct
neighborhood schools, as stated in Plan A. They acknowledged extensive
research showing that - while costs may run slightly higher (although
no one seems to know for sure if indeed this is the case) - it is worthwhile
on many levels to keep the three distinct neighborhood schools open.
The fracture of a community by closing a neighborhood school is not
something to be taken lightly. The only way to stop it is to reach out
to our friends in Olive, West Shokan, Woodstock, West Hurley, and the
surrounding towns and hamlets.
How do we convince our neighbors to the east and south that keeping
Phoenicia Elementary open is worth their while? We believe they do care
about our well-being, yet don’t hear anyone encouraging them to
acknowledge that they are connected to us not only through our mutual
tax dollars. There is much more at stake here than just money and there
is more to our connection than fiscal matters. We hear lots of talk
about saving Onteora tax dollars. No small thing, of course, but certainly
not the whole thing. In other words, what do we get for the tax money
that school board representatives are trying to keep in tax payers’pockets?
What is the worth – not just financial, but social - of a supported
small school a couple of towns over? It’s more of a challenge
to venture into that kind of talk, but let’s put down our pencils
and give it a try.
There are many positive aspects of Phoenicia Elementary being part and
parcel of the village of Phoenicia; what my child and his peers learn
in the classrooms of that building on Route 214 spills out and continues
on the sidewalks of the village of Phoenicia. The educational experience
goes on and is enriched when we cross paths with teachers and fellow
students and their families as they go to the library, eat at Brio’s,
get milk from the Phoenicia Supermarket, or march in the Memorial Day
Parade. The teacher-student bonds that are formed in the classrooms,
the halls and the playground are strengthened by the interactions that
take place in our community and vice versa, and the addition of parents,
grandparents, aunts and uncles into the equation – who will be
shepherding their kids through the Phoenicia streets – makes for
an invaluable educational opportunity that carries over into the entire
In these fractured times, a sense of community is a rare and precious
thing and can only endow our children with the self-esteem they need
to do well at high school and in the world. Why show by example that
the bottom line is more important than a sense of connectedness and
community? It bears repeating: it is for the good of all of Onteora
that Phoenicia Elementary remain open and part of a supportive network
of neighborhood schools.
As for the comment made that Òsometimes our diversity is negative,
because each school is autonomous to its own, which can be good –
but it’s a bigger negative because the programs, though they’re
great for that individual school, when the kids merge at a higher level
of learning they are not always at the same level.Ó This seems
disingenuous. Anyone who has more than one child or has worked with
kids can tell you no child is at the Òsame levelÓ as another.
They all come to class with different capabilities, gifts and areas
where they need special attention. Merging in a new environment at a
higher grade – preferably higher than grade 5 - after having learned
the basics in each child’s respective neighborhood, would bring
to the table the much-undervalued concept of a different perspective.
And is the notion of Òthe negative aspects of diversityÓ
just an opinion? Or is there research to back it up?
Due to the connection between our school and our town, our entire family
– wife, husband, and our soon-to-be fourth grader - have learned
many deeply valued lessons, and they haven’t solely been academic,
but spiritual, practical and social. In other words: the things money
Robert Burke Warren
On June 5, the Onteora School Board voted, 4-3, to reconfigure the school
district so that a future middle school would be expanded to house Grades
5 through 8. (Currently, it is only Grades 7 and 8.) This configuration
was one of three options remaining on the table as part of the Capital
Project drawn up by KSQ Architects, but this option also calls for the
closing of an elementary school in the District. In other words, by
voting to reconfigure the Grades, the School Board appeared to vote
to reduce the Onteora School District, the second largest in New York
State, to just two elementary schools, where there were four only a
few years ago.
The School Board serves as our elected members, and so parents do not
have a vote. However, we are invited to attend Board Meetings to offer
our comments. I attended the June 5 meeting for the first hour but I
found, as I have done before, that the OSB meetings move with the grace
and pace of a lengthy freight train, as if designed to dull parental
participation. I understand that this meeting, which started at 7pm,
did not address the Middle School Grade reconfiguration until 10pm;
there were parents who had to leave by then because they had kids with
them, and others who had to leave because they had sitters to pay for.
There are also many parents who have stopped attending meetings concerning
the reconfiguration of our School District because they are suffering
from sheer exhaustion over it. I'm not sure I understand why issues
of such importance as reconfiguring the entire school grade system should
not be worthy of their own meeting and at the very top of an agenda.
From a personal perspective, nothing I have seen in paper or practice
convinces me that putting 10 year olds in with 14 year olds is beneficial
for those younger kids, nor that there is anything to be gained by removing
those 10-year olds from their roles in elementary schools as mentors
to lower grade children. Superintendent Dr. Ford’s own report
on the Capital Project notes that a mere 8% of the elementary schools
in America graduate their children after 4th grade; nor is it common
in other countries to graduate children out of elementary schools before
the age of 11. I know that the MS Steering Committee decided that Grades
5-8 would be optimum for our District; as a parent, I have the right
to strongly disagree.
However, what worries me even more is that it’s hard not to see
this vote as the death knell for Phoenicia school. Taking grades 5-6
out of the elementary system takes away at least 25% of the kids - we
will now almost certainly have school rolls so small that maintaining
three schools will seem untenable. And Phoenicia already has the lowest
population of the three schools. An obvious move would be to turn Bennett
into the new middle school but a) the cost is apparently $21,000,000
and b) I don’t believe for a moment that the five Olive residents
who will be sitting on the seven-person school board come July will
vote to close their local elementary. It’s also unlikely that
Woodstock would be the candidate – that community recently lost
its neighboring West Hurley School and will not be willing to lose another.
That leaves Phoenicia. By putting the cart before the horse and electing
to make for a vastly bigger middle school, I believe the school board
has placed those who love the Phoenicia school in an uphill fight to
The right way forward would have been to choose a configuration on the
master plan that supports the retention of three elementary schools
or, at the very least, which maintains two elementary schools either
side of the district with a bigger middle school in the middle - not
deciding on grade configuration first and worrying about school closures
Any plan has to go before the public at some point, but my understanding
is that it will be a straight Yes/No vote. It does not seem that Plan
A on the KSQ Architects’ Capital Project, which would have kept
the three elementary schools, and reconfigured the Middle School to
be Grades 6-8, will be an option come the public referendum. This is
a great shame as it remains the Plan of choice for many parents I speak
I hope the school board will reconsider its decision.
I read letters full of anger and confusion on both sides of the abortion
debate. Perhaps we as women need to look at this in an entirely different
way. We must be responsible about how many people we bring into this
world. Quality of life for our children demands it. We are emerging
from a long period of total domination over our bodies and minds. In
the lifespan of the human race it has only been a fleeting portion of
time since we western women have been allowed to read, vote, have our
own resources, need I go on? Some parts of the world still see women
in domination. Somehow we have wound up believing that our bodies are
our enemies. Either we accept the fate of out of control baby making
machines or must dose our bodies with chemicals that actually take control
of our natural life giving cycle or implant a barb within our wombs.
To surgically end a pregnancy is a violent act. I put forward that it
is a violence to the mother as well as the fetus. I stress here, our
bodies are sacred, capable of the ultimate magic-the creation of new
human life. This is no enemy, this is the key to our empowerment. If
that is so does it not behoove us to know that vessel thoroughly? The
menstrual cycle consists of much more than monthly bleeding. We also
have an important period of ovulation. This has a specific beginning
middle and end, and with modern technology (search ovulation indicator
on the internet) it can be rather easily detected. During this time,
and not really at any other time can conception occur. Think about this
my sisters. If you knew when you woke in the morning that today making
love will probably create a new life, how would that knowledge feel?
I can imagine a world in which every child comes to earth with the mother’s
choice to say yes before the seed is planted. Every child a wanted child.
This is within our grasp, it resides already within us.
Some people say that everything happens for a reason, like those stories
you've heard about people who get bumped from an airplane that later
crashes. Last week, I wanted to get home early, and rushed to make a
7:15 AM bus from Port Authority. When I got to the ticket booth, the
man told me that the first bus out was 8:30AM, always was and always
will be. After stopping to pick up a cup of coffee, I arrived at the
gate at 7:18 to learn that the guy was wrong and began to fume. A young
man, who was trying to control his frustration at a similar mix up invited
me to join him in the waiting room and pass the time.
Early on in the conversation, I asked him where he was from. He said:
"You mean my country of origin?" and then he asked me to guess.
I guessed Iran, and he said "No - worse than that. - Iraq".
I was stunned. I was finally sitting face to face with one of the people
whose fate, I, as an American, was responsible for. I looked him in
the eye, and I apologized. He said. "I knew when I saw you that
you were one of the majority of Americans that I've met."
He then told me that that he'd just finished his doctorate in medicine
at Columbia University and now had to leave America. He was thinking
about Canada. I asked him why he didn't stay here. He explained that
he was only one of over two million refugees fleeing around the world,
looking for a place to live. He informed me that: "Since the war
began in 2003, fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees have been admitted."
Well, that hit me so hard that I started to cry. I thought about all
the immigrants we took in, and the one group that we were totally responsible
for, were shunned. How could we? He went on to tell me of his family's
story. Brother fled to Syria, sister to Jordan - Father determined to
stay in his home in Bagdad and Mother, terrified to leave the house.
He dried my tears and told me that he loved the American people. He
advised me to say that I was Canadian, should I ever leave the country.
I hope that he will email me as he said he would, but if he doesn't,
I'll know that he had a good reason.
So I write this today, as I have in the past to remind those that read
my words: DEMOCRACY IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT. As you know, our representatives
claim that they did not know that we were lied into war. Let's give
them the benefit of the doubt, and say that they do not have time to
read "real" news, as many of us did. If that's their only
crime, then ours is not to inform them. If they are too busy dining
with lobbyists, let's do their job for them. Call them. Write them.
Let them know what you want. Please don't let Democracy default to dictatorship
because you were too busy watching the game on TV.
Of all the outrageous statements made against the Emerson ownership
and management in recent years, Chris Fischer’s letter, published
in your May 24th issue, is certainly among the worst. Without having
the courage to come right out and say it, and certainly without any
proof whatsoever (since none could possibly exist), he has, by implication,
accused us of arson, insurance fraud, and yes, even attempted murder,
by insinuating that the tragic fire which claimed the original Emerson
Inn may have been deliberately set in order to pave the way for the
construction of the new one. While I doubt that Mr. Fischer is alone
in his grossly mistaken opinion, the sneaky accusation in his letter
borders on libel and is representative of the blind finger-pointing
and acrimony that has divided our town of late. He should be ashamed
for even hinting at such a claim, as should your newspaper for your
terrible decision to print it. You have once again shown your blatant
bias and revealed the depths of your “objectivity” in doing
Mr. Fischer’s conduct during the first five years of the SAYS
lease of the soccer fields convinced us that everyone would be better
off with the lease being held by the town – as it now is –
rather than keeping it in his hands. For Mr. Fisher to use his bitterness
over that completely unrelated issue to launch such a baseless attack
regarding the Emerson fire is unforgivable. But perhaps it reveals much
about his character and may be indicative of why he lost the lease in
the first place.
For the record, none of the Emerson owners were even in town when the
Emerson fire occurred. My parents and I had traveled to Baltimore that
weekend to celebrate my birthday at my sister’s home, and it was
I who received the awful phone call early on the morning of Monday,
April 25 from a tearful staff member informing me of the catastrophe
unfolding back home in Mt. Tremper. And it was I who had the unenviable
task of waking my father and breaking the news to him. Anyone who could
have seen the crushed expression on his face at that moment, or witnessed
the painful call he then had to make to our investors to relay the disastrous
news, would never make such a specious claim.
We had all poured our hearts and souls into the Inn, through many ups
and downs, and were, at the time, finally in a position to begin to
reap the results. Just five months before the fire, the Emerson had
been named the Most Outstanding Inn in North America, and for anyone
to attempt to minimize the significance of that achievement in a remote
and economically-challenging town like ours, or to claim that the Inn
was just an “average hotel,” is incomprehensible. The Emerson
did indeed live up to and exceed all expectations, Mr. Fischer, and
its success helped put Mt. Tremper back on the map. We were poised for
a big summer in 2005, and
were at long last poised to capitalize on all of the hard work and positive
publicity garnered from the Inn’s extraordinary first five years
in existence. We had just completed a long and arduous period of recruitment
of highly-skilled hospitality professionals to fill key staff and management
spots, including a world-renowned chef/general manager and an expensive
wine director (who had just assumed his new position and was in fact
staying at the Inn that night, along with a number of paying guests).
After the fire we could no longer even justify many of those recruitments
due to the huge loss of revenue, yet the owners decided almost immediately
to keep everyone on who wanted to stay, and even opened a new restaurant
in Woodstock at considerable expense, primarily to save those jobs -
and indeed to create even more. How many employers in this town or any
other would have incurred such costs in such a risky venture? Would
you have, Mr. Fischer? I seriously doubt it. The sad fact is, that you
know next to nothing about what we’ve been through, nor of the
costs we’ve taken on, nor about how the development of the new
Emerson Inn came about, yet you chose to attack anyway. Unfortunately,
rumors, slander and innuendo are often a fact of life in small towns
I grew up in Shandaken, and since moving back here in 2002 I have heard
all kinds of vicious accusations against my family and the Emerson Resort
- many of them arising out of opposition to the Belleayre Resort, and
many of them being printed in the pages of The Phoenicia Times. Like
most of my fellow Emerson employees, I have chosen to remain silent
in the face of these attacks for a long
time, out of respect for the opinions of others regarding such an important
and contentious project. I understand and respect the reasons why some
people might oppose the Belleayre Resort, and I take no offense when
they make an informed argument against it without resorting to nasty
and unwarranted personal attacks. But Mr. Fischer’s letter truly
crossed the line, especially since it involved the Emerson Inn (which
even many Belleayre Resort opponents grudgingly admit was nothing but
a positive addition to the town), and I could no longer in good conscience
simply sit back and take it.
To call the fire of April 2005 a disaster for our company and for the
town of Shandaken is an understatement. It is only through tremendous
hard work by the entire Emerson team and numerous local contractors,
through the support of many friends in this community, and through major
expense by our investors, that we have been able to rebuild. One who
chooses to cast baseless aspersions on what we have gone through and
what we have striven to achieve with the Emerson Resort, in order to
make a cheap and unrelated political point, merely reveals the level
of their own ignorance and irresponsibility.
Alex Gitter, Deputy General Manager
The Emerson Resort & Spa
Mt. Tremper, NY
On behalf of the Boards of Directors and staffs of The Kingston Hospital
and Benedictine Hospital, we would like to express our appreciation
to the area residents who took the time to participate in five public
forums the two hospitals conducted throughout Ulster County over the
past several weeks. We are glad we had the opportunity to share our
vision for what we believe will result in improved healthcare for the
region and to hear concerns and comments about that vision. This valuable
public input has been incorporated into our ongoing planning sessions
and ultimately will contribute to a better and more effective healthcare
In particular, we want to thank Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill for his
role in moderating the forums and facilitating discussions. Assemblyman
Cahill provided insight on the mandates of the Berger Commission and
its ramification for healthcare in the region. Since the early stages
of the Berger Commission, Mr. Cahill has worked tirelessly to ensure
that the interests of Ulster County would be represented. His knowledge
of both healthcare issues and the activities of state government helped
to guide our discussions with the community.
The two hospitals will continue to make every effort possible to keep
the community informed about our progress towards re-alignment. We encourage
those with questions or concerns to visit the website we established
(www.healthyulster.org). We will respond to any questions submitted
through that website as promptly and completely as possible.
Eugene Heslin, President
Kingston Hospital Board of Directors
Michael Kaminski, President & CEO
William LeDoux, President
Benedictine Board of Directors
Thomas A. Dee, President & CEO
It caught me by surprise but it was refreshing to read the comments
by Town of Ulster Supervisor Nick Woerner regarding Indian casinos that
appeared in the May 27 Sunday Freeman. (For or against casinos, municipalities
want a say.)
I am most impressed that Mr. Woerner recognizes that casinos are not
an economic development for the host community. Mr. Woerner is correct
in saying that the jobs will be low paying, that the host community
will not see much of the money, and that casinos don't pay taxes because
they are sovereign nations.
The implication of Indian sovereignty over land that was originally
in a town is very interesting. The tribe does not have to comply with
the laws of the United States on their sovereign land. That means they
can refuse to honor agreements they made (as they are doing right now
regarding the NY Thruway where the Senecas declared invalid a 1954 agreement
with the State). So any casino monies promised state, county, local
governments cannot be guaranteed or enforced. What's more: gas, telephone,
electric, water, cable and sewer lines running through sovereign land
become controlled by the tribe. Additionally, when you enter tribal
owned businesses/lands your rights as a NYS citizen and U.S. citizen
are no longer in effect. So, if you are harmed, hurt or have property
damage of any kind you cannot hold the tribe and its business responsible.
I have no idea why Ellenville can't see Indian casinos in the same way
as Nick Woerner does?
It was almost 24 months ago that county Democrats started to talk about
the investigation of the Ulster County Jail they were going to conduct.
For 17 months the Democrats have had total control of county government.
What did they do? They sat on their hands for most of that time. Now
five months before the fall election they are raring to go. If one were
cynical you could characterize this $90,000 report as the Ulster County
taxpayers contribution to the "Democratic Fall Election Campaign."
But then, that observation might be considered political.
A new and disturbing fact is that much of the investigation will be
conducted behind closed doors - the public will be excluded. So much
for open government.
This $90,000 investigation is slated to be released - guess when? Just
a few weeks before the fall election. That is, after the Democratic
"spin-meister" - hired at a hefty $60,000 - works his magic
on the report. Then the "spun" version of this political document
will be released to the public.
An objective investigation of the jail project is a very good and worthwhile
endeavor. It could have, and should have, been done months ago. With
an impartial analysis, the public could learn what actually went wrong
with the procedures, and the count legislature could learn a very valuable
lesson for any future projects. Unfortunately, the Democrats have placed
politics before good government and the public will get a flawed and
tarnished political document.
If there is a suspicion of criminal acts, this matter should be immediately
referred to the Ulster County District Attorney so that it could be
presented to a Grand Jury. This would be the appropriate and proper
forum. A real possibility exists that the acts of this committee will
cloud any potential criminal investigation and make the efforts of the
District Attorney's job very difficult, if not impossible, to pursue.
Based on my experience in county government and as a public works contractor,
a meaningful analysis of what went wrong with the jail project, and
one that would make a very positive contribution, could be quickly developed
by a person qualified and knowledgeable about county government public
works projects and the proper methods of bidding and executing county
public works projects. This person could come up with a valuable, informative
and nonpolitical analysis of the errors that were made in this project
in a very short time, as a fraction of the cost being paid by the Democrats
- many valuable lessons could be learned. Unfortunately, this is not
William R. West
What a flock of sheep we are not to demand that our President and vice
President answer to us for their violation of our constitution and the
untold damage which their actions have cost us and the entire world.
There are many who voice their desire for impeachment but only one strong
and courageous in the presidential race willing to work for impeachment
of Richard Cheney, so eminently culpable .It is clear that Dick Cheney
strongly supported the Iraq war for his own personal gain and urged
the president into it. The war was declared against a country which
posed no proven threat to us.
Dennis Kucinich opposed the Iraq war before it started. He has a very
definite plan for withdrawal from it His plan was introduced to the
Senate in Jan. 2007 and detailed the steps which would not only get
us out of Iraq but would provide positive ways for so doing, vital to
us and helpfully constructive for Iraq and the entire family of nations.
The basis for impeachment rests on constitutional law which says “Any
president who maintains that he is above the law and repeatedly breaks
the law commits high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard
for impeachment and removal from office”.
Mescal E. Hornbeck