The Large parcel
issue would come up for a vote in August should the county
Office of Real Property Services issue a determination later
this month, as it has in the last two years, that such an
entity exists within the Onteora District. The “trigger
mechanism” for the large parcel bill, set by statute,
is based on “a rule of fives”: the property
has to be worth more than $5 million; has to account for
5% of the town’s assessed value; must be five per
cent of the school district’s value; and also has
to create more than a 5% difference in value of the town’s
equalization rate and the apportionment rate.
In June, Patterson went on the record to say that he would
side with the three new board members to not pass “Large
Parcel” a second year should it arrive, claiming it
was not the board’s responsibility to be determining
tax assessment matters. His comments led to later colorful
comments by Woodstock town supervisor Jeremy Wilber about
Patterson that were referenced by several speakers at the
Reorg mweeting Wednesday, along with Wilber comments in
a recent Woodstock Times about Olive resident Charlie Blumstein,
who has filed a civil suit over the legislation that names
the school district, as well as state and county legislatures
and municipalities of Shandaken and Woodstock.
Departing board president Marino D’Orazio pleaded
with Blumstein, who was tape recording parts of the meeting,
to drop his lawsuit, given that the district does not have
insurance to cover such legal maneuvers, meaning it will
cost taxpayers money, and because he said such a suit, if
filed by a bonafide attorney, “would likely lead to
that lawyer being sanctioned.” Earlier, D’Orazio,
along with fellow board veterans Herb Rosenfeld and Lev
Flournoy voted against Patterson and Vanacore’s appointments,
saying the two lacked the experience, knowledge and objectivity
for such positions. They later said they would nevertheless
support the new board leadership full-heartedly.
During Public Be Heard, Simon Ennis noted how the Large
Parcel issue was creating a “Civil War” between
local towns. Robert Tischler spoke about not only the flaws
uncovered in the legislative bill, but also its contradictions
of provisions in the 1905 laws that created the Ashokan
reservoir in the first place. John Tisch congratulated the
new board as being the recipients of “two years getting
justice”, and defended Blumstein’s suit as an
“act of frustration” in keeping with the entire
town of Olive’s similar feelings. Judy and Andrew
Boggess talked of “special interest groups”
behind the legislation and a need for the whole community
to further research and explore how it came about.
Councilwoman Linda Burkhardt talked about the town’s
hardships having to live with a reservoir in its midst,
and how “where the money comes from,” meaning
the school district’s taxes, being “no one’s
business but Olive’s.”
Henny Wise spoke about the Large Parcel’s divisiveness…
as well as erroneous editing of an Olive Press story in
the Woodstock Times, a situation later explained to her
in terms of rushed deadlines, poor communications, and other
“This is all politics, not education,” she said,
echoing the quiet consensus at the meeting that it’s
time for the school district to move beyond Large Parcel.
In other business, committee appointments, made at the discretion
of the board president, were postponed until the board’s
August 16 meeting. Similarly, a request to add The Olive
Press to the list of official newspapers for the district
was tabled until expenses could be looked into.
An interim meeting was set for 7 p.n. on Tuesday, August
2, for the setting of vacancies and hiring of new teachers.
According to superintendent Justine Winters, such a meeting
was necessitated by the 30-day lead time most teachers union
employees need to give notice if leaving one job for another.
The August 2 meeting will be held at the Junior/.Senior
High School cafeteria.
& Us... Again
I used to be one of “them”, I try not to take
all this talk too seriously. I have lived in Olive for over
three decades. I have paid enough taxes here to retire to
the Caribbean. I have voted in favor of the school budget
every one of those years, even though I don’t have
children. Even now I imagine that locals think of me as
one of “them.” But more than anything, I want
this town to produce young men and women that we can admire,
who will go on to move to other places where they will probably
be thought of as “them.” I want to know that
they are proud of where they came from, that they think
of it as a place where they were celebrated and adored.
I have mentored young writers from the high school because
I think that I have something real and concrete to offer
them. Invariably, it is I who learn from them. They come
from Woodstock or they come from Pine Hill or they come
from Olive— but they come full of ideas, and attitude,
and an eagerness that makes me so hopeful. Sometimes they
are pierced and tattooed, sometimes they wear clothing that
looks like it has just gone through a shredder. Sometimes
they are naive and sometimes they are jaded. But they are
ours, every one of them, and if we start weeding out who
we would choose to have as our neighbors, then we have nothing
to teach, nothing to share. Because this intolerance of
people who might have more money than we do, who might not
have ever met the great farmer Al Fox, who don’t understand
that our entire fire department is volunteer is too easily
passed on to tender minds. They know, they pick up on the
unsaid, and then we have done the worst disservice, by not
helping them dream.
When people ask me what I love about living here, my list
is almost endless— the mountains, the streams, The
Boiceville Inn, Rosie and The Olive Free Library, the friends
I’ve made that I would never, ever have gotten to
meet if I stayed in New York City. Although there were more
people in the apartment complex I grew up in than there
are in all of Olive, I would walk past them every day and
not know who they were, who their families were, what they
did for a living. I would never be a witness at their weddings
or a reader at their funerals. I would not even meet their
eyes, because even in our proximity, we were all “them”.
In Olive, you know all these things and more. We are a community,
and we will only stay that way if we are a little more inclusive.
At the Bennet School Graduation last month, white kids and
black kids and Mexican kids and Indian kids and Chinese
kids mingled with each other without a thought. Rich kids
and poor kids high-fived each other without a care. They
were all getting ready to go into the “big”
school, and their joy was mixed with their anxiety, and
the whole of it was contagious. As I sat there, I started
to cry from happiness. When had this happened, I wondered?
When had our town become such a beautiful rainbow of people?
Ah, I thought, it’s “them.” Welcome, I
can confirm that we are auditing the Ulster County law enforcement
center capital project," said Jennifer Freeman, a spokeswoman
for comptroller Alan Hevesi's office. "The audit started
in late June. As you may recall, last August we made a determination
not to audit at that time. However, we have been monitoring
the situation, and determined an audit was appropriate at
The project, originally scheduled for completion in April
2004 at a cost of about $70 million, not including interest
payments, is supposed to be turned over to the county for
final preparations and movement of inmates on or about September
21 at a cost of about $90 million. Critics have expressed
doubt that latest target date will be met. Principal and
interest amounts on long-term bonds will drive the total
cost to taxpayers up to around $140 million by the time
the project is paid for somewhere after the year 2030.
Legal entanglements among the prime contractors, construction
manager Bovis Lend Lease, and the county are swirling around
the project. The county has hired special counsel as well
as expanding the contract of Hill International, which did
the project labor agreement and is now helping the county
parcel out responsibility for the cost overruns and delays.
Freeman said the comptroller's work would be "an in-depth
process that typically takes a number of months or longer."
She said the on-site auditors working on the sixth floor
of the county office building are reviewing records and
conducting interviews. They will make a preliminary written
report of their findings to the comptroller. At some point,
the county will be given 30 days to respond to points raised
by the comptroller's auditors.
By policy, the comptroller's office does not discuss ongoing
audits in any detail. "We certainly encourage if people
want to provide us with information," Freeman added.
"We always welcome information from the public if we're
doing an audit."
"We welcome them with open arms," county legislature
chairman Richard Gerentine said. "They are not doing
an investigation. They are just doing an assessment, quote
unquote assessment, according to one of their people who
met with us."
Gerentine said he was not certain why Hevesi's office arrived
at this time. "Basically, we had meetings in the past
and they said they would review it in a year," he said,
"and they are back now doing their review. I welcome
them to see if they can do anything to help Ulster County
taxpayers, if they find anything."
Two representatives of the comptroller's office met with
a bevy of county officials last Thursday. Attending were
Gerentine, county attorney Frank Murray, the county special
counsel on the jail project Mark Sweeney, county building
and grounds superintendent Harvey Sleight, county jail construction
supervisor Brian Cunningham, county treasurer Lew Kirschner
and deputy treasurer Mike Hein. Also present was county
legislator Peter Kraft, a Democrat who has been critical
of the project and is a member of the special jail oversight
"Right now, they are calling it a risk assessment,"
said Kraft. He said that at the June 23 meeting the comptroller's
officials "just laid out why they were there, what
they were going to do." Said Kraft, "They were
just asking questions, getting a feel for how the whole
process went. We do know they are going to be here eight
hours a day for the next three weeks, stationed in the sixth
floor of the county office building, going through all the
Kraft said critics of the project plan to hold meetings
with the auditing team as soon as possible "and lay
out our case why they should be here."
The comptroller's people toured the construction site for
the jail on Monday and were "very impressed,"
said Gerentine. "They said they think Ulster County
is doing a lot of positive things" with the project.
of my family is invested in Onteora,” Vanacore says
as one of her sons notes that there are Vanacores who’ve
graduated from the school system in each of the last five
generations. Rita adds she’s got family in almost
every grade right now.
“It’s been great living in a place where we
know so many people,” she adds. “I get information
brought to me from all levels. It’s a good thing.”
The new OCS VP, who took the position, even though new to
the board, when the three veterans on it said they didn’t
want the role, came to the area from Stamford, CT at the
age of 15, when her father took a job with Rotron and moved
into one of the first new houses built off Maverick Road
in Woodstock. She remembers the shock of shifting from a
huge suburban school to Onteora High vividly… along
with the disappointment she felt when her father, with old-school
Italian beliefs, refused to let her go on to college.
Vanacore said that given her choice, she would have studied
to be a doctor.
Instead, she married her husband, Dominick, just out of
school and studied to become a hairdresser, eventually rising
in the cosmetology field to become a teacher herself. She
started her own business, Dreamweavers, still running strong
in Uptown Kingston after several moves. She bought and renovated
one of the cornerstone buildings of Wall Street. Raised
her three kids. Grew involved in a wide range of organizational
matters, both volunteer and business-oriented.
She even became an EMT, pulling on that original wish to
enter the field of medicine.
Sure, there’s a whole book Rita Vanacore could write
about the changes she’s witnessed in women’s
hair styles over the years… a truly insightful and
fun story on its own merits. Just as she has much to say
about real family values, via her experience of extended
family living, so rare these days.
But what’s got her focus is the school district, and
the community impetus that got her to her new position.
“I’d been wanting to run for years,” she
says of that process, thwarted for years by the busy-ness
of her family and business lives.
What changed Vanacore’s circumstances had everything
to do with the tax debacle caused by the school district’s
implementation of the state’s controversial new Large
Parcel legislation, which saw her meeting with other townspeople
throughout Olive to research what had happened. Eventually,
that group became Olive Matters. And Olive Matters’
meetings, and influence, started growing by leaps and bounds.
“I realized I both had the time AND the passion to
run for the board,” she says of the decision she made
last winter to seek a seat.
It’s an issue she’s still passionate about,
ready to talk at length of at a moment’s notice. But
she also realizes her focus will have to change, now that
the OCS Board has the majority to keep the legislation from
being enacted again.
“The thing I learned,” she says of her successful
candidacy for the school board, “Is that the more
noise you make, the more you get noticed.”
So what is she planning to focus on as not only a new school
board member, but one of that board’s top officials?
“Policy,” is the first word out of her mouth.
Vanacore speaks about looking back over current policies
and finding ways of better enforcing them. Such as dress
codes. Conduct codes for school athletes.
“We’re training students to be accepted in society
and the business world,” she says, bolstering her
She also wants to continue working to better the district’s
communications. She feels that if the district wants a long-term
goal of building a new middle school, it has lots of work
to do, and steps to do that work within. Like hearing from
hired consultants, first, about how best to use existing
And then there’s the current board’s dynamics…
which she’ll only say she “hopes” will
not be personal, but focus instead on what is best for students
and the Onteora community.
“I’m learninga ton.. going to conferences, meeting
with all our principals,” Rita says of her hard work
filling her new shoes.
She added that she’s gotten great help along the way
from friends, family and community members, as well as old
board members from her uncle Joe to former OCS VP Joe Doan.
Now she’s wanting to reach out to other VPs, such
as fellow Ovilian Kathy Hochman.
“I’m completely passionate about it all,”
she says, grand kids running in and out of the kitchen as
her own kids listen in. “I love puttinmg the pieces
together, pulling on all my organizational skills.”
So is this it for political ambitions? “You don’t
know how many times I’ve been asked about the county
legislature,” she replies. “But our current
reps are just fine.”