Budget Set To Be Cut
the $47,003,340 recommended budget, $35,057,945 or 74.59 percent was
singled out as being tied to staff salaries and benefits, which Ford
noted is a cost the district cannot control. Most school board members
requested further reductions in the budget and said they would look
for more cuts in line items.
Ford and Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren said
they are currently seeing staff cuts as necessary.
“As administrators, as musicians, as people who love children
we would never want to support cutting anything anytime, but as mature
administrators we are also bound by the fiscal realities of our world…”
said Ford. “We have an obligation to the public to look at the
budget in a very responsible way.”
Current cuts totaling to $920,824 include two full time music teachers,
seven full time special education teacher assistants, elimination
of elementary summer school, elimination of the 5:15pm late bus run,
one full time behavior intervention specialist and reductions in general
Ford said the music reduction was made because of declining enrollment
in the elementary schools. The seven special education assistant cuts
are based on IEP (individual education plan) need and could be reinstated
if recommendations in special education are made. Ford said the elimination
of the elementary summer school is temporary and will be restored
next year, but there will be no alternative for students in need of
help this summer.
Elementary enrollment as of February 2007 in grades Kindergarten through
six totaled to 774 students. This does not include special education
students. According to Ford, based on the district’s elementary
population and class size policy there should be 30.23 full time elementary
teachers. Onteora currently has 42 full time elementary teachers.
Eight staff retirements, with six new hires are expected this year,
which in short term will save the district around $240,000 the first
year. But health insurance between the retired and new employees will
rise and over the years the district will carry a larger burden of
Additions incorporated into the proposed budget include a technology
teaching assistant, a full time speech therapist and the creation
of a capital project line. Ford warned that if voters rejected the
budget, an additional $710,440 would get eliminated. Programs suggested
for elimination would include the Indie program, field trips, non-athletic
stipends including clubs, and sports.
The March 29 district wide vote is to approve $1,862,711 for two major
repair projects. Although projects that concern the health and safety
of students do not require voter approval, a promise refund in State
aid does. As a one time perk, the district will be getting $662,711
in EXCEL aid (Expanding our children’s Education and Learning)
and the state will cover 30 percent of the other $1,200,00. The money
is needed for a new boiler at Woodstock Elementary School and renovations
to the high school auditorium. There are two votes that need to be
approved in order to qualify for the state aid. One will levy the
money and the other will release the money already available from
the capital reserve fund. Polls are open from 2pm to 9pm at local
elementary schools, which will close early that day..
The two-session forum titled “Discussing Dreams, Options and
Realities,” held at Onteora Middle/High school on March 3, raised
many questions, offered new information and allowed the public to
share ideas on three proposals addressing the reconfiguration of the
evolving (and demographically shrinking) district. New Superintendent
Dr. Leslie Ford was on hand meeting people and keeping time so everyone
could be heard.
Informational booths with representatives from the field were set
up, allowing the public to learn about the different plans, costs,
environmental factors, financing, education and transportation. The
attendant crowd of forty or more people at each session broke into
small groups and were drilled with questions by school board members
who gathered data, searching for common themes.
Tables were set up representing the five topics of the day: student
needs, instruction, facilities, transportation and community needs.
At the end of each session Armand Quadrini of KSQ Architects summed
up each topic based on the groups point of view and concerns.
Discussions throughout the day voiced the need to use more energy
efficient ways of heating, light and fuel alternatives such as bio-diesel
for buses. Investment in energy efficient technology that would lead
to long term cost savings was voiced as a need throughout the district.
As part of curriculum based initiative, people favored educating students
in green technology and conservation.
Uncertainty about local population growth or loss was a concern regarding
proposals for additional elementary school closings. Quadrini said,
“Right now we are faced with enrollment decline. What happens
if enrollment starts to tip in the other direction?”
The latest adjusted enrollment projections and actual number of enrolled
students between 2002 and 2007 were available and will soon be listed
on the district website. But it appears, actual student enrollment
is lower than projections that do not take into account the population
of home school and private school students, which came to 210 last
Most agreed that the central campus plan would not allow room for
expansion. Operating costs versus the reduction of schools and how
it impacts future costs to the district was a requested facility study.
In addition, questions were raised on what to do with additional closed
buildings — could be rented? — and what to do with West
Hurley elementary school, closed in 2004. In the end, demographics
and community needs tended to clash on issues of declining enrollment
and the desire to have community-based elementary schools.
Quadrini said, “The group seemed to gravitate to plan A in terms
of its dialogue -in that it maintains a community school in each neighborhood.”
Plan A is the only proposal that would not close any additional elementary
schools. Concerns were voiced over loss of community, lack of flexibility
and population shifts.
Quadrini said questions were raised regarding the consolidation of
schools, time spent on the bus and what the pollution impact would
be to transport kids further distances. New data collected by interim
transportation supervisor Peter Montalvo showed an expansion of costs
if elementary schools were to close.
Comments were made that the school board should specify what additional
school would close in Plan C. Many wanted to reopen the West Hurley
school, noting it as superior because of land size (over 30 acres).
Off campus programs such as Indy and Universal Pre-K were suggested
as a way to save school buildings and overhead costs.
At the end of the sessions, Ford gathered the data and asked participants
as they were leaving to write down which plan they would prefer. Although
she said it would not be the deciding factor, it will help the district
come up with solutions that would ultimately lead to a plan that the
community can agree on.
A report on their findings will be given at a future school board
With DEP Police...
From the perspective of the city DEP’s administrative
levels, the stated dissatisfaction does not reflect what they characterize
as a tripling of investment in DEP policing activities and infrastructure,
reflective of their concerns over the reservoir system’s safety.
In between, a number of long-time DEP watchers — including county
Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum and Bert Leifeld, supervisor of the town of
Olive, where much of the DEP force is based – have wondered whether
all the noise may simply be the byproduct of ongoing contract negotiations
between the city and its DEP police force.
It all started, at least in its present public form, when LEEBA President
Kenneth Wynder Jr. sent out a press release on March 14 in which he
reported that, “Recently New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) Police Officers, members of the Law Enforcement Employees
Benevolent Association (LEEBA), canvassed the membership for a vote
on the performance of Chief Edward Welch and Assistant Chief Mark Benedetto.
95% of the officers voted and of 91% voted against Chief Welch while
85% voted against Asst. Chief Benedetto. These officers expressed their
opinion that mismanagement within DEP Police must end.”
Continuing, Wynder’s release complained about how the DEP “has
no apparent definable future goals or long term plans” for its
Police Division, resulting in low morale.
“The present administration utilizes intimidation, retaliation,
and unauthorized disciplinary actions instead of leadership to control
the members of the command,” LEEBA charged. “The turnover
rate in the ranks of DEP Police remains the highest of any City Department
and it directly affects the safety of New York City’s Water Supply
and the citizens of the surrounding watershed. Relations with the public
and other neighboring police agencies are strained.”
Wynder noted cases where promotions were refused longstanding officers,
inadequate infrastructure and equipment, poor personnel policies, and
bad communications of both a literal and metaphorical basis.
“DEP Police Officers are extremely dissatisfied with the current
management,” Wynder concluded. “Through retaliation, discrimination
and unauthorized disciplinary actions, the Chiefs have degraded morale
to its lowest ebb.”
Asked to reply to the union release, New York City DEP spokesperson
Ian Michaels confirmed that contract negotiations were underway, then
countered a number of the charges made against the department and its
management without going t=into any personnel details regarding Welch
and Benedetto, or any matters currently part of the contract talks.
“The security of the water supply is of the highest priority to
the DEP. That is why we have made a huge investment in the DEP Police,”
Michaels wrote in his own release of March 20. “In the last five
years, DEP has tripled the size of the force and added new units such
as Emergency Services. DEP has invested over $120 million in facilities
and equipment to improve the effectiveness of the DEP Police, including
the construction of five new precincts and two new training centers.
The DEP will continue to work to make the DEP Police an even more effective
force for the people who rely on and live near the water system.”
Van Blarcum said that his department has a good working relationship
with the DEP Police. Leifeld, whose town is host to much of the Ashokan
Reservoir, as well as the DEP Police headquarters, added that his town’s
police department also works well with DEP police and that Olive residents
have no issues with the department.
Wynder could not be reached for further comment beyond his statement
despite several calls to all his listed numbers, as well as e-mails,
in the week since his initial press release.
Future Of Our Creek
several inches thick, was commissioned by New York City to fulfill
its Federal filtration avoidance requirements with respect to the
Ashokan Reservoir, a source of city drinking water, which is fed
by the Esopus Creek. Administered by Cornell Cooperative Extension,
the preparation of the plan was based on a comprehensive survey
of the creek and its tributaries by U.S. Army Engineer Research
Development Center and New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP), questionnaires and feedback from streamside landowners
and other community members, assembly of past data on the stream
system, and a study of stream habitat by Walter Keller, retired
Fisheries Manager of New York State Region IV Department of Environmental
New York City has earmarked $2 million for implementation of the
plan. Cornell’s Education and Outreach Coordinator Michael
Courtney said this funding could be leveraged into four to five
times that amount through further grants as projects get underway.
Dan Davis, DEP geologist and project manager, addressed issues of
flooding and erosion, the top concern of local creekside property
owners, according to the survey mailed out by Cornell. Computer
modeling indicates that releases from the Shandaken Tunnel would
have minimal effect under flood conditions, elevating the creek
by only one to three inches. (DEP policy calls for the tunnel to
be closed whenever flooding is imminent.) When the Esopus is flowing
at lower levels, however, releases do contribute to erosion of susceptible
sites with little protective plant growth.
Davis observed that flooding is a natural process that only creates
difficulties when it comes into conflict with human construction.
He mentioned problem sites such as the stretch near the Copper Hood
Inn, the confluence with Birch Creek, and sections of the Stony
Clove Creek. The plan recommends prioritizing the candidates for
remediation and obtaining funding for solutions like the 2004 rerouting
of the Esopus at Woodland Valley bridge that may have prevented
a row of houses from falling into the water in the April 2005 flood.
When Elizabeth Winograd, owner of the Copper Hood, asked how she
could protect her property, sited between the creek and Route 28,
Davis said riprap, placement of large rocks on the bank, would be
helpful only if she planted vegetation whose roots would anchor
the rocks. She was skeptical, noting that even nearby trees had
been ripped out by flooding. He said willows and sedges, rapidly
propagating, grasslike plants with high root density, would be more
helpful than trees but acknowledged that in her sticky situation,
probably only a rerouting of the water would provide a long-term
“Why is it that for the first ten years I lived here, I could
stand in the creek up to my neck and see my feet through the water,
but for the past few years, I can’t even see my hands?”
asked Kathy Nolan of Mt. Tremper, echoing a concern posed by other
members of the public at the meeting. In response, Davis painted
a picture of cyclical turbidity produced by flooding, which breaks
down banks of glacial deposits and distributes sediment throughout
the stream system. The resultant cloudiness takes years to clear
out of the system. Although data do not indicate an increase in
flooding over the past 75 years, the persistence of turbidity may
come from the increase in human habitation along the banks, where
mowed lawns reduce the extent of root systems that prevent erosion,
roads limit the ability of streams to recover from floods, and riprap
and retaining walls harden and preserve some portions of the bank,
often at the expense of increased erosion downstream.
The plan encourages towns to develop land use laws that prevent
inappropriate development in areas that are at high risk for flooding
and erosion. Davis showed a computer-generated map that shows flood
projections based on data collected during the project. He expressed
the hope that town governments and planning and zoning boards would
use such maps in devising land use laws.
Keller, the fisheries expert, cited studies that show little effect
of turbidity on the trout population of the Esopus, a finding that
runs counter to intuition, since trout are visual feeders and are
impaired by cloudy water. Keller pointed out, however, that the
higher trout population in the lower, more turbid sections of the
creek might be due to other influences such as colder water, which
fish require in summer. He urged more studies on the effects of
turbidity on fish, with collaboration between scientists and community
He also noted the importance of the cold water released into the
Esopus by its tributaries, including the Shandaken Tunnel, where
the turbidity of water from the Schoharie Reservoir is offset by
the same water’s colder temperature. As a result of a lawsuit
brought by Trout Unlimited, the city is currently working on a plan
to address turbidity at the Schoharie Reservoir. Among the Esopus
plan’s recommendations are identification and protection of
cold-water tributaries and wetlands, as well as management of tunnel
releases for maximum habitat benefit.
The tunnel came up again under the category of recreation. Tubing,
fishing, canoeing and kayaking are local attractions that provide
a mainstay of the area’s economy. These activities often come
into conflict, observed Jeremy Magliaro, Cornell’s project
manager. While fisherfolk abhor the turbidity involved in tunnel
releases, tubers and kayakers depend on the increased volume of
water. They also compete for space on the creek at peak tourist
season. The plan suggests developing a code of conduct for dealing
with such conflicts.
The plan calls for periodic public meetings like Tuesday’s
gathering, held perhaps quarterly, perhaps annually, depending on
interest, to update information and solicit feedback. Community
members were encouraged to get involved by participating in monitoring
of macroinvertebrates, which indicate stream health; photo-monitoring,
in which repeated photos are taken of a section of bank, following
a strict protocol; streamside planting projects; stream clean-ups;
and other initiatives. See www.esopuscreek.org
for information on community projects and for downloads of sections
of the Stream Management Plan (found under “Documents”).
The Cornell office is located at Phoenicia Plaza on Route 28 and
may be reached at 688-5496 or 340-3990.
“The Fourth of July
— that’s an interesting time to stop drinking,”
“Independence!” Mr. Cross said, smiling.
Ward Todd, President of the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, arrived
with a huge pair of scissors. (I felt like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.)
Two mysterious men in brown suit jackets conferred near the front
door. I heard one say: “I don’t believe the scissors actually
work. They are purely ceremonial.”
John Paunovic, the general manager of the Phoenix Restaurant, within
the Emerson (so named because it rose from the ashes) told me: “I
was born in Brooklyn, my mom was originally Romanian, my father’s
from the former Yugoslavia, I grew up in Austria and Switzerland,
and I started working in the Emerson in 2000. We helped them do the
grand opening! I was the bar manager for four and a half years, and
we’ve been away — myself and my wife — in Aspen
for about two years. And now were here for the opening again!”
“What kind of food does the Phoenix have?” I asked.
“It’s American-based cuisine, with Asian fusion and Thai
fusion,” Mr. Paunovic replied.
“Well, we’re trying to fit the motif. All the hotel is
a modern Asian style, with an influence of the Middle Eastern.”
“What languages do you speak?”
“English, German, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian. And Italian, as
well. When I used to live in Davos, Switzerland, there were people
from Italy. Italian and Romanian are very similar.”
But I had to run to the front of the room, because the speeches were
An excerpt from Ward Todd’s oration: “It’s such
a special day, I think — the culmination of so much planning.
To look back, it was less than two years ago that the original Emerson
burned. How rapidly this has all come together, and how spectacular
this facility really is. We step back and say: ‘Could this really
be in Shandaken? Is this really ours?’”
When his speech ended, the woman next to me observed: “No one
can clap! They all have champagne glasses!”
From Bob Cross’ speech: “I was privileged to sit down
at a table and enjoy a presentation a little over two years ago when
the Conde Nast Johansens Award was presented to the Emerson for the
best lodge and spa in all of North America, South America and the
Caribbean. That was a fantastic honor, it was a great thing to be
part of. But this is even better.” He presented Dean Gitter,
founder of the Emerson, with a vase he bought at the Shandaken Bicentennial,
to display here.
From Dean Gitter’s talk: “It so happened that I was the
first kid on my block to own a 13 foot high, 7 foot wide set of Hindu
doors. You may have seen on television an advertisement in which a
young couple comes into the office of an architect, puts a Lohman
faucet on the desk, and says: ‘Build a house around this.’
Well, this is what I did to our interior architect, Antony diGiuseppe.’”
There was a snafu with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Mr. Gitter was
supposed to pause, holding his three-feet long scissors, so the photographers
could capture this moment of Shandaken history. Then, after the flashbulbs
flashed, Lyn, his wife, would cut the large red ribbon with a real
scissors. But Lyn jumped the gun, and no one got a good photo.
Meanwhile, we visitors began swarming through the luxurious edifice.
Actually, I’d never been in a five-star hotel. (Of course, we
aren’t sure how many stars it will have. We must wait for the
rating committees, especially the Mobil Travel Guide!) I was surprised
to discover that a five-star hotel mostly consists of large, awkward
carpeted lounge-type rooms — like a small airport. Also, I was
shocked the health club only has two televisions (though they were
42" HDTVs). Most posh spas have a separate TV for each treadmill.
And the resplendent bouquets of sumptuous tropical flowers were, I
discovered, genuine plastic.
Perhaps I expect too much from five-starhood.
Unfortunately, I fast every week from Thursday evening to Friday evening
to protest the CIA, so I could not sample the food: raw oysters on
the half-shell in soy tamarind sauce and beef satay (on wooden skewers).
I did take some of the buffet home, to eat after my fast ended: 17
purple grapes, which were tidy and sweet; and a chunk of craggy cheddar
As I circled the provisions, I ran into Dean Gitter, and we spoke.
My exclusive interview
with Dean Gitter:
Sparrow: Those doors, how long have you had them?
Gitter: Before we started this project, about five years.
Sparrow: And what are they? They’re Rajasthani?
Gitter: Exactly, they are Rajasthani. Mughal Period.
Sparrow: So they were in a temple, a Hindu temple?
Gitter: Actually a Mughal temple.
Sparrow: Like a mosque?
Gitter: Yeah. They got blurred, in there, during the 16th century.
Sparrow: And Rajasthan is on the border of Pakistan...
Gitter: Yes it is.
Sparrow: So, it’s an area where the religions blur.
Gitter: Right, right. And the paintings are all copies from the Ajunta
Caves, which are maybe 200 miles northeast of Bombay. They date from
around 300 A.D., which is the period when Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted.
And I’ve been to the caves. They go on for miles. And they’re
just a perfect amalgam of Hindu and Buddhist art.
Sparrow: The caves are sculptures, or paintings?
Gitter: Actually, many, many, many paintings — thousands of
paintings. But there are also some astonishing sculptures. I mean,
the space itself has been sculpted.
Sparrow: Wow! These are frescoes?
Gitter: Exactly! [Turning to the painting behind them.] You see those
strange light things up there, in the upper right?
Gitter: Well, that’s where the plaster has literally come off
the walls of the cave.
Sparrow: Oh! This is a copy of a fresco!
Gitter: It is! It is, exactly.
Sparrow: How are these made? These are painted? With oil paints?
Gitter: Yeah. My wife painted them.
Sparrow: Oh, yeah?
Gitter: She did all of them!
Sparrow: Oh I didn’t know that! Wow, wow, wow. And I was thinking,
this looks a little bit like a mosque, the carpet motif. [Looking
Gitter: The ways of designers are mysterious. I don’t know what
he had in mind, but it works.
Sparrow: Yeah, yeah. So you been collecting Indian art ever since...
Gitter: Ever since I was a student of Rudi ‘s, which goes back
almost 40 years. I know it’s a great deal more difficult to
export these things from India now than it was 40 years ago.
Sparrow: Which you may have found out, while decorating this place.
Gitter: No, all this stuff is new.
Sparrow: What about that sculpture around the corner? That stone goddess,
in front of the mirror?
Gitter: Made the day before yesterday.
Dean and I are both art snobs, I discovered. We both find great inspiration
in Eastern mysticism. There is one difference between us, however.
Mr. Gitter enjoys entertaining billionaires, and I do not. (In fact,
if any billionaires are reading this essay, I hope they find it repulsive.)
One wintry afternoon I
brought my fifteen-year-old daughter, Sylvia Mae Gorelick, to Zuccala
for a healing haircut. Beyond the house is a barn that has been renovated
and divided into separate studios for Travaglia and Zuccala. We entered
a light, airy room with colorful carpets and a massage table. A long-legged
chair sits facing a mirror. Clay busts sculpted by Zuccala populate
a row of shelves, while an antique saw blade adorns a wall. Light
comes through a number of old-fashioned windows of four or six small
Zuccala offers us tea made of star anise, cardamom, and Japanese kukicha
twigs, then drapes Sylvia with a thin maroon robe and seats her in
the tall chair. “Tell me what you love about your hair,”
“I don’t think about it that much. It just hangs there,”
Sylvia replies. “Lately I’m feeling weighed down by it.”
“So what wouldn’t you like to have?”
“Do you want it all one length, or do you want movement in your
“You’re an actress, aren’t you ? And probably you
dance? So you need to be able to keep your hair away from your face.
Do you like having long hair?”
“No, I’m not attached to it. I think of my hair as very
“So you want hair that can dance a little. Maybe some layering?”
Zuccala explains that she is going to touch Sylvia’s head, face,
shoulders, back, and hips as she shifts and releases energy blocks.
“Stresses in our lives create blockages internally, what we
call ‘the issues in your tissues’. In a short session,
we might not be able to release the issues, but we can get things
to flow more freely. This gives you the opportunity to create a new
intention and let go of old things. You might feel vibrations or sensations
of cold or warmth—that’s just the energy moving.”
Sylvia closes her eyes and takes several deep breaths, and Zuccala
works in silence for ten or fifteen minutes. At the end, Sylvia says
she felt “a lot of clogged-up things” releasing.
As Zuccala proceeds to the haircut, she explains that she studied
at the Queens Beauty Institute and worked at a salon on 57th Street
in Manhattan, where she met her husband. “A client there was
describing a man who loved classical music, eating organic food, exercising—I
said he sounded just like me. She said, ‘And he’s my father.’
I said, ‘He must treat you well, and if she does, he must treat
other women well.’ He’s very loving and caring,”
Zuccala studied sculpture with a teacher from Tuscany at the New School
and became so connected to the work and the class that she became
his assistant. “I was always good at sculpting hair,”
A certified Reiki master, she bartered with her teacher for classes,
doing hair and makeup for the wedding of the teacher’s daughter.
She studied Integrated Energy Therapy both in Jersey City and upstate.
When she first moved north, yoga classes in Stone Ridge brought her
into the local community. “I come from a big family, and that’s
what it started to feel like here. People were connected and caring—such
She gives Sylvia’s hair a few final snips and asks what she
“I feel so relieved,” says Sylvia, swinging her now chin-length
hair to watch the top layers slide across the bottom ones.
Zuccala nods. “I believe hair should have movement to it, no
matter what the length. Just like the energy work, it should have
energy. One of my clients was a painter who was painting beautiful
pieces with a lot of movement, but her hair was stiff. I worked to
release the energy in it.”
For more information on healing haircuts or Integrated Energy Therapy,
call Sandra Zuccala at 657-8673.