Up on the News
Many noted how Onteora’s string players placed number six in
the nation two years ago at a Lincoln Center competition. Students
who spoke also said that none of it could have happened had they not
been taught in their earlier years.
High School Student Brendan Dibbel explained that he began strings
in third grade.
“People who don’t start early don’t start at all,”
Before people had the opportunity to speak, Superintendent Leslie
Ford wanted to clear up the district’s intent.
“There has been no discussion about cutting a program, or cutting
a program like the whole strings program,” she said, explaining
that there is a process the district is using in these difficult financial
times, “in how we can sustain things over time.”
She added that the administration is reviewing whole departments and
are currently looking at the needs of children in the music department.
She noted that orchestra teacher Winnie Paetow is retiring.
“Now that we have a retirement we can actually begin to work
on those things,” Ford said in a letter she posted on the district’s
website. “I can see through my phone calls and emails alone
that rumor and misinformation has leaped ahead of fact, so I thought
you might be interested.”
She went on, at the meeting, to explain the Consumer Price Index,
and how it is a template for the contingent budget and provided a
table showing that it is at a 20 year low, thus affecting the school
During public be heard, however, Paetow argued with the details of
Ford’s statement on cutting the strings program.
“In answer to a statement made by our superintendent yesterday-to
two of our department members,” Paetow said, “She noted
that she would be looking into the feasibility of cutting back our
strings program at the Elementary level.”
Additionally, Pateow noted that the budget for 2010 approved by voters
already had her salary included. Paetow said that even if they did
hire a new strings teacher for the elementary schools, that the district
would save approximately $50,000.
“Instead of cutting our school’s program infrastructure,
how about focusing on facilities efficiency… or calling a moratorium
on the hiring of additional central administration staff” she
added, listing the fact that the district has two assistant superintendents
and an increase in legal costs.
Parents also spoke in protest of the district’s plan to combine
two grade five classes at Phoenicia elementary into one. The classroom
size is projected to have 27 or more students.
Later, Ford spoke about classroom size.
“We’re always looking at how we are using our district
resources, and which are using our people and our programs in the
best way,” she said.
Some ideas Ford suggested were the possibility of opening up a district
variance in the affected grade to alleviate crowding issues, or the
use of an additional teaching assistant in the class.
Trustee Anne MacGillicuddy said that administrative regulations indicated
that 27 students in a classroom was very high. Trustee Laurie Osmond
mentioned that the night was late and everyone had gone home.
“In interest of fairness and transparency, this board can continue
the class size discussion,” she said. “And as Dr. Ford
indicated, this is not a process that they are done talking about
Plaques of appreciation were given to district retirees and school
board president Maxanne Resnick, whose last meeting it was.
Reading from a statement Resnick said, “It has been an interesting
experience, a challenging one, with its accomplishments and its frustrations.”
the classes, I began by explaining: “In order to participate
in this workshop, we each require a ‘secret name.’ And
here’s how we’ll get one. Choose a book in this room,
then close your eyes, open it at random, and place your finger down.
Whatever word or phrase you land on becomes your secret name. We’ll
use these names for the course of our class.”
The students were receptive — I was surprised that no one cheated
— and they came up with wonderful words. “Ukraine”
was one, and another was “Kill Zone.” Sometimes a hapless
boy would end up with “And.” (The first one I chose was
One of my exercises was entitled “Silent Writing, Noisy Writing.”
We began by descending into deep silence, then writing poems. Afterwards,
I asked students to stand before the class and recite them as softly
as possible. In the third period, one boy stood up and said nothing.
“I’m thinking my poem,” he explained.
“All right,” I agreed. Then I instructed him to try again,
and told the class: “See if you can hear his thoughts.”
After the second trial, one boy explained: “I couldn’t
hear them, because Leslie was thinking too loud!” He pointed
to a girl across the aisle.
Here was one of my exercises:
1) Write your middle name.
2) Choose one of its letters.
3) Use that letter to write a word.
4) Think of an article of clothing.
5) Write down a color.
6) Use those three words in a sentence.
7) Choose a title.
Following these directions, Breanna Jacob wrote:
The boy in his hot pink dress
The boy was sewing his
hot pink dress when he
sewed over his fat stubby
For the fifth workshop, I attempted one of the most daring projects
of my life — teaching sonnets to eighth graders. We read Keats’
“Last Sonnet,” which begins:
Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night...
I wanted them to perceive the shape of a sonnet, its rhythm and interior
“How many syllables are in a line?” I asked.
“10,” one boy immediately responded.
“How did you know that?” I wondered.
“I could just tell,” he replied. Rarely does one meet
a youth with a Poet’s Mind, but here was one.
I set the goal: to write a sonnet together, in the next 40 minutes.
First, we must choose a topic. Being a believer in democracy, I asked
for nominations, and everyone voted. The winner was “Paige,”
one of the members of the class — a merry, athletic and freckled
girl. She beat out “chicken wings” and four other topics.
Line by line, the students wrote a first stanza. I found myself in
the role of editor, choosing among the suggestions. (One of my major
goals was to prevent Paige from being ridiculed.) Paige’s last
name is Green, which led to numerous puns. Instinctively, the kids
used the same strategy as Shakespeare.
The need for 10 syllables to a line struck the student as reasonable,
like the rules of blackjack. I didn’t emphasize meter, but English
is basically iambic, so the lines had a nice shape.
At the 11th line, we began to get stuck. How would we finish this
poem? Our project became like a basketball game where the home team
must “beat the clock.” We only had six minutes! But in
a sudden burst of literary power, we produced the last three lines.
Now only one decision remained. What should the title be? “Paige
Unseen,” one boy suggested. Then a girl offered, “Paige
Green Unseen.” Perfect! We even had time to read the entire
work off the blackboard together. (“Choral speaking,”
which was taught when I was a boy, has nearly vanished in the modern
world — which is unfortunate, to my sometimes-conservative mind.)
Here is our completed sonnet:
Paige Green Unseen
Page can eat a lot of food during l
Owen always flirts with Paige at dinner.
Page video-chats with friends while she dines;
She does not think about getting thinner.
After eating, Paige begins secreting
Tears from her eyelids — there is no more food!
Paige’s freckles can be so deceiving.
She watches Juno in her green bedroom.
Paige always leaves her homework
Inside her room she flies on her green broom.
She then takes a seat and looks at her feet.
She goes to sleep in her black-covered bed,
Her Hello Kitty alarm by her head.
began by telling the board he’d learned that the City had denied
a funding request by New England Wastewater Systems, which had recently
asked for $13,800 to provide more detailed performance data on a vegetative
reed bed system first proposed for consideration last year by Rennia
Engineering. But he then told the board that “we now have the
opportunity to look at another kind of plant.”
That plant, called an “MBR” or a Membrane Bio Reactor
system, is essentially a small, self-contained processing unit that
would purify all of the hamlet’s liquid waste while shifting
the far smaller amount of solids for separate processing, either with
conventional technology or via a scaled-down redbeed system.
“We are supportive of this technology,” said Jeffrey Graff,
DEP’s head of Community Planning for the city’s West of
Hudson Watershed. “And we’re cautiously optimistic. It
has a number of operational and cost benefits that make it easier
and cheaper to operate in the long run.”
The MBR system would still require a separate disinfection unit, which
according to Graff would likely involve the installation of an Ultra-Violet
system in lieu of chlorine, which has potentially negative effects
on aquatic life.
“On the whole,” added Graff, “it’s cheaper
than traditional systems.”
In terms of cost allocation, the City has currently budgeted about
$6 million of a $17 million project total for construction of a processing
facility; a figure which represents the approximate cost of a traditional
wastewater plant. The baseline cost for an MBR plant sized for Phoenicia’s
requirements, however, appears to be only about $2 million according
to DiSclafani. Adding to that number both Ultra-Violet disinfection
and a solid waste component, including a settling tank, would probably
add another $1.5 million for a total of about $3.5 million.
What’s significant about this cost-saving is that it appears,
according to both DiSclafanni and Graff, that it’s likely the
City might permit the savings of $2 million or more to be applied
toward other project costs, such as the cost of installing lateral
lines to individual homes. Removing some or all of those costs from
the table would likely go far in eventually gaining approval of a
new plan from the sewer district’s property owners.
As for the earlier proposed reedbed system, it appears that that’s
“now off the table,” according to DiSclafani. A smaller
version, however, might still end up being selected for use as part
of a MBR system.
“Our view,” said Graff, “is that this technology
would probably obviate the need for vegetative reedbeds.”
On Monday, June 15, DiSclafani told the Shandaken Town Board that
at their July meeting, he’d move to ask that the town solicit
bids from engineering firms to prepare an RFP for the various options
available in constructing an MBR-based project.
On Tuesday, Graff confirmed that was the correct process, and that
funding for the RFP would be available from allocated City funds,
but that they’d first have to authorize the town to hire an
“They (DEP) wanted us to show that we were moving forward with
a plan by July 31,” said DiSclafani. “I believe doing
this will demonstrate that we’ve met that requirement, and that
they’ll continue to work with us to move this forward.”
the executive director of the watershed’s chief regional institution,
Alan Rosa of the the Catskill Watershed Corporation, has said that
the chief challenge now facing the area is similarly global: That
of climate change and its possible effects on local communities and
As for the world’s attention... A TV crew from "La Semaine
Verte," ("The Green Week" in French) a national weekly
environmental program based out of Quebec City, toured the Catskill/Delaware
Watershed the last week of May. Reporter France Beaudoin of CBC Radio-Canada
coordinated the week-long tour with representatives from the Watershed
Agricultural Council (WAC) and New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (NYC DEP).
"Multiple interviews with key participants in the clean water
chain will provide us with program content," noted Beaudoin.
"Our segment will focus on how regional New York State landowners
partner with the City to provide clean drinking water for metropolitan
The crew interviewed local farmers, forestry professionals and agency
spokespeople, pulling together the region's clean water story. Along
the way, the crew filmed many hours of "beauty shots," capturing
the essence of working farm and forest landscapes. Photo opportunities
included filming on the bridge spanning the Pepacton Reservoir.
The Canadian documentary segment, which follows water from the Catskills
to City tap, will air in September in the French language. Last year,
the Watershed Agricultural Council provided similar tours for a documentary
crew from TV Globo-Brazil and a contingent of Vietnamese scientists.
According to Diane Galusha, spokesperson or the Catskill Watershed
Corporation, this is not the first time other nations have looked
at the historic program.
“I went to Winnipeg, Mannitoba, Canada in May 2008 to speak
about the NYC Watershed Agreement and partnership at a conference
of regional leaders working to restore the health of Lake Winnipeg,
the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, bigger than Lake Erie,
whose watershed includes parts of four Canadian provinces and four
US states,” she said. “Over the years we have also given
presentations and tours to water and planning professionals from many
countries, including South Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, and, next month,
While the rest of the world seems to be looking to this region for
watershed advice, the situation here is not perfect. Lawsuits are
still pretty common, with the region’s advocacy group, the Coalition
of Watershed Towns, doing most of the suing.
They felt the region was shortchanged during 10th anniversary negotiations
two years back, and tried to get the courts to halt some of the plans
made between New York City and the Federal Environmental Protection
Agency, most notably EPA’s granting the City a ten year waiver
from filtering its water supply and at the same time authorizing the
City to spend up to $350 million to buy and sterilize private land
within the watershed borders.
Coalition members expected the waiver to be only for 5 years. They
also believe that $350 million is way too much to spend and may be
the beginning of a City takeover of the region.
All parties were expected to have disagreements as time passed, said
Rosa, CWC’s Executive Director, when asked how things are going
in the watershed these days, but no one saw the single largest challenge
facing both the region and water quality today coming.
“That’s global warming,” said Rosa. noting he’d
said as much in all the recent interviews.
Rosa, who was a principal player in the creation of historic Memorandum
of Agreement back in the mid 1990’s, said that climate change
was never discussed back then as myriad groups of elected officials
and environmental groups hashed out plans to protect the water supply...
and local communities. He admits that it wasn’t even a topic
two years ago when those same parties gathered together in 2007 to
update the Agreement.
“But now, I think the biggest issue we face is climate change,”
he said. “Definitely.”
Rosa, a lifelong resident of the Margaretville area, said that weather
events around the region come more frequently and with more severity,
causing pollution-causing storm water to swell the streams and reservoirs
and wreak havoc on the watershed communities along the way.
“I just see storms as more violent,” he said, adding that
while many stormwater mitigation mechanisms have been put in place
to date, more are now definitely needed.
Dennis Lucas, Chairman of the Coalition of Watershed Towns, said Tuesday
that the CWT continues to view the City’s land buying efforts
as the largest threat to the region, noting that discussions continue
about expanding the size of the “hand’s off” areas
in each community.
The City agreed to not try and purchase land in areas around hamlets
because upstaters see such land as crucial to the economic future
of the region, he noted. But while the expansion of these areas is
still uncertain, Lucas said talks have laid the groundwork for how
the Coalition would fight in the next battle with New York City, one
coming up sooner than later.
“The City’s Land Acquisition permit ends in 2012,”
he said. “They need a new one.”
Lucas said that talks would begin later this year as stakeholders
discuss the pros and cons of the current permit and try and ensure
the new one is better.
“The revised program should be more sensitive to our concerns,”
He didn’t want to bring up any thoughts of climate change in
such a discussion, though.
Big changes ahead, on all fronts, it seems...
With the world’s eyes all now on us, as never before.
Talk about a hot seat!
Burn Laws Return
last Spring, the bans on burn barrels and brush burning, predicated
by fears of climate change’s effects on firefighting, as well
as shifts in the state DEC’s ability to keep an eye on its burn
permit process, drew opponents worrying about the costs of compliance
and supporters noting abuses in their neighborhoods and the Upstate’s
growing shift from being largely rural to more and more exurban and
even suburban in nature.
In an effort to reduce the impacts of pollutants such as dioxins,
particulate matter and carbon monoxide and to limit the risks of wildfires,
DEC announced its plans in early 2008 to extend a ban on open burning
statewide beyond the current ban for any municipality with a population
of 20,000, a law in effect since 1972.
“This is a public health and safety issue,” said DEC Commissioner
Pete Grannis. “The trash we are burning has become more complicated
and damaging to air quality over the decades. From dioxins to furans
to arsenic, numerous toxic chemicals can be released by open burning
- worries we didn’t have several decades ago. Moreover, wildfires
occur regularly from badly tended open fires. This proposal will reduce
the chances of that happening.”
Critics of the plan said that such a ban would also prevent current
lot clearing practices where contractors burn brush as they cut away
the property, forcing contractors to pay to remove the brush. It would
also prevent the typical clean ups done after winter weather wreaks
it’s usual havoc on property. Often felled branches and blow
downs are collected and burned on site.
The DEC countered that wood chippers could be used to help fuel a
new energy source. But opponents cried foul, noting the cost of such
Now, the proposal has changed… although not hugely
“The only change is that the the proposed rule has been revised
to allow some brush burning,” said DEC Media Relations Officer
Lori Severino of the recent shift in an e-mail this past week. “Specifically,
the change allows for on-site burning in any town with a total population
less than 20,000 of downed limbs and branches (including branches
with attached leaves or needles) less than six inches in diameter
and eight feet in length between May 15th and the following March
Severino added that there is currently a comment period open on the
revised version of the rule, with written comments to be accepted
through 5 pm on Friday, June 26.
Under the proposed regulations, all outdoor burning would be banned
on residential property in smaller municipalities under 20,000 in
population between March 16 and May 14.
Once considered harmless, DEC has reported that open burning has been
found to release more dangerous chemicals into the air than thought
generations ago. They cite a recent study by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, undertaken in conjunction with DEC and the State
Department of Health, that found that emissions of dioxins and furans
from backyard burning alone were greater than all other sources combined
for the years 2002-04. The study also found that burning trash emits
arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen
cyanide and other harmful chemicals. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene,
pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers can
produce harmful chemicals when burned.
In addition to releasing pollutants, it was found that open burning
is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State such as
that which destroyed a large chunk of the Minnewaska area last year.
Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris
burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and
2006 - more than twice the next most-cited source.
The proposed rule does allow for a number of exceptions, including
3 foot radius camp fires, celebratory bonfires (where allowed), fire
training exercises, specialized burning to protect crops from frostbite
and burning of agricultural wastes (though not agricultural plastics).
“The DEC believes that the private sector will solve the technical
problems,” DEC Region Three Director Willie Janeway said last
year when told of difficulties people were having with the DEC’s
suggestion that local landfills incinerate local woods trash. “They
will in time produce outdoor boilers that pass clean air standards.
The old polluting units will age out over a predetermined time period.
They will not be grandfathered forever.”
In the laws themselves, the state has proposed that eventual benefits
will outweigh immediate expenses.
“Due to the potential increase in the amount of household waste,
brush, and land clearing debris, communities may need to upgrade their
transfer facilities. Upgrades would primarily consist of large trash
compactors for household refuse, and wood chippers or tub grinders
for brush and land clearing debris,” the proposed law states.
“Societal savings of health related costs in affected rural
areas should more than make up for the increased costs of solid waste
disposal. A single hospitalization for asthma outside of New York
City costs over $8,900 and the total cost for asthma hospitalizations
amounted to over $284 million in 2002.”
“Hopefully, this is being responsive to a lot of the comments
that we received,” Severino said of the changes her department’s
For more information on the proposal check DEC’s website or
call DEC at 518-402-8545.
Comments can be sent to the New York state Department of Environmental
Conservation, Division of Air Resources, 625 Broadway - 2nd Floor,
Albany, NY 12233-3254.