on the News
For A Super
The district hopes to make a decision on the new superintendent by the
end of March.
Central School District administrators are facing a complex financial
scenario as they gear up for formulating a 2004-2005 budget to present
to voters in May. Superintendent of schools Hal Rowe outlined influences
including a prospective change in the state aid formula, a drop in enrollments
throughout the district, dramatic increases in retirement funding, and
the potential application of the large-parcel tax legislation in Olive,
all of which will affect the budget process that begins in January.
In an effort to inform the community of budget concerns so discussions
at school board meetings will be more comprehensible, Rowe offered a
summary of issues he expects will be significant in the decision-making
State aid: At the top of the list is state aid, which traditionally
comes through with an annual increase to support state-mandated special
education programs and the heavy expense of capital building projects.
The current year‚s $12 billion state budget deficit threatened
to produce a cut in state aid, but citizens statewide rallied and provoked
the legislature to award a small increase instead. Next year‚s
projected $6 billion deficit probably will not bring a decrease, but
a significant increase, if any, is unlikely.
Adding to the uncertainty is litigation that has caused the courts to
order a change in the state aid formula. Due to a court case alleging
that New York City children have been shortchanged in the funding area,
state legislators are struggling to come up with a formula that produces
equity across the state. An effort is being made to avoid invoking the
"Robin Hood principle" of taking from the rest of the state
to give to the city, but the effects at this point are unknowable.
Enrollment: Rowe‚s second issue is the continuing decline in enrollment,
which was addressed last year by the consolidation of the Woodstock
and West Hurley Elementary Schools. This year, the board will most likely
revisit the controversial question of whether to save money by closing
the West Hurley school. Rowe said, "Having fewer kids affects the
volume of programming you offer. We also have to change the distribution
of enrollment. Last year we tightened up and eliminated the need for
23 percent of the faculty because we increased class sizes, from an
average of 12 or 13 to around 20." Besides merging the two schools,
Rowe reorganized classes at the other elementary schools, the middle
school, and the high school.
Retirement fund: There are some budget increases over which the district
has no control, particularly the contribution to the employee and teacher
retirement systems, which is dependent on stock market investment. "We
are subject to decisions made in other agencies and at the state level,
as well as the impact of inflation," Rowe said. "There's also
the lagging performance in the stock market, although that has picked
up significantly from last year." The district's contribution to
the non-teaching employee retirement fund has gone up from 1.4 percent
of total salaries last year to 4.9 percent this year, and is expected
to leap to 14.55 percent for 2004-2005. The teacher retirement system
is now at .36 percent and will rise to 2.52 percent, said business administrator
Chuck Snyder, who observed, "Although the percentage for teachers
is smaller, the volume of money is much greater." The district‚s
total retirement contribution went from $700,000 last year to $1.2 million
Special education: Another area of little control is funding for special
education, which has been federally mandated since the passage of legislation
in the mid-seventies. The federal government promised to fund the required
programs at a level of 40 percent but has only come through with 15
to 20 percent, and the district must pick up the remaining costs. Parents
have veto power in decisions regarding services for children designated
as requiring special education and may demand a higher level of service
if they feel their child needs it. "Our special education program
serves a lot of kids," said Rowe. "Some people are concerned
about the level of identification of students certified as needing special
education. But it fits the philosophy of the district that kids who
need extra help will get it."
Fund balance: In the past, Rowe said, the district had the ability to
respond to fluctuations in budget conditions because money put aside
in fatter years was held as a reserve fund balance at a level "well
beyond the two percent limit established by law. Seventy-five percent
or more of school districts in the state do it. In August 2000, the
board that was then sitting stripped $2.75 million from the budget to
reduce taxes. We now have a fund balance of under $1 million. This takes
away our flexibility. In one quick decision, the fund balance was turned
back in taxes, and the major of people probably didn‚t even know
Large-parcel legislation: Taxes will probably go up in the Town of Olive
this year and down slightly in other towns, especially if the school
board is in a position to carry out its promise to invoke the large-parcel
legislation that will separate the Ashokan Reservoir from Olive's tax
rolls and redistribute taxes among the townships. The Town of Olive
is trying to reach an agreement with the Office of Real Property Services
on the value of the reservoir, a step which would prevent the application
of the legislation. However, the resultant revaluation of all properties
of Olive would still raise their contribution to the district‚s
revenues, albeit in a less drastic shift.
Contingency budget cap: If the voters should defeat the proposed budget
twice, the district is forced to go to a contingency budget, with the
spending increase limited to a percentage determined by the Consumer
Price Index (CPI). "We were fortunate in passing a budget last
year by a 60 percent margin," said Rowe, but the specter of a contingency
budget is a daunting one. The CPI was 2.8 percent last year and is expected
to be under two percent this year. The budget-crafting process is done
with an eye to making sure educational programs will not have to be
cut if the budget should be defeated. Last year, Rowe attempted to create
a budget that was barely higher than the contingency level, but the
board decided to ask the voters for a tax increase that would allow
the West Hurley school to stay open.
In laymen's terms, what the city was saying, under veiled threat of
legal action disguised behind a flurry of "cc's" to
some of the City's top attorneys, was that the DEC had okayed the
Gitter proposal without adequate solicitation of commentary from the
City, which is in charge of determining the project's effect on its
own water supply.
"When DEC Commissioner Cahill issued the Determination of Lead
Agency for this project, DEP was explicitly given responsibility to
assist DEC with the scoping and review of the EIS," Rieke's letter
states. "DEP believes that the Notice, if published without a
prior review for adequacy by DEP, would violate this Order of the
Which it was on November 26, the day before Thanksgiving, officially
about a week earlier than announcements made it seem.
Also weighing in on the project over the last week were the leading
forces of the region's top environmental organizations, who had received
copies of the City's letter of complaint but were shepherding their
own energies into providing as close and concerted review of the proposed
project as could be mustered before the end of the current review
Public hearings on the massive project have been set for January 14,
2004 at the Margaretville Central School from 4:00-5:30 PM, to reconvene
at 7:00 PM, and on January 15, at the same times, at the Onteora Central
School in Boiceville, with a January 20 snow date for both. All written
comments on the project proposal must be received by February 17,
A pre-adjudicatory hearing issues conference has been set for Tuesday,
March 9, 2004, at 10:00 A.M., at the Middletown-Hardenburgh Fire District
and Middletown Fire Hall, Church Street, Margaretville, New York,
to determine what issues, if any, require adjudication, and to define
the scope of such issues. A number of the state's top environmental
advocacy groups are already filing for party status on a range of
issues to be heard on this date. Applications are going to both the
DEC and Crossroads Ventures attorney, Dan Ruzow of the Albany-based
law firm, Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, with whom most of the groups
have worked over the years.
Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club said last week that
his organization has been following the Gitter project closely over
recent years and worries about the DEC's apparent conflict of interest,
serving as a lead review agency on issues it has been set up to oversee.
He said he has been working closely with Riverkeeper's Mark Yagy on
various issues, as well as with the Open Space Institute and Nature
Conservancy so as to coordinate efforts.
Jeff Jones of Albany-based Environmental Advocates said that his organization
is primarily in the background for now, but added that environmental
organizations on a national basis are keeping an eye on the current
review process, alerted by the way review was started so quickly over
the holidays as well as by the size and potential impact of the project
Tom Alworth if the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development
said that as far as he could tell, the DEC was unlikely to change
its current timetable, based on the schedule of hearing dates and
necessary room rentals already advertised. He also said the February
17th deadline "wasn't outrageous" based on the fact that
everyone knew this time for review was coming, eventually.
"We'll be fine," he said of the review dates, for which
he plans to speak, as well as submit a major report on Gitter's Crossroads
Ventures' proposal for Belleayre Resorts project. "I think everyone
will be ready."
Alworth did note that a pair of organizing meetings were currently
being set for the coming weeks for the various environmental organizations
that will be involved in the project review over the next few weeks.
"We want to be able to know who's doning what so we don't replicate
each other's work," Alworth said. "I feel very good about
the communication we've all been having."
He added that the important element for the current phase of review
will be the quantity as well as the quality of the public commentary
at the scheduled hearings.
"The DEC will be gauging public response from those meetings,
both of them," Alworth said, noting that reports would then be
made to DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty and Governor George Pataki regarding
whether the local community seems to want or not want what Gitter's
proposing. "It can't just be environmental organizations speaking.
It's critical that people voice their opinions, that the troops get
out in as non inflammatory manner as possible."
Alworth added that he was preparing the Catskill Center's annual Holiday
season fundraising letter to include an appeal to the organizations
thousands of members to speak up at the coming hearings.
He also noted that the Delaware County Town of Middletown, into which
the project spills, was discussing passing on its own review of the
project to its county Planning Board, which some were seeing as a
means of giving unofficial approval to the project without having
to gauge the town resident's actual response.
"This is going to be intense," Alworth concluded. "This
is what everyone's been waiting for."
According to those directors, Bob Linge of the Cold Spring Lodge and
Erich Griesser of the Alpine Lodge, both in Shandaken's Oliverea Valley,
recent meetings have taken hours as the organization has wrestled
with issues involving better communication between the Lodging Bureau
and individual members, the creation of a better on-line accommodation
tracking system, and enforcement of standards.
Linge and Griesser said, allows Tier One members - mostly accommodations
- voting power. Most decisions, though, are made by a four-person
executive committee who in turn elect directors.
Griesser said that much of the recent discord in the organization
has been the result of "people getting lazy and throwing their
weight on us" to create a better centralized database.
Linge admitted a certain amount of the organization "dragging
our feet" as he and Griesser work to find a software system that
can handle their membership's needs without costing so much that it
overtaxes the organization's broad range of businesses, which include
everything from the Pine Hill hostel and a number of local restaurants
and service stores to the $500 a night Emerson Inn. The problem is
that what the Lodging Bureau wants a system that will allow all members
to check to see who has vacancies at any given moment, and make immediate
updates, just isn't out there in the form they want. Or at least not
out there in a manner that's become clear to them.
Both men said they would be going down to tourism convention at New
York's Jacob Javitz Center to look over what's available and are looking
into grants to help fund whatever they decide to purchase for the
As for the difficulties with standards, both men would only note that
they've made it a practice for Don Meyers, the Lodging Bureau's employee
of many years, to visit member's establishments when they join, and
then on as regular a basis as possible. The goal is to ensure that
local accommodations don't purport to be more than they are. And when
complaints come in, to do something about them - albeit after a process
that includes several warnings.
has centered around what to do about accommodations with standards
problems. The idea is to ensure good word-of-mouth for local lodging
in general, and the Lodging Bureau in particular.
There was also some internal dissension over the past year when Linge
and Griesser made an endorsement of the proposed Crossroads Ventures
project that a number of members felt was improper, given the non-profit
status of the organization and the controversial aspects of the proposal
for a mega-resort next to Belleayre.
Now, both men privately acknowledge their support for the project
and development in the region - Linge was, separately, the organizer
of the Citizens for Progress ad hoc political group that funded a
series of ads lambasting Shandaken Democrats as being anti-development
and property rights, despite their protests - but note that they now
know the time isn't right for stating such opinions through their
meantime, they're focusing on detail work, and their busy season.
Talk is in the air about building a new information kiosk, with interactive
computer displays, to be placed at Belleayre's lower lodge (Meyer's
office is at the Upper Lodge.) The Bureau is also heavily involved
in coordinating advertising with the Mountain, and considering shifting
away from all print media as a means of "bettering the bang for
our bucks," according to Linge.
The organization, he adds,
was started by he and Pine Hill Arms owner Bob Konefal during a time
when Belleayre itself was in need of better stewardship by the State.
They bought a 1-800 number for the organization- and it's been all
uphill ever since.
years ago the organization had 23 members. It now hosts 51 hotels,
B&Bs and other forms of lodging, 30 restaurants, and over 20 "Third
The organization's annual budget is approximately $36,000.
got quite a year ahead of us," said Linge.
have to keep our noses clean," added Griesser.
Cruickshank is carrying on a tradition handed down to her by a cherished
mentor, Galen Blum, who taught improvisational theater at Phoenicia
Elementary School and Onteora High School. Blum established the Listen
To Me Company in the 80‚s, taking her group to Manhattan to
sing at the Environmental Youth Conference at the United Nations.
"I sang a solo with a full orchestra in front of the U.N. General
Assembly," Cruickshank recalled. This year she received Blum‚s
permission to use the name of the former program, as well as an endorsement
of her work, which includes the statement, "Cara brings magic
and meaning to everything she does."
Cruickshank performed in Barnum, her first show with STS, at the age
of 7. The following year she became involved with the Woodstock Playhouse,
where touring companies would come in the summer and hire locals for
the children‚s roles. Age age 10, she played in Les Miz on Broadway
for two weeks as Little Eponine and Little Cosette. At 13, she toured
the East Coast in an Actors‚ Equity show of Sound of Music.
In addition, she had been studying ballet with Anne Hebard in Kingston
since the age of 5, along with three years of jazz and tap at the
New York Conservatory of the Arts. More recently came seven years
of vocal music studies and intensive study of African dance.
At 14, Cruickshank moved to Colorado and spent a year at a Waldorf
School, where she was exposed to Rudolf Steiner‚s spiritual
approach to nature and the arts. She incorporates elements of the
Waldorf philosophy into all of her work with children. "Behind
the Mirror" was based on Steiner‚s concept of "The
Hero's Journey", which moves through a series of eight archetypes,
from the Innocent to the Magician. Students discussed their own experiences
that fit each of the archetypes, created characters, and proposed
plot ideas that led the characters through the archetypes. They cast
themselves democratically, without competition, and voted on plot
and character whenever there was conflict. "My goal is to help
students find their own voice and their own personal expression through
theater, dance, traditional crafts, and music. Other programs are
more focused on how to say lines appropriately and look good on stage.
The focus for me is on having them connect and understand the world
of their character and find a personal meaning, so the performance
is coming from within."
After high school, Cruickshank spent a semester as a music major at
the University of Colorado but was not satisfied with the quality
of the teaching. She spent a year in New York City to investigate
the possibility of an acting career but was turned off by the ethics
of professional acting. "I love performing, but for an adult,
the field is a rat race. As a kid, I was really protected from that.
As an actor, you have to take whatever you can get to build a reputation.
I'm not willing to do crap. Also I can't stand living in a city. It's
important for me to be connected to nature."
These days, Cruickshank has turned again to STS to satisfy her yen
to perform. In addition to playing major roles in The Importance of
Being Earnest and Fiddler on the Roof, she choreographed the dance
numbers in Fiddler, Cabaret, and The Fantasticks. During recent sojourns
in Colorado, she performed African dance and sang with the World Music
Band as a lead vocalist. Local children are happy to have her back
in Shandaken, especially a small group of girls she has trained through
her Storydance program over several years. Now a subgroup of Listen
To Me, Storydance teaches the basics of jazz, ballet, and African
dance as well as choreography techniques and creative movement.
The next project for Listen To Me, starting in late January, will
be a production of Wind in the Willows, probably using a script by
A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. For information, call 688-2068.
Tickets to the December 21 Winter Fest, at 6:00 pm, are available
in advance from Tender Land Home, 64 Main St. in Phoenicia and Abbie-Rose
Flower Market, 2456 Route 28 in Glenford, at a cost of $8 for adults,
$5 for children. Tickets at the door are $10 for adults and $6 for