Threat To Our School?
recommends two Kindergarten-through-grade four elementary schools,
five-through-eight middle school and one nine-through-twelve high
school. Unsaid is the common belief that under such a plan, Phoenicia
School would be the third school closed, due to the current board
configuration with a solid Olive majority.
“I would like to request that what the architects are doing
along with Plan A, that we add Plan C and get a cost analysis and
compare this in Plan C,” said O’Connor.
KSQ have recommended “Plan A” with the consensus of administrators,
teachers, principals and staff. The plan includes three Kindergarten-through-grade
five elementary schools, one six-through-eight middle school and one
nine-through-twelve high school.
At the recent meeting Board President Dave Patterson said, “Cindy
and I had a conversation earlier today and it is not meant to point
the architects in a different direction…we (the school board)
gave them the collective head nod last week that we thought we would
go with the Plan A recommendations and Cindy is asking to see if Plan
C is somewhat viable from a cost perspective, simply just asking the
questions as why it is not as good as plan A.”
Responding to Patterson, O’Connor said, “Exactly and I
think we owe that to the taxpayers, to look into that plan.”
Board trustee Rita Vanacore said she would like to see deeper financial
comparisons between Plan A and C.
Board member Marino D’Orazio asked, “Would that mean only
two elementary schools... what would happen to the third building
Patterson replied, “We do not have that information. Cindy is
just asking for a cost comparison between Plan A and Plan C.”
D’Orazio noted that the community, Future of the District committee
and administration needs a voice for what ultimately could be a very
School board trustee Herb Rosenfeld agreed that Plan C should be explored
and asked for input from educators.
“Plan A” does not give a positive or negative cost affective
analysis. It notes that the elementary schools can still maintain
a “neighborhood” region. Plan C notes that it could be
more economical to operate but “at least one of the ‘regional
neighborhoods’ within the district will not be directly served
by an elementary school.”
KSQ plans are posted on the school website at www.onteora.k12.ny.us.
In ongoing budget discussions, it was announced that the district
will once again ask voters to approve two new busses to replace eleven-year-old
vehicles with high mileage during school voting season this spring.
A thirty passenger wheelchair accessible bus is needed and a 66 passenger
bus, at a total cost of $156,000. The vehicles in need of replacing
are a 29-child, 19-adult wheelchair accessible bus with 161,541 miles
and a 66-passenger bus with 178,572 miles. Although the vehicles pose
no safety risk, there is more maintenance needed.
The proposed transportation budget includes district owned busses,
staff and garage maintenance at a total cost of $1,004,299. The fleet
of private busses contracted by the district was not included. The
administration is currently going through a re-bid process with all
contract busses in an attempt to come up with a better price. Business
Administrator Victoria McLaren explained that the contracts have been
rolled over for many years and they wish to review their bids hoping
to come up with better cost effective measures, but this does not
affect any changes with district busses. There are 32 runs by district
employees and 33 by contract drivers. The district owns a total of
The 2006-2007 BOCES budget was presented with an increase of 5.25
percent or $130,888.00. Most of the additional cost is coming from
instructional support and McLaren noted that the high school is currently
going through a population “bubble” causing services in
this area to increase.
During public be heard, Jean Rose, a twenty year director of theatrical
productions at Onteora voiced concern about the state of the auditorium
at Onteora high school. “I find it not only embarrassing but
a safety hazard, when you look at the seats and you physically do
a count, it is between thirty and forty seats that have been chopped
out of the auditorium,” said Rose. “The remaining seats
are a safety hazard; I have had students, parents, guest instructors
sit on chairs and injuries where they fall and get bruises…I
am concerned with the state of the seating in the auditorium.”
She also complained about the rigging equipment to the stage that
was removed for safety concerns and nothing was replaced. “I
would like, on behalf of the students, to implore you to please look
at this seriously, it should be an operational concern and not a capital
Patterson and D’Orazio both stated that they have made complaints
in the past, and that they fully agree with her and would like the
auditorium problems resolved. Rose suggested that the school look
into purchasing used seats for the auditorium. Patterson requested
that she send information she may have to the administration and school
In other news… Superintendent Justine Winters introduced Christine
Downs, the new lunch manager that will be replacing Gary Ecklund.
The school board unanimously approved the 2006 foreign language exchange
program with Germany, which will see fifteen German students and two
teachers at Onteora from March 27 through April 15 and Onteora students
travel to Germany June 26 through July 17. Students raise all funds,
with additional chaperone stipends and transportation allotments included
in the 2005-2006 budget.
Shandaken Code Enforcement officer Glenn Miller, the man who
decides the fate of the precarious placard, was frustrated this week,
finding himself between a rock and hard place as he tried to balance
the complaints his office has received about the sign against the
very heavy clout of its owner, Dean Gitter, who appears to be thumbing
his nose at a courtesy notice sent by Miller’s office suggesting
Gitter find another way to spread his message.
At press time, an angry Miller was telling reporters that inquiries
into the matter were premature because Gitter had asked Miller to
hold off on rendering a verdict until Gitter had a chance to talk
to his lawyer, which Miller said was to be on Wednesday, March 1.
The code officer added that it’s not unusual for him to give
people a little time to sort things out, especially if they ask like
Gitter apparently has.
“I tend to honor that,” Miller said, again urging that
the press should wait awhile before writing things.
The sign, as many know, is not new. It appeared in Mount Tremper with
dawn light the day after Presidents Day to begin a stint for “the
foreseeable future,” according to Gitter.
Prior to that the sign spent more than a week parked in the parking
lot of the Highmount Post Office on land that Gitter owns. Even though
the sign has been around long enough for several press reports and
for enough time to allow some residents to publish letters about its
alleged eyesore quality, and for nearby residents to lodge complaints
with his office about it, Miller said that the press looking for a
decision from his office on whether it stays or goes is still premature.
“You’re ahead of this,” he said. “Can’t
you just wait?”
Gitter, too, seemed miffed about the whole thing. He accused at least
one reporter of being up to his “old tricks of shitstirring”
and suggested that writing about the subject of Miller’s verdict
on the sign was unethical.
So stands the debate over the sign, a two-week ruckus against the
ominous backdrop of even the town supervisor being compelled to make
"If it's in violation of the law then it's got to be done away
with,” said Supervisor Robert Cross Jr.
So far Gitter claims the sign is not a sign, insisting it’s
merely a legal, licensed truck trailer legally parked on private property.
In stark contrast, Miller believes it’s a sign and subject to
local sign laws, which appear to outlaw the structure.
Town zoning codes states that the following temporary signs are permitted
without application for and issuance of a permit:(1) Construction
signs not exceeding 32 square feet in surface area. (2) Event signs,
not exceeding 24 square feet in surface area, to be removed within
a period of 10 days after the event. (3) Real estate "for sale"
signs and signs of a similar nature, not exceeding four square feet
per side in area within any residential district or 10 square feet
per side in any commercial district.
Those laws only apply to signs though. Remember, the owner thinks
he’s got a truck trailer, even if it is parked alongside Route
28 with a large tarp attached to the side with a red letter message
written on it. Furthermore, the owner has even disguised the truck
to look like, well, a sign.
“The truck is a registered vehicle with the New York State Department
of Motor Vehicles,” said Gitter spokesman Paul Rakov. “It
has an advertisement on it, exactly like trucks carrying ads for Home
Depot, Coca-Cola, etc. We have legally parked it on private land.
Therefore, no signage zoning laws apply.”
Another element of the matter is that the New York State Department
of Environmental Conservation, which has a clearly written sign law
of its own for lands within the Catskill Park, has taken an interest
in the, er, sign/truck thing.
“DEC is currently reviewing the sign's compliance with the law,”
said Gabrielle DeMarco, a spokesperson for DEC out of the agency’s
NYS Environmental Conservation Law, S-9-0305 states as follows: 1…to
conserve the natural beauty of the … Catskill park… no
person shall erect…within the boundaries thereof any advertising
sign, advertising structure or device of any kind, except under written
permit from the department… 2. Whenever a sign…has been
erected…in violation of the provisions of …this section,
the commissioner shall cause a notice of such violation…to be
personally served upon the owner of record of the real property upon
which the same is located. In the event of the failure of the property
owner to remove such sign…the commissioner may cause an agent
or employee of the department to enter upon the property…and
to remove the same.
As the deadlock remains, it appears others may find themselves caught
up in the mess. Rakov noted that Gitter’s is not the only sign,
er, vehicle, parked near the highway.
“Right across Route 28 is another truck that has artwork on
it and is parked in a private driveway. It, too, is not in violation
of any zoning laws. As you know, that truck has been there for many
Season Sans Snow
an incredibly strange one,” said Superintendent Tony Lanza of
state-owned and operated Belleayre Mountain, in Shandaken. “We
had four weeks of great snowmaking but lousy weather. The weather
has been manic… every time it snowed, it rained.”
“I think it’s an anomaly, similar to the way the Pacific
Northwest got no snow whatsoever last year,” said Laszlo Zajtay,
owner of Ski Plattekill in Delaware County. “If we didn’t
have snowmaking we’d be dead. We’ll be lucky to break
even this year.”
“It’s been rough, what do you want me to say,” noted
the grand-daddy of the local scene, Hunter Mountain owner Orville
Slutzky. “Not a single person came out that last week in January.
Business is down 50 percent and we’re trying to make something
Summing it up from his own base in Colorado, National Ski Areas Association
President Michael Berry, a native of the Greene County town of Catskill,
said the trend seen locally has been constant across New England,
New York State, Pennsylvania and the Midwest. But he added that, with
30 percent of the annual ski market occurring from March 1 on, “the
whole issue now is what happens in the next six to eight weeks, including
enough winter reminders in the key marketplaces to remind people they
can still make it to the slopes this year. The industry up there could
still claw itself way back to an average year…”
All the various slope owners, superintendents and spokespeople concurred
with Berry’s statement.
Zajtay explained how, even though his small slope’s business
is mostly word-of-mouth, attendance has been down 50 percent because
people weren’t enthused about skiing in warm weather. He noted
how his county’s only other slope, Bobcat in Andes, hadn’t
even opened this year. And yet he was enthused by the past President’s
Weekend crowds, the ongoing President’s Week attendance, and
not only weather reports, but reservations for the coming weeks, which
seemed to beat capacity.
Had the Olympics helped, in his view?
“Last week when they had skiing on it certainly did,”
he said. “I wish they had more skiing on this week instead of
all this bobsledding, skating and curling.”
Slutzky said that because of his mountain’s pioneering ways
with snowmaking, they’d been open a full 95 days to date and
were looking, “to hopefully pick up our numbers from here on
in. You know, Cortina (another neighbor in Greene County) never opened
this year? Plus I hear one of their lifts collapsed.”
Koller, over at Ski Windham, said of equal help with the Olympics
was the recent heavy snow that fell on New York City, their primary
“The snow, I think, reminded people that there’s still
a lot of winter left,” he said. “We’re having a
great week and, luckily, had a good November and December start on
the season. People have been telling me they’re surprised at
the great shape we’ve kept the mountain in, despite the weather.”
Lanza, meanwhile – universally known for his ability to spin
great PR out of any situation – lived up to expectations by
speaking from “an office here filled with all kinds of VIPs”
about “ending the year a good 14 to 15 percent over last year’s
skier visit levels because we had a record-breaking November, a record-breaking
December, and now we’ve got a record-breaking President’s
Week following up on a record-breaking President’s Day holiday
Had the Olympics helped his business?
Lanza said he couldn’t see it so.
So how was he looking on the coming couple of months?
“We’re showing the public how we can recover,” he
said. “We’ve already beaten last year’s numbers
for this day…”
Asking about Lanza’s statements, Hunter’s Slutzky said
it wasn’t fair how the state-operated resort counted records.
“Tony’s got $10 days, free days, birthday giveaways, you
name it. He just gives it away because he doesn’t have to pay
anything,” Slutzky, a veteran of nearly 50 years in the business,
said. “Don’t get me started…”
Zajtay was even less circumspect, talking about how all of Lanza’s
hyping of Belleayre on local radio feels like “rubbing it in
all us private owners’ faces.”
“Our two biggest expenses? Property taxes and insurance. He’s
got neither to worry about,” Zajtay said. “Tony’s
a hell of a marketer, but I think a lot of their success is at everyone
Zajtay added that as far as he was concerned, the recent warm spells,
and the fact that the number of privately owned ski areas has declined
precipitously over the last quarter century, has nothing to do with
global warming because “Mother Nature always has a way of compensating.”
“I think it has much to do with the hurricane season this year,”
he said. “This year the Northeast suffers; last year it was
the Northwest. These are weird anomalies.”
He added that he was hoping to stay open to the end of March.
Koller said he had some major events planned, including a qualifying
race for the X Games, April 1 and 2… which would likely mean
a snow pack that could last much longer. Plus, Windham’s doing
a March event in tandem with Hunter this year.
He declined to speak about Lanza.
Lanza, meanwhile, was asked what the demographics behind his record-breaking
figures looked like.
“Very hard to say where it’s coming from,” he said.
“It’s just been record-breaking.”
Back in Colorado, Berry noted how electric rate shifts in March usually
determine a slowing down of snowmaking in our area during the coming
month. Asked about the Olympics, he said their true effect usually
takes a year to hit, being more involved in the building of new winter
sports enthusiasts, as well as a reminder to viewers to get outside
and have some winter fun.
Did he or the National Ski Areas Association worry about global warming?
“It’s on our minds, no doubt about it. We’re partnered
with the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) on this,”
he said. “We don’t have our heads in a snowbank on this
issue, even if it does come down, in the long run, to snowmaking…”
“For me, it is safer
than daily life,” he says of his exploits on the wire, which
have brought him to crossings in or over the Cathedrals of Notre-Dame
and St. John the Divine, the Pompidou Center, the Javitz Convention
Center, the Louisiana Superdome, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and innumerable
other sites. “I have designed everything carefully and installed
the cable myself,” he muses in his French accent. “I love
the process. It is the safety net of wisdom, stronger than any nylon
net. I never take a risk on the wire. On the ground, I am clumsy.
I break glasses, I sprain my ankle, but when I am juggling or on the
wire, I am pretty clever. It has to do with concentration.”
Petit taught himself magic at the age of six, juggling at 13, tightrope
walking at 14, and he left home and family at 17 to travel the world,
having been expelled from five different schools for practicing magic,
juggling, and stealing the teacher’s wallet. He was, in fact,
a pickpocket for several months, until he decided he did not want
to spend his life in jail. “Now I do it onstage, and people
applaud,” he says. Petit is currently at work translating his
sixth and most recent book, “The Art of the Pickpocket: A Primer”,
not so much a guide to thievery as a philosophical contemplation of
his poetic approach to an art that he calls “a magnificent ballet
of the hand.” Two chapters address methods of protecting oneself
from pickpockets, and the book is illustrated with Petit’s drawings
and examples from his collection of pickpocket art.
Like the lectures he gives to students and businesspeople around the
world, the book is a means of sharing his unique way of thinking,
creating, and living. Petit explains, “I try to broaden people’s
horizons.” When a self-taught man who has walked a quarter-mile
in the air without a safety net tells people anything is possible,
they tend to believe him.
He was recently invited to address a religious group in Italy. In
the Clouds, his book on the World Trade Center walk, “I talk
a lot about the god in the wire, the god in the shoes, the god in
the wind, the god in the towers, although I don’t believe in
gods. They wanted to know, what do people who don’t believe
in gods believe in?” The answer, summarized briefly, is that
“I have a kind of faith in ‘secret lives’ inhabiting
objects we take for inanimate. Actually, I’m sure it’s
us human beings who insufflate our own energy into certain inanimate
things that we link ourselves to. Such communion can only happen if
one is ‘possessed’, passionate about the linking with
the thing in question. As a wirewalker, passionately in love with
the wire, I see in the steel cable a live animal, a soul-carrying
object with which, with whom I must communicate.”
This winter he was awarded the prestigious Chevalier des Arts and
Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. “It’s a big
deal over there, but I took it with a smile,” he comments. He
and the French Minister are currently planning two events, a high-wire
walk in the steel and glass dome of the renovated Grand Palais in
Paris, and a hurricane benefit in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Petit is
studying Spanish so he can give a lecture to CEO’s in Spain.
He could have an interpreter, but he is drawn to the challenge of
speaking to them in their native language.
Yet another project in the works is a documentary about the World
Trade Center walk. Although he has had multiple offers for the rights
to his story from film companies over the years, he felt it was too
personal to hand over. Now he has found an independent company, Red
Box Productions, that will allow him to be intimately involved in
the film and is about to sign a contract that will immerse him in
filmmaking for a couple of years.
Then there’s his plan to do a show in Easter Island with Saugerties
artist and inventor John Kahn, who spends several months a year there
and wants to mount a benefit to help the residents. Petit visualizes
a high-wire walk in which the islanders will participate by helping
to set up the rigging, chanting as they walk along on the ground beside
him, and creating an event that will draw media attention to the isolated
Locally, he would like to work with Olive resident Valerie Fanarjian,
whom he calls “an incredible artist—she constantly creates.
At dinner, she scribbles all night on the napkins, makes collages,
folds them up. She used to have an art center on Route 28. Many local
artists would come and meet each other, and they had model drawing
classes. I would like to associate myself with her and create something
Life is not simple for a man with so many ideas and ambitions, particularly
when they are coupled with high ideals and limitations of time, space,
and money. “Ten days after the World Trade Center walk, I had
so many offers to appear in ads, I could have been a millionaire,
but I didn’t take any of them. It would have killed my soul,”
he says. His paying work takes him to many parts of the world, and
he maintains an office in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where
he is artist-in-residence, and a room in Paris that is too small to
be a legal residence. “It’s really a large broom closet.
I’ve had it for forty years.”
Behind his little house in Shokan, he is building a barn by hand,
using eighteenth-century tools and methods. He uses the barn to store
his high-wire equipment, and in winter he practices there for three
hours a day, juggling and walking the tightrope, since the high wire
in the garden ices up in cold weather. There are still two windows
and a door missing from the barn, and he looks at it every day, thinking
how quickly he could finish it with modern materials, but he can’t
bring himself to do it. “It’s going to have hinges of
wood and will hang slightly askew so the door will close by itself,
a little trick I learned from a book. I love this dialogue with matter,
although it makes an absurdity of my life.”