This letter reflects my personal views and is not a statement from the New Paltz Board of Education.
The Dec. 28 edition of a local daily newspaper reported on the school district in Warwick in order to illustrate a scenario playing out in New Paltz and across our state. Predicted are: “Cost increases in health care, pensions and contractual obligations that could translate” into whopping tax increases. Add into the mix the fact that federal stimulus money to schools (which has provided a two-year cushion) ends after this year.
In the New Paltz Central School District, a ‘rollover’ budget that would continue the delivery of programs and services at this year’s level would produce a tax levy increase that our school board has rejected out of hand -- over 13%. Based on their public discussions, the board does not consider such a tax increase a serious option. At the same time, the stewards of our public schools are obligated to protect the delivery of educational programming that many refer to as the jewel of the Hudson Valley. It is a vexing situation with no simple answers.
There will be cuts, locally and throughout the state. In Warwick, discussions about closing a school building disintegrated into “parents screaming, interrupting each other, pointing fingers and alleging abuse.” We can, and must, do better than that in our discussion and decision-making.
The New Paltz Central School District is a community within a community. The course taken in response to the state financial crisis matters to all of us. Please be part of the discussion and civil debate. What level of educational services is this community able to support? What strategies will reduce cost while best preserving the educational program? What short-term actions best position us to address long-term issues with our facilities while state building aid remains generous?
The school district faces BIG challenges and your elected representatives need your input. Board of Education discussion of the budget will continue in greater detail in late January after the Governor announces his proposal for the actual level of aid to districts across the state. It is important that everyone be aware of the seriousness of the situation and the stakes of the debate.
It is said that school budgets are value statements -- reflections of the true values of a community. This budget process may determine who we are as an educational institution and how we educate our youth for years to come. Large forces are at play, statewide and nationally. Pay attention. Lend your voice. It matters for our future.
Greenfield’s letter was sarcastic and hate-laced
On Dec. 23, the New Paltz Times published my letter about political correctness run amok in New Paltz schools under the title “A War on Christmas”. Last week, school board member Steve Greenfield responded in the letter’s column with the worst form of tribalism and ethnic baiting which has no place in American society, let alone in a town that prides itself on diversity.
Mr. Greenfield’s sarcastic, hate-laced letter reveals much about Mr. Greenfield and New Paltz schools’ policies. First, Mr. Greenfield reveals a shocking level of ignorance about modern Christian culture and an unwillingness to learn anything. As a school board member supposedly working in the interest of all children, one would expect him to educate himself about all members of his community and to address the concerns of diverse groups in a mature manner.
Second, Mr. Greenfield obviously feels comfortable disseminating negative attitudes against certain groups within the school district. This suggests that he does not expect any repercussions from fellow school board members or school administrators, and thus feels free to ridicule and harangue certain groups on record in a local publication.
Despite Mr. Greenfield’s disclaimer, he is still an elected official and cannot immunize himself from embarrassing comments any more than a mayor, or any other elected official, could distance himself from a hate-filled rant after it’s been committed. If Mr. Greenfield’s diatribe had been directed against any other ethnic group or faith, his resignation from the school board would have already been demanded.
But Mr. Greenfield is only a part of a larger problem that the school district will eventually have to address. Clearly, from Michael Lecesse’s letter on this issue, there is some sort of religious education going on in New Paltz schools. And if this religious education is exclusive, then efforts should be made to acknowledge the faith of all children in the district.
To have it any other way is illegal whether Mr. Greenfield likes it not.
What would you do
My long search to find something we all know about that fracking could be compared to has been found. Author and ecologist Dr. Sandra Steingraber chose alcoholism for the metaphor. She said, “The language of addiction is often invoked in conversation about our economy’s desperate relationship with fossil fuel. This is a useful way to frame the problem, especially when pondering the irrationality of gas drilling and our own enabling behaviors that drive the need for it.”
Dr. Steingraber suggests we consider the drunk who has already cashed out his kid’s college fund, hocked the family jewels, burned the furniture and terrified the dog. He finally begins to grasp he has a problem. He is running out of whiskey and flirts with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous. He suddenly discovers a fully loaded wine cellar underneath the basement. He falls in love with his own cleverness and plans to blow up the foundation. When his family finds out about his plans, they call an emergency meeting. What would you do?
-- Stay out of the way and pretend there is no problem?
-- Help him get the wine and regulate the consumption?
-- Insist on overseeing the detonation of the basement?
-- Bar the way to the cellar steps?
Thieves in the night
Hugh Reynolds got it half right in his column last week about Bill Larkin and Nancy Calhoun filing their “retirement” papers on Dec. 31, then beginning their new terms on Jan. 1. But these two were among eleven state legislators who are doing the same thing (seven Republicans and four Democrats). Herman “Denny” Farrell, a long-time Assembly member from New York City, appears to have taken the most lucrative “retirement” package, over $100,000 per year, while collecting a $108,000 annual salary. But this isn’t “double-dipping” as the term is usually applied. The Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Duffy, is a retired state trooper and receives a pension, but has been elected Mayor of the City of Rochester and collected a paycheck from there and will also now be paid as Lieutenant Governor. There are thousands of cases of retired state employees beginning new public careers or otherwise being employed in public service.
The scheme employed by these eleven state legislators (and several others in recent years) is unique to state legislators themselves! This isn’t “double-dipping”, that is, collecting a pension from one state agency and finding public employment elsewhere. This is stealing, this is giving oneself a raise of 75% or even 100%, this is taking advantage of the unique power of your public office, this is “pigs feeding at the trough”!
I’m not going to spend the new year listening to any of these “lawmakers” prattling on about public employee pension reform, even though we all know that the discussion is so sorely needed! How can we take any of them seriously after this kind of behavior? And what about the legislators who keep their mouths shut about their colleagues’ activities? How can they keep silent, and how dare they speak up in the new year about the pensions of others?
The total of the “raises” these legislators are giving themselves (I refuse to spread the lie that this is their “retirement income”) are enough to keep roughly 25 state employees who face layoffs on the job. Exactly how many Belleayre employees are facing the axe? How many DEC employees working in our area have been or will be laid off? How can any legislator in this area continue to talk about the difficult economic situation we all face and the mounting state budget deficits when their colleagues are acting like thieves in the night?
Struggling with Steve Greenfield’s phrasing
I’ve read Mr. Connick’s letter (in the Dec. 23 issue of the New Paltz Times) and I’ve read Mr. Greenfield’s letter (Dec. 30th). I have a couple of points:
1. I am Roman Catholic and I have at times felt defensive about the overdosing of political correctness when it comes to the Christmas holiday. However, I am happy to share the calender with everyone and anyone as long as it’s for the purpose of obtaining enlightenment and joy. I have other personal beliefs and I am not offering them up for public scrutiny.
2. The musical selections that Mr. Greenfield suggests are commendable in a secular, miss-the-point-of-the-discussion-kind-of-way. I tried to find some secular Hanukkah songs, but with the exception of “Dreidel,” which I listened to from a collection called “Chanukah’s Greatest Hits” compiled by Chayim B. Alevsky from the site Chabad.org., all the rest of the selections were deeply rooted in Biblical references (as they probably should be).
Here’s what gets me from Mr. Greenfield’s letter. He writes about how Mr. Connick and he should make a deal. Now he does use the pronoun “we” as opposed to he, but adds a disclaimer to his letter at the end claiming that he is “writing only as an individual, not as a representative of anyone or anything.” Perhaps this was a typo, but then I would assume that means that when Mr. Greenfield attempted to create humor by referring to publishing rights and negotiations in regards to the use of the aforementioned secular Christmas music, he informs Connick to “please make sure ‘our’ accountants get the licensing fees, or we’ll have ‘our’ lawyers come after you.” I understand that this “threat” was made in jest, but I find myself struggling with his phrasing. I’m fully aware that one of the pathetic stereotypes of the Jewish people is the whole money/banker/lawyer thing. For anyone to claim ignorance of this sad prejudgment, and is of age to understand the concept of racism and religious persecution, is a complete liar and probably a bigot himself.
Mr. Connick came across to me as a man who felt his family was not being represented fairly in a forum that should have allowed every family to be represented fairly. I did not read anti-semitism in his letter, but I do realize in saying that I open myself up to criticism of not being capable of seeing any anti-semitism because I am not Jewish. I did, however, read a letter from a man who asked why there was no reference to Christ at the Christmas concert. If it was NOT a Christmas concert, then why were there any songs with religious and spiritual references performed? To me, that is a man asking for understanding and tolerance, and what does he get? He gets intolerance, poorly disguised as humor and parody. If that’s the case Mr. Greenfield, I’ll be more than happy to talk to “your” accountants and “your” lawyers just as soon as I finish watching Braveheart and Lethal Weapon for the 100th time.
David C. Laffin
Down memory lane
Having lived for 40 years down at the end of Millrock Road, I was pleased when a friend sent me the clipping about the Millbrook Preserve in the Nov. 18 issue of the New Paltz Times.
My children, my grandchildren and I tramped on that land. We would walk to the end of North Manheim and then to the broken-down cement dam. This is where we crossed over the creek and up the path to a vast expanse of shrub and woodland. In the early 1960’s, the evergreen were only about three- or four-feet high.
In the late 1980’s, my grandson, about nine-years old, scrounged branches and leaves, building a “fort.” Once after a hike he reported to his parents, “I saw three animals -- a frog, a beaver and a deer.” Five or six years later, we got lost, kept going around in circles. It was getting dark. He had an idea, climbed the tallest tree and pointed, “I hear cars. I think that way is 32 North.” Then we knew in which direction to go. These adventures were exciting for a city boy.
It is the good fortune of New Paltz to have many individuals and groups who are looking to the future and building community.
We still have each other
Since every cloud is reputed to have a silver lining, this year I intend to focus on the possible upside of issues I slammed last year.
For example, last year I ridiculed the 200-person-strong governor’s bodyguard, which was increased while police protection for the public was reduced.
This year I’ll celebrate the fact that in the event of an attack on the governor’s mansion by the New Jersey national guard, our governor will be spared.
Last year I hyperventilated about increased perks and privileges for state legislators who simultaneously demanded sacrifices from the taxpayers.
This year I celebrate those legislators who are taking their pensions and still collecting their salaries because it keeps them off the streets where they would undoubtedly turn to a life of crime. Oh right, they already -- never mind -- let’s be positive.
Last year I bemoaned the fact that New York State has a superfluity of superintendents and other administrators who were busy raising their own salaries while cutting teaching staff.
This year I’ll celebrate the fact that our children will learn from this an invaluable lesson. Don’t bother learning to do something, just strive to “administrate” something, anything.
Administrators are interchangeable and command ever larger salaries because no one knows quite what they do, but everyone knows you have to have some of your own if you want people to take you seriously.
Last year I bitched about the fact that the praetorian guard of big, easy money had the ear of the state government, while we shouted in vain to fix our insane property tax system before people started jumping off the roof of the homes from which they were about to be evicted.
This year I will celebrate the close relationship the new state administration (there’s that “A” word again) seems to have with those same defenders of the big bonus bailout baby CEOs -- like the Manhattan Institute and the (BIG) Business Council. It will warm the cockles of my heart that at least Albany is working for someone -- even if it’s not us.
Last year I insisted that $26 billion off the property tax rolls for “holy” tax exemptions was a ridiculous burden on the rest of us.
This year I am researching a holy affiliation that might bring me enlightenment and a tax exemption of my own. Care to join me as a newly minted Druid? Hey, we’ve certainly got the rocks, water and trees to revere (until the big boys decide they’re in the way of gas extraction).
So look on the bright side, kids -- we still have each other. Happy New Year!
Open Space enhances community quality of life
It is impossible to know whether the blatant untruths expressed in the Republican Committee’s recent letter about their “support” for Open Space preservation in Gardiner is attributable to pure ignorance or political strategy. In either case, it is a disservice to the citizens of Gardiner to misstate matters of fact.
The Gardiner Republican Committee clearly neglected to read Gardiner’s Zoning Law, unless the legislation was irrelevant to their purpose. Ridge zoning of 20- 10- and five-acre minimums from highest to lower terrain reflects the extraordinary fragility and specific tolerances of its topography. The Gardiner Zoning Law does NOT establish five-acre zoning “in the rest of the town” and claiming that it does so is a foolish and shameful reflection of the Republican agenda.
Most of Gardiner is subject to two-acre zoning, as it has been for decades. Other than on the Ridge, the only areas subject to five-acre zoning are in the RA (Rural Agricultural) districts for conventional “cookie-cutter” subdivisions sited in a standard grid. By implementing Open Space development options, however, even RA land can be developed at two-acre density, to the benefit of landowners, residents and creatures for whom open space is invaluable as farmland, homestead or habitat. It is also beneficial to homebuyers whose options under Open Space development include larger or smaller homes and parcels, at a wide range of prices. Everybody wins.
The specifics of density regulations can be found in Section 220-11B of the Gardiner Zoning Law, available online or at the Town Hall. I would suggest that the Gardiner Republican Committee read it.
Preservation of open space benefits all Gardiner citizens, as residents and as taxpayers. It is universally accepted that developed land costs taxpayers more, in road maintenance, school taxes, etc., than it brings in. Open space costs less. According to the American Farmland Trust, for every dollar in taxes paid on developed land the town expends $1.20 in services. For every dollar in taxes paid on undeveloped land, the town expends $.40 in services, representing a net gain of 60% on the dollar for taxpayers.
It is, furthermore, crucial to the viability of our agricultural economy -- and the preservation of Gardiner’s rural character, identified as of the highest priority to residents -- that farmers are supported in their struggle to stay in business. There are numerous ways for the people of Gardiner to help, including the purchase of local produce and meat and spirits, and through utilization of the Bond approved by one vote more than half of voters as a tool to preserve Open Space.
The obligation of modest portions of the available $1.5 million Bond to leverage support from other institutional funding sources––who cannot be expected to make an investment that the Town of Gardiner itself shies away from––is imperative. It is surely an accomplishment to raise Gardiner’s $50,000 share of the $880,000 Kiernan Farm development rights acquisition from private donors. The Open Space Committee under the skilled leadership of Greg Finger, all volunteers who worked so hard on outreach, and all who contributed deserve our thanks. It is not, however, an accomplishment which can be replicated or in which the community as a whole can enjoy a sense of civic ownership. Claiming “fiscal responsibility in hard times,” a majority of the Gardiner Town Board, representing our community, was unwilling to use the Bond. The easiest thing in the world is to Just Say No. The second-easiest is to say “Great idea! Let somebody else do it! You betcha!”
Although the same fiscal responsibilities and hard times were presumably operative shortly thereafter, the same Town Board declined to sell the “old library” to a private investor for a reported $140,000, representing a loss of that much to Gardiner’s taxpayers. Some of the most recognizable Gardiner Republican names applauded that decision. Go figure.
Open Space enhances community quality of life and saves community money. As a community, we must save open space. The Bond: use it or lose it.
Beware of their scare tactics
The Gardiner Republican Committee should be commended for finally encouraging contributions to the “open space fund.” They joined with the Gardiner Democratic Committee to rectify the failure of the Gardiner Town Board to use bonding to match the large grant from the Open Space Institute protecting the Kiernan Farm from development. It would be unreasonable not to support a most generous gift to the town, even if they are in favor of more development. I have heard one of their leaders say we have enough green space.
Their letter in this paper also portrayed their distorted view of democracy and how it should operate. Gardiner townspeople voted to protect open space by issuing a bond. It was understood that efforts would be made to obtain grant money and the bond would cover the deficit. The Open Space Institute provided hundreds of thousands to purchase the development rights of the farm. Their grant required only $50,000 of matching funds, a small amount in the overall town budget. Lack of support damages the prospect for other similar grants. We know that Councilman Mele, a Republican (and an attorney), made an “error” in drafting the resolution of the Town Board, thus excusing Gardiner from any commitment to match the grant from Open Space Institute. Councilwoman Lemmon caught the “error.”
Gardiner townspeople voted to protect open space and to issue a bond, if needed. The Constitution makes no provision for the Republican Party to decide that the vote would be different today and thus one should ignore the results of a referendum. A referendum must be honored or replaced by a later referendum, In my United States majority rules, even when the vote is very close or done yesterday, when times were different.
Republicans have the view that free enterprise solves most problems and that government is the source of the troubles, not the solution. Their argument against zoning is that laws infringe on your property rights. They do, but so do lack of laws. By undermining lawful restraint of development they open the door to a free-for-all for developers. They will scare you with visions of big brother taking your freedoms. Beware of their scare tactics. Open space and sound zoning add to property values. Without them Gardiner could become a residential hodgew podge with high taxes and declining property values.