Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The Hudson River Lyceum is honored to have John Taylor Gatto, one of the most influential visionaries of the future of education, deliver its inaugural lecture on Friday, May 29, 2009, at 7:00 p.m. at the Bearsville Theater, Woodstock, New York.  Question and answer period to follow lecture.  The lecture is free and open to the public. 

Mr. Gatto, a former New York City and New York State teacher of the year, is one of this country's leading voices on the subject of education reform.  Through hundreds of public talks, articles, interviews, and classroom projects, Gatto has shown decisively where our failing schools have gone wrong and what can be done to fix them. 

A much sought after speaker throughout North America,  his books include A Different Kind of Teacher, The Underground History of American Education, Dumbing Us Down, The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, and Weapons of Mass Instruction.

 What others have said about John Taylor Gatto:

“I happen to agree with damn near every semi-colon and comma that Mr. Gatto has written.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, John Taylor Gatto: perhaps American’s most brilliant educator.” - Tom Peters, management guru and author of In Search of Excellence.

"I've loved John Gatto's work ever since I first encountered his astounding essays in The Sun. This analysis of schooling is

presented with daring, panache, and a humorous passion that leaps off the page. I give this book [Underground History of American Education] a standing ovation!  Bravo! " - Christine Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

“Gatto’s voice is strong and unique... a Socrates of the educational world.”   -Thomas Moore, author, Care of the Soul 

“How does he probe so deeply the complex issues surrounding our schools when so many experts can hardly penetrate the surface at all?  Here a master lecturer works his magic to cast the issues surrounding our schools in a new light. An examination of the assumptions behind compulsory schooling is the goal of this book [Underground History of American Education]  . Haunting. A minor classic.”  - Eric Schultes, The Whitehead Institute, M.I.T. 

“Gatto is a singular antidote to stale convention.” - David Guterson, author, Snow Falling on Cedars

“A remarkable achievement. I can’t remember ever reading such a profound analysis of modern education.”  - Howard Zinn, on Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education

Gatto’s ideas are splendid. I just hope someone is listening.” - Christopher Lasch, author of Culture of Narcissism and The Revolt of the Elites

Every word Gatto writes comes from the depth of his caring about the lives of children.” - SKOLE: The Journal of Alternative Education

Anyone interested in the fate of our schools should make this book [Underground History of American Education] a priority.”  - Dan Greenberg, Co-founder, the Sudbury Valley School

“In this fine work [Underground History of American Education], John Taylor Gatto traces the historic sources of educational corruption and pleads for a new deal for children, one grounded in the family and an intelligible order of the good.” - John E. Coons, Professor, University of California Law School at Berkeley, author, Making School Choice Work

“In his lectures and his writing Gatto not only adeptly denounces public schools, but also makes radical suggestions for improving them. These suggestions are grounded not in hypothetical clouds, but rather on his own innovative sturdy, apprenticeships, and solitude.” - Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hudson River Lyceum Lectures

Are you interested in innovative ideas? Do you seek creative and fresh thought that might cause you to consider the world around you a bit differently? Are you tired of being fed filtered news and information? Do you care about your country and its future? If you answered yes to any of these questions, than you are not alone. 

Fortunately for you a new lecture series has been organized which will serve as a forum to hear engaging speakers talk about topics of general interest in addition to important public policy issues. The lecture series, known as  Hudson River Lyceum (HRL), has been created for everyone who feels that education doesn’t end with formal schooling but rather is a life long endeavor. It is designed to encourage you, your friends, neighbors and fellow citizens to gather in a public setting to hear a real live speaker. This simple act of community seems to be disappearing from the scene as a plethora of various media vies for our attention. 

You may be excused if the word lyceum conjures up an image of a movie theater, (it does have an association with entertainment) but it is actually a very old word whose roots go back to ancient Greece. Originally it was a place of learning famous for it’s association with Aristotle and it’s importance in the development of western science and philosophy. In this country, lyceums have a rich history and are regarded as one of the earliest instruments for the diffusion of general education to arise. The lyceum was a purely small town institution which was designed to provide opportunities to people of all ages to study history, art, science and hear lectures on public issues. 

The first lyceum was established by Josiah Holbrook in 1826. Within a few short years the idea spread over most of New England and the northeast, extending to the midwest and some southern states.  New York became a leader in the lyceum movement, the first one being formed in Troy and establishing the first state lyceum in the country in 1831. Along with other voluntary organizations such as “mechanics institutes” lyceums helped in the founding of both public and private libraries. At it’s peak there were over three thousand lyceums in the United States.  

The lyceum became nineteenth century America’s version of a inexpensive night out. For a very modest price a family could get a subscription to a lyceum which entitled them to courses, lectures and entertainment. Part of it’s original mission was the application of the latest scientific advances to the problems ordinary people confronted. Practical courses were offered to farmers on subjects like soil depletion, and there were offerings for tradesman and merchants. A popular form of entertainment for a family was to diagram sentences, if you can believe it! Some of the most notable personalities of the time from poets and philosophers, writers, orators and lecturers, and entertainers traveled what was known as the “lyceum circuit.”  Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Jenny Lind and even Abraham Lincoln spoke at lyceums.

Closer to home there were lyceums in Kingston, known as the Rondout Lyceum and also at Saugerties. In 1855 the Saugerties Lyceum held a lecture given by Horace Greeley, one of the more in demand personalities on the “lyceum circuit.” At the time, Greeley was the most influential newspaper editor in the country. Often remembered today for his advice to his readers to “go west young man, go west,” Greeley was actually much more. A rather eccentric fellow, which was noted at length in the newspaper account of his lecture, Greeley none the less impressed his audience. A strong advocate for reform he championed the cause of women’s rights, temperance, and anti-slavery.

The lyceum movement was a quintessentially American phenomenon. A shining example of a free citizenry filling a need by forming voluntary associations. It is hoped that this new lecture series will initiate a dialog on public issues that will match the vibrancy of the original lyceums in their heyday. The inaugural lecture, which will be free and open to the public will take place in the very near future with a very special guest. Further details as to the time and venue to be announced shortly so stay tuned! 

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Great Afternoon

What a great afternoon for The Kingston Tea party in front of the mall in Ulster on Wednesday. Well over two hundred people came out in support of a great cause - our country! But what was really encouraging were the hundreds of cars and trucks beeping their horns in solidarity and giving us the thumbs up. It seemed like every few seconds another horn was beeping, it was great. The crowd was great, there were veterans, seniors, lots of young people, housewives, business types, a real good mix. All of the people I spoke with expressed a deep concern for the direction our country is heading in. This countries moral, spiritual and economic health was on people's minds. Don't let anybody try and fool you because this event was strictly grass roots. I heard about it from a friend via email and saw five people there that I told. The internet is a very powerful tool. To political leaders like Nancy Pelosi who mocked this groundswell of the people by calling it "astroturf," in other words fake, I would say if you want to see something fake Nancy look in the mirror at your face. The mainstream media's coverage of the tea parties  was ridiculous. Why is the left in this country so uptight about conservatives coming out in support of the things they believe in? That is a very interesting question. Could it be they are afraid? Could it be they know they're wrong, that we can't spend our way to prosperity? I would like to thank whoever organized this happening because they deserve three cheers. Here is a very well done video of pictures from the event, enjoy!  


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


March 2009

Greetings fellow Conservatives!   As you may already know, George Heidcamp,  Town of Saugerties Conservative Party Chairman,  and the Conservative Executive Committee,  resigned their positions in 2008.   At a meeting of the County Executive Committee this past December,  I was appointed to the position of Conservative Party Chairman in Saugerties.  While I did not seek this position I accepted it for several reasons. The purpose of this letter is to discuss the current state of affairs and to explain why I feel conservatism matters.

First, however, I would like to acknowledge and thank George Heidcamp for his leadership of the party these past years. George took up the cause and was active in  promoting the party.  As a consequence of some of his strong stands he often became a target of our political opponents and has taken more than a few arrows for the conservative cause.  I want to thank George and his entire executive committee for a job well done. 

 I also want to acknowledge the contributions of former party chair Dorothy Dederick. Dottie was chairman when I first registered and her energy over the years is a testament to her devotion to conservative principles. 

I would also like to thank you for registering as a conservative. It tells me that you have an abiding affection for this country and the principles on which it was founded. Far from the caricature of conservatives in the media today -  portraying us as reactionary and ignorant,  conservatism for me embodies the best of America. Conservative thought is forward looking, cautiously optimistic,  respectful of our traditions and currently contains some of the best ideas on major public policy issues.  

I have been asked what conservatism is and it’s a good question. There are many voices of conservative thought, from social to fiscal conservatives, libertarians, neoconservatives and so forth. For me, conservatism isn’t so much an ideology as it is an approach to life. I believe conservatives have a far healthier and more realistic understanding of human nature. We know man is not a perfect creature and no government on earth can make us so.  A basic tenet of conservatism can be found in the proverb  “ Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”  This simple yet profound insight, I believe, found it’s most harmonious expression in the founding documents of our republic. Our system of self-government, while maintaining civil order, allows us the ability to reach our full potential as individual human beings. As conservatives we value self-reliance, individualism and hard work as some of the prerequisites to a healthy, functioning society. In the course of human history there has never been a system of government that allows mankind more freedom, dignity, and a chance to succeed than the one bequeathed to us by the founders. This is our heritage as Americans and something to be justly proud of.

The so called stimulus bill is now law. This act, along with many other actions the government has taken over the past year is an affront to the idea of self-government. The purpose of this latest legislation is not to stimulate the economy but to stimulate government. It points out, better than anything, the differences between our political opponents and us. They want to foster a culture of dependance. They want and encourage people to look to government for help, and in so doing they can aggrandize more power unto themselves.  No one is saying that there isn’t a necessary and proper role for government, but, as Thomas Jefferson said over two hundred years ago, “a government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.”

I hope you are as motivated as I am to correct what the liberal establishment is doing to this country. To me it’s reminiscent of the late seventies, a time where our elite lost faith in the abilities and resourcefulness of the American people. 

More than ever this country needs to get back to basics and return to conservative values. The best way to do that is  to offer common sense solutions to our many problems.  I have accepted the chairmanship of the Conservative Party to promote those values and ideas in an ongoing public debate. It will only be with your support and feedback, that the Conservative Party of Saugerties will have a voice that will be heard loud and clear.     

For your convenience a blog site has been set up as a forum for conservative thought and ideas at 

http://www.coolcons.net/     Please visit and bookmark the site and watch for important news.  You will be able to post comments on the articles that appear.  I welcome and encourage feedback!

I can be reached by email at catmtn1@gmail.com   Please send me your email address so we can start building a mailing list.  The next mailing will be a notice for an organizational meeting.  Thanks for your interest. 



The following appeared last fall in the local paper. It's up to us to make people come to the "right" conclusions!

With  the recent market turmoil and panic, combined with a highly charged political campaign, Americans can be excused if they find it all a little bewildering.  While bewildering, it has caused me to think of bricks and mortar. Bricks and mortar in a real sense and more importantly in a metaphorical sense.

I often think how much we take for granted in this country. The world we wake up to each day has in it the homes and businesses, associations and organizations that comprise our physical reality and by extension, our culture. How did these things come to be? What was the animating spirit behind their creation? What is it about this culture that makes us unique and sets us apart? As a building can fall down, can the things that have made our culture also be destroyed? 

In all of the responses to our current travails perhaps what is most alarming is a very deep sense that the political responses are missing the mark and  drawing the wrong conclusions. It reminds me of a story attributed to Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was a practicing attorney he once represented a client who owned barges on the Mississippi River. One of these barges got loose one day and rammed an abutment of a railroad bridge and caused extensive damage. The railroad sued the man for damages and during the trial brought in all kinds of experts and high priced legal talent in an effort to win. Their case seemed pretty airtight until it was time for Lincoln’s summation. “My learned opponents” Lincoln said, “have presented an impressive case. There is no question that they have their facts absolutely right. But they have drawn completely wrong conclusions.” The jurors laughed uproariously at this, adjourned to deliberate and shortly came back with a verdict favoring Lincoln’s client. With the trial over, attorneys for the railroad besieged Lincoln asking him how this could be. They had the case won, how could Lincoln win they demanded to know, simply by saying what he did. “Well boys” Lincoln replied “it just happened that when court adjourned for lunch today I happened in the saloon where the jurors were eating and told them a little story. A story of a farmer working in his barnyard when his ten year old boy came rushing up to him all excited. Paw, said the boy, come quick. Sis and the hired man are up in the haymow. He’s a pullin down his pants and she’s a liftin up her skirts. Paw, they’re gettin ready to pee all over our hay. Son, the farmer said, you’ve got your facts absolutely right but you’ve drawn a completely wrong conclusion.                                                                                                     

Now, I know that the American taxpayer doesn’t want to end up like that farmers daughter. To me it’s absolutely essential that we don’t do more harm by coming to the wrong conclusions, that somehow our system and it’s principles are at fault.

Most Americans recognize that we’re headed for some lean times. This should be regarded by us as an opportunity to get back to the basics, living within our means, working hard, saving and thrift, and strengthening our sense of community. If you cut through all the fog its not hard to see anything that can’t be fixed by returning to the virtues that built this country. Can there be any doubt that what is ultimately going to pull our chestnuts out of the fire is the American free enterprise system? American businesses, workers, entrepreneurs, doing the millions of things that they do every day conducting this nations affairs is the mortar that holds us together.  We certainly can not look to government to create wealth for us.  

Perhaps the most important “brick” of our civilization, it’s very foundation if you will, is under assault, and few recognize the danger this poses. To understand the origins of that foundation and it’s bearing on us we need to go back to a misty June morning centuries ago in the English meadows of Runnymeade. While not appreciated at the time, the events that day helped to sow the seeds of the greatest civilization in the history of the world.  By compelling the government, in this case the king, to sign a document recognizing certain of their “rights” and privileges, the barons set in motion a chain of events that over centuries coalesced into the freedoms we all enjoy today. The signing of this document, the Magna Carta, was the first, nascent, organic appearance of the recognition that a king was responsible to a higher authority. It helped to lay the foundation that our personal freedoms are directly tied to our economic freedoms. Stop and think about that for a moment. Your right and my right to associate, worship, and speak freely are inherently bound to our rights to property. At a time when our government is scattering billions of dollars like chicken feed, swollen and drunk on it’s own power and sense of self-importance, it threatens to expand it’s size and scope even more.  

It is my hope that Americans are mindful of these things and don’t draw the wrong conclusions. For it’s not just billions of dollars that we stand to lose but the steady erosion of our freedoms. The freedoms that allow us to build, create and succeed beyond our dreams. But with that success there is always the inherent risk of failure. That is the nature of life. The art of life is in treating success and failure as the imposture’s that they are, as a wise poet once said. Let us not attack the foundation, the “bricks and mortar”  that make us who we are because of the abuses of a few. The stakes are that high if we are to pass on an America to our children that bears any semblance to the one we knew when we were young.

- Mark H. Knaust

Don't Laugh - It Could Happen

I came across the following on a blog by a fellow named Chuck posting as http://www.nitecruzr.net . What was once ridiculous is now possible. I think you'll agree, it's pretty funny. 

New Government Program Ends Job Discrimination

The Americans With No Abilities Act (AWNAA)

Washington, DC - Congress is considering sweeeping legislation that will provide new benefits for many Americans.

The Americans With No Abilities Act (AWNAA) is being hailed as a major legislative goal by advocates of the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition.
Roughly 50 percent of Americans do not possess the competence and drive necessary to carve out a meaningful role for themselves in society said California Senator Barbara Boxer. We can no longer stand by and allow People Of Inability to be ridiculed and passed over. With this legislation, employers will no longer be able to grant special favors to a small group of workers simply because they have some idea of what they are doing.

In a Capitol Hill press conference, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed to the success of the US Postal Service, which has a long-standing policy of providing opportunity without regard to performance. Approximately 74 percent of postal employees lack any job skills, making this agency the single largest U.S. employer of Persons of Inability.

Private-sector industries with good records of non-discrimination against the Inept include retail sales (72%), the airline industry (68%), and home improvement 'warehouse' stores (65%). At the state government level the Department of Motor Vehicles also has an excellent record of hiring Persons of Inability (63%).

Under the Americans With No Abilities Act, more than 25 million 'middle-man' positions will be created, with important- sounding titles but little real responsibility, thus providing an illusory sense of purpose and performance.

Mandatory non-performance-based raises and promotions will be given so as to guarantee upward mobility for even the most unremarkable employees. The legislation provides substantial tax breaks to corporations that promote a significant number of Persons of Inability into middle-management positions, and gives a tax credit to small and medium-sized businesses that agree to hire one clueless worker for every two talented hires. 

Finally, the AWNAA contains tough new measures to make it more difficult to discriminate against the Non-ables, banning, for example, discriminatory interview questions such as - Do you have any skills or experience that relate to this job?

As a Non-abled person, I can't be expected to keep up with people who have something going for them, said Mary Lou Gertz, who lost her position as a lug-nut twister at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, due to her inability to remember righty tightey, lefty loosey.  This new law should be real good for people like me, Gertz added. With the passage of this bill, Gertz and millions of other untalented citizens will finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Said Senator Dick Durban (D-IL) - As a Senator with no abilities, I believe the same privileges that elected officials enjoy ought to be extended to every American with no abilities. It is our duty as lawmakers to provide each and every American citizen, regardless of his or her adequacy, with some sort of space to take up in this great nation and a good salary for doing so. 

Another example of how the absurd is now quickly becoming reality - check out this video, amazing stuff!


ix years ago (how time flies!), because of a series of unplanned events, I was asked to run as Conservative Party candidate for Town of Saugerties Supervisor.  I did so without any other major party backing.  I decided at the outset that if I was going to do this, I would raise issues in public that were important to me.  My campaign cost $50.   I had a blast meeting and talking with folks all over the Town of Saugerties.  I wrote a series of articles that the local papers published (until they caught on to what I was doing and stopped publishing them). 

Looking back I can say that one of the principle reasons that I ran for Supervisor was the importance of land use in the the Town of Saugerties, an issue that continues to be relevant.   The following four articles have themes that are still timely -  education, taxation, the economy, land use, and the importance of long term thinking.  I will re-visit these issues in the months ahead.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2009



Mark Knaust at the site of the former Catskill Mountain House. 

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and best-known nature lover, once said that “there is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.”  As a naturalist, he was a keen observer of the objects in the world around him and was inspired to send Lewis and Clark to explore uncharted territories.  He was even committed to uncovering a natural curiosity -- the bones of a mastodon found in what was then Ulster County in 1801 -- when he helped to fund America’s first scientific expedition headed by his friend and Revolutionary War veteran, Charles Willson Peale.   The discovery of the great mastodon was memorialized in one of Peale’s most engaging paintings.  Jefferson’s love of the natural world and great sense of curiosity enabled unparalleled discoveries and advancement in scientific methods.  

Recent commentary in local papers suggests Jeffersonian thought to be outdated.  To the contrary, it is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.  The very basic 21st century quality of life issues need to be evaluated as closely as the keen observer Jefferson did with issues facing him in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with what he stated as “an interest or affection in every bud that opens, in every breath that blows around me.”

America’s population growth and the increase in population locally -- due in part to the tragedy of September 11 -- have combined to push a new set of quality-of-life issues to the fore: traffic, congestion, disappearance of open spaces, strain on water supply and a lack of affordable housing.  These issues are of great importance to many folks here in Saugerties.  

A drive down Main Street or Ulster Avenue, through 9W in Barclay Heights or through the intersection of routes 212 and 32, reveals traffic congestion on the highways in Saugerties is increasing dramatically.  A drive down any back road will reveal haphazard development of once beautiful farmland and natural areas.  The increase in residential and business development will surely impact our treasured water supply.

Unfortunately, even after the adoption in 1999 of the Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Saugerties, there have been instances of spot zoning and expansive business ventures with little or no review.  These issues are in direct opposition to the comprehensive plan.  The comprehensive plan offers the best guide that I know of right now to lead Saugerties into the 21st century.  The plan defines what is important to this community and is to guide change as consistent with community goals.

Let’s not wait for another historic house or cemetery to be demolished or farmland to be developed; let’s not wait to inventory our precious water resources.  By taking a proactive initiative on topics discussed in the Comprehensive Plan and giving thoughtful consideration to the quality-of-life issues like public safety, education, transportation, recreational opportunities and the esprit de corps of this community, we can affirm what values we want this community to aspire to.  A blade of grass and a scientific expedition are as relevant today as they were over 200 years ago.

- Mark H. Knaust

Friday, February 6, 2009


Mark Knaust at the base of the Esopus Creek Falls, Saugerties. 

From its inception Saugerties has attracted people of intellect, energy and drive. When Henry Barclay built his dam around 1825 and harnessed the power of the Esopus Creek for the industrial uses that built the surrounding community, it was generally thought to be a positive step in Saugerties' march to the future.  With the rise of mills below the dam, the Industrial Revolution began in Saugerties.

Over the decades these industries both prospered and failed.  But with the failures it seemed that succeeding generations managed to adapt, utilize what assets remained, and then prosper again.  Today, people want to know what will drive the economy of tomorrow. Where are the sources of revenue that we need to support our local government and its many services?  What can we do to foster a renewed prosperity and what is the economic future of Saugerties?

A look at the economic situation in Saugerties today reveals a small town with a proud industrial past struggling with a declining business tax base while contending with providing ever more services being funded by homeowners with modest incomes. What do we do to avoid a situation where Saugerties becomes a community of excessively high costs and too few good job opportunities?

I do not have all the answers to these questions, but the situation is not beyond our control. The decisions our local officials make impact our economic development in many meaningful ways. Where we seek guidance, and the policies we employ in making our decisions are important in positioning our community to meet the future.

I believe water can play a role again not so much by our harnessing its power, but by ensuring a clean and abundant supply of it. This region is blessed with tremendous water assets. Other regions of the United States are starting to reach their limits of growth because of concerns over water. It would be far-sighted for this town to identify and begin to protect all its water resources. Similarly, Saugerties should begin to identify and catalog its other assets such as our land, scenic, cultural and historic resources.

By taking these actions and encouraging the growth and development of this town to comport with the outlines expressed in the Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Saugerties adopted in 1999, the town can position itself to attract the type of industries that everyone desires. The Hudson Valley between Poughkeepsie and Glens Falls is becoming widely known as the Hudson Valley High-Tech Corridor, the eastern seaboard equivalent of California's Silicon Valley.  Computer technology, telecommunications, nanotechnology, biotechnology research and energy firms are springing up in the region as a result of proximity to research and educational facilities in the valley and to the quality of life that this valley offers.

These industries are frequently unobtrusive and quiet, and the people associated with them are educated and well compensated. Saugerties should become more aggressive in its quest to attract this type of industry. 

It has been a long time since Henry Barclay's dam has been of economic benefit locally, but the spirit, creativity and ingenuity that animated Barclay and the other entrepreneurs that followed him can serve as an example for us today. 

- Mark H. Knaust


 Mark Knaust at a former one-room school house in Saugerties.

Education is one of the prime issues that citizens in Saugerties have discussed with me. Whether it is in providing a quality education for the children in Saugerties or discussion of the increasing size of the school budget and resulting increase in school taxes, it is a subject that produces very decided opinions.  And it is a subject that demands particular attention around this time every year.

The recent defeat by property owners in the Town of Saugerties of the $62 million capital project to build a new middle school and to make additions and renovations to the junior and senior high schools and all four elementary schools, is a case in point. The rejection of the school bond was a clear signal that all is not well. That defeat represented a failure in leadership and disconnections between the establishment in the town, the school, and the taxpayers.

This community owes a debt of gratitude to a couple of leading citizens - both of them Democrats - for leading the opposition to this overreaching bond.

I would like to represent the 70 or 80 percent of the citizens of Saugerties who resent being told that a no vote on the school bond means that they don't support the education of the children in this community.

As a product of the Saugerites School System, I am aware that much of our infrastructure is past its peak. I supported the renovations to the Cahill Elementary School done in the 1990's because the renovations were both long overdue and reasonable.  The latest bond referendum was timely perhaps, but not at all reasonable, and I, like you, rejected it. I also believe that even those who voted against this bond issue want to see every child in our town receive a fine education, and I am with you. Now is the time to take a recess and evaluate our needs and priorities regarding the funding of education. The voters seem to be saying that a larger school, with expensive extracurricular activities, will not ensure a better education, and I agree.

Our school system is one of the largest "industries" in town. Unfortunately, our biggest export product seems to be our children looking for better opportunities. While other businesses are leaving this state, this is one industry that is flourishing. Education is so important to our community that it can no longer be the special province of our school board. The financial implications of the recent bond issue along with the size of the school budget suggest this to be the case. I believe we have to reassess our entire approach to the way we educate our children. We can start by having the school system become more integrated in the community. This idea was mentioned in the comprehensive plan adopted by the town and village of Saugerties in 1999.  Creative thinking, innovation, efficiency and frugality will not come from the bureaucracy or special interests in Albany. It must be generated and cultivated here in Saugerties, by us. 

The humorist Will Rogers once remarked that "we have the honor of being the only country in the world that ever went to the poorhouse in an automobile."  I'll leave it to the readers' imaginations as to which model automobile they would liken our present educational system. One thing is for sure, there are too many government controls on the motor and it sure guzzles a lot of gas!

While I am not advocating a return to the one-room schoolhouse, it is worth pondering that previous generations of Americans managed to educate their children very will without sapping the lifeblood out of the citizens in the community. 

- Mark H. Knaust


 Mark Knaust and Bill Trumpbour discuss land use in Saugerties.

Land use is one of the most important and vexing issues facing Saugerties today. Important because we are in the midst of a profound period of change in our land use patterns and vexing because the subject covers a broad range of issues that offers no easy solutions. How we use our land, and the the impacts that flow from that use, will go a long way in determining not only how this community views itself but also our overall quality of life.

Saugerties has always been a predominately rural community. The importance of agriculture to this town was recognized when it was included in the original town seal in the 1830's, along with commerce and industry. Our relationship with the land has helped to define the town character and indeed the American character. In fact, the fundamental liberties that form the bedrock of this republic emanate from the recognition of private property rights. For most of the history of this country the land has been under the stewardship and protection of farmers. This relationship has left a positive and indelible mark on our character and is woven into the fabric of our society. Even today our school calendar still revolves around the needs of 19th-century farmers. The values that farming evokes - hard work, thrift, integrity and the giving of thanks every year for the blessings that providence bestows on us - form a very powerful component of our identity. 

It is with more than a little sadness and concern that I have witnessed the slow disappearance of our rural heritage in this town. For too long we've taken for granted the beautiful countryside in this town, assuming it will always be there. I believe that we have to start realizing that behind every pastoral scene or bucolic setting there is property owner more than likely scrimping to pay their taxes. As long as government depends on generating most of it's revenue from land taxes there will be enormous pressure exerted on these landowners. The decisions that are made as a result of this pressure are likely to be bad ones.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking about these matters with a local Saugerties farmer, William Trumpbour. The Trumpbour family ties to the land go back to the original Palatine settlement in the early part of the 18th century. Bill started farming in 1947 and bought his wonderful wife, Ellie, an engagement ring with the profits from his first buckwheat crop. The farm and the land around it comprise some of the most beautiful scenery in the township. It has remained nearly unchanged since the days when, tradition has it, Revolutionary War troops celebrated in that field following their victory in the Battle of Saratoga. Not long ago the adjacent land was slated for development, something that thankfully has not happened. These rural scenes are a large part of what makes this town an enjoyable place to live.

I don't want these thoughts to be misinterpreted as being against development of any kind. There are many people in the town that depend directly or indirectly on the building and construction trades. The town can grow but it should do so in a thoughtful and graceful way. A few years ago some of our local citizens worked very hard to produce a comprehensive plan for the Town of Saugerties that contains common sense and practical suggestions to accomplish just that. This town now needs leadership in pursuing that vision; a leadership that understands when a new business is sited in the town - one that could have a tremendous impact on traffic patterns say - it must go through proper regulatory review. It's time we start paying attention to these issues before we destroy the very aspects of this town that make it so appealing. 

- Mark H. Knaust