Friday, February 6, 2009


 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

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