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THE TORCH:  October 2004


     Hugh M. Spoljaric, President

              Kingston Teachers’ Federation

            The Joy of Homeownership or A Cruel Hoax?          

     It seems that I do some of my best thinking when I’m occupied performing routine tasks, like cleaning or mowing the lawn. Today, the routine is my drive to school. The first thing that I notice is that there are ‘For Sale’ signs on the lawns of two of my new neighbors, people who just moved in six months ago. Was it something that I said or did? Was it the hot real estate market? No, it was the sticker shock that they received when the tax bill arrived. So, during my routine time of the past month, I’ve done some thinking and I’ve arrived at a spot where something just isn’t right. Here’s the scoop!

     Home prices have shot through the roof in the last six months primarily due to an artificially low mortgage interest rate of 5.5%. Sellers figure that their $100,000 home, with a 10% mortgage rate yields the same monthly payments as a $200,000 home at 5.5%. So, the selling price of the house doubles. The seller makes out and the buyer, locked in at 5.5% is happy. Then, along comes the assessor. The town uses 100% valuations and the assessment is the selling price. In the past, this assessment might have been good for 25 years, but the state now wants municipalities to reassess properties every three years. As neighbors continue to raise their prices and buyers continue to purchase, everyone’s property value continues to rise. One would think that taxes would not have to increase too much because the municipality needs only a certain amount of money to operate on. In fact, one might conclude that with a doubling of assessments, the tax rate might be halved, thus giving homeowners only a slight increase. It appears that this is not the case. The tax rate, figured by the state using some equalization formula, rarely decreases for most townships. Even with an increase in new homes, and especially senior residences that have little impact on the schools, it would seem that the tax pie would be carved up into more pieces with each property benefiting. After all, the town doesn’t need twice the money to operate.

     Four times in our country’s history, the banks have used cheap available low interest money to entice farmers to grow more crops. Unfortunately, every farmer bit at the opportunity to grow more crops. The abundant supply lowered the price of crops to where the farmers could not repay the loan and the bank took the farm. Everyone cannot succeed if the masses take advantage of the same opportunity. All will not succeed. Keep the mortgage rates at unrealistically low levels and sucker everybody in? Is there a grand scheme for government control of the people? Technology has created the possibility to control masses through the dissemination of (mis)information.

     So, my neighbors are selling. While their 30-year mortgage rate is locked in, their tax rate will be affected every three years. And, when your new assessment is affected by the spiraling cost of real estate, the tax rate ‘equalizations’ don’t seem to keep up. It used to be that it took about half the life of your mortgage before your monthly tax escrow was greater than the mortgage payment. Now, it’ll probably be greater within three years. Something is wrong.

     And, the cruel hoax may be that within five years people may have to sell the home they bought for an inflated $200,000 at 5.5% and the mortgage rate may be back to 10%. Who is going to buy your house when this bubble bursts? Will ‘housebaggers’ arrive to grab up the properties?

     Is it possible, given that the Bush administration has been planning a new world order for 15 years, that there is also a huge manipulation in place to control the market economy in real estate. There is already a track record of it in energy and fuel services.     The joy of homeownership may become a cruel hoax.

     And, that’s the Bottom Line.



     The big discussion in the community has been the report of the Kingston Schools Facility Committee, chaired by the architects, and the recommendation that the Kingston schools need a new high school and refurbishments to other buildings totaling $291 million. What with an Ulster County Jail Project $21 million over budget and no end in sight, the public is justifiably skeptical of a school project at four times the cost. Additionally, while the jail would be used 24/7/365, a school is used 8/5/180. The public discussions do not challenge the question of the need for upgraded facilities as much as the overall cost and benefit. Is there another way to satisfy both sides? Let’s offer some food for thought.

     Ulster County recently projected a huge increase in seniors by the year 2017. We know that 10,000 Americans a day, every day, turn 65 years old. There will be a local need for senior citizen housing and soon! Kingston High School is located between two major hospitals. They’ve been looking to merge, but can’t always agree on everything. How about agreeing on taking care of our senior citizens. After all, hospitals are running deficits, they need guaranteed income, and there is government money available for seniors. The Kingston High School facility provides a geographical and economic link between the hospital providers. It provides an infrastructure for services to seniors with some adaptable and minimal retrofitting.

          What about a high school facility? Tech City is assessed for $30 million and would probably sell for slightly more. Some of the buildings date to the 50’s and others are now 20 years old, but a basic solid infrastructure exists. Again, some retrofitting would be needed, but basic necessities are in place.

     Since Tech City is a large facility, would it not be prudent to consider other schools for the site? Should we reconfigure for junior high schools instead of a middle school plan that segregates 6th graders. Do we need a new structure that meets the needs of 5th and 6th graders? Could they all be at the same site since all services (transportation, food, etc.) would be available? Would that save money? Can we still keep neighborhood schools for the primary grades of K-4.  And, could this all be done using money from the sale of the high school building to offset costs? Wouldn’t it cost a lot less than $291 million? Might the public be more accepting?

      Perhaps, none of this would work. Maybe the refurbishing costs are excessive. Maybe, the money saved in the future is minimal. Perhaps, the hospitals won’t want to work together.

     We think it’s worth a look.


                             GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING
       A General membership meeting of the KTF will be held on Thursday, October 21, 2:30-4 pm, in the cafeteria at KHS. The primary purpose of the meeting is the election of KTF delegates and alternates to  NYSUT/AFT. The Board of Directors, at the October meeting, endorsed the following members for positions.
     Delegates: Nancy Chando, Dianne Fried, Suzanne Jordan, Eric Koch, Lauri Naccarato, Hugh Spoljaric, Mae Stark(KFST), Kathy Werner, Joan White(KESP), and a rep from KRTF.
     Alternates: Karen Clegg, Bruce Cobb, Glenn Gallagher, Mary McLaughlin, Frank Passante, Dale Spencer, Claire Van Valkenburgh, and Vince Voerg.
     Any member in good standing who would like their name placed in nomination should contact KTF Secretary Nancy Chando at JFK, in writing, by Tuesday, October 19.


    The Presidential election on November 2 will have a profound influence on the lives of many Americans. We, the educators, are one of them. On many issues, there is a clear difference between the candidates. On the issues that affect education and your profession, there is clear choice. That is the reason the NYSUT and the AFT are supporting John Kerry and John Edwards. It is is the reason that educators and their families are encouraged to support the Kerry/Edwards ticket.
     The Bush administrations four year record on public education, health care, workers' rights, and the economy have been abysmal. KTF members and their families are a part of the middle class that has been negatively impacted at the expense of Bush supported initiatives for the super-wealthy. As a group, on many fronts, our lives are worse than they were four years ago.
     The bipartisan supported No Child Left Behind act has not financially supported (minus $27 billion) public schools in the enactment of the program. Costs to meet the standards of NCLB have severely impacted local taxes. Kerry will fund NCLB to its original intent.

     Bush blocked the importation of lower cost prescription drugs, most of which are manufactured in the U.S., from Canada. John Kerry supports the importation of these drugs.
      The Bush appointed National Labor Relations Board has overturned a court ruling that allowed graduate employees to unionize. John Kerry supports the right to unionize.
     The Bush administration developed new rules that would strip millions of workers, including staffers in education, of overtime pay protection. John Kerry supports overtime pay protection.
     The Bush administration supported a Medicare prescription program that benefits only those at the very bottom of the income scale and prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. Every Republican senator who co-sponsored the bill received money from the drug companies. John Kerry supports a measure that would lower drug costs, extend Medicare drug coverage to those between retirement and Medicare (55-65), and provide for a federal pool to cover catastrophic illnesses.
     President Bush opposes equal pay legislation, including S.76 and S. 841, Senate bills co-sponsored by John Kerry.
     Bush opposes federal funding to support repair and modernization of substandard schools. This is an issue that directly affects the Facilities Committee report of the Kingston Schools.
     Bush does not support stem cell research, an area where several of our deceased KTF members may have benefited. John Kerry supports federal funding for research on new stem cells.
     On issues of reproductive health, mercury, and global warming, Bush has been on the side of the corporations and businesses while John Kerry sides with people.
     And, while Osama Bin Laden still lives, the war in Iraq has become a travesty. Mission accomplished? Bush vows to plow on with his agenda at the expense of the American people. John Kerry supports diplomatic coalitions and gradual withdrawal.
    Regardless of your political orientation, the choice for all educators but the stubborn is clear. On the issues that affect us the most, John Kerry and John Edwards meet our needs.
     If you have friends and family in important 'swing states', please call them and ask them to support us. 

                                  VOTE/COPE DRIVE
     VOTE/COPE is NYSUT's political action fund. It has been instrumental in advancing legislation that supports our profession. Building Reps have distributed contribution cards and campaign information. Although the KTF VOTE/COPE Drive will end on October 27, members are asked to return their contribution cards to their building rep by October 22.
    This is a voluntary donation. As a guideline to giving, members are asked to give a donation equivalent to the first two digits of their salary and are encouraged to use payroll deduction. Payroll deduction will be made from one of the November checks. Donations may also be made by check and cash donations, while accepted, are discouraged. Retirees have already received information from their chapter coordinator, Don Sweeney.
     The key to advancing education in New York is our political voice supported by VOTE/COPE. Remember, you can earn 50 Key To Fun points for every $25 donation to VOTE/COPE.

The annual KTF Pantry Drive will be held October 25-29 and will be chaired by Joanne Friedman. Members are asked to fill up the box at their school with items unavailable through social service programs, like toiletries and personal hygiene items. To earn Key To Fun points, members need to donate at least 3 items to be credited with 10 points. The maximum points available are 50 (15 items). There is a Key To Fun summary sheet on every box. Building reps should remove that sheet and bring it to the next Board of Directors meeting. Joanne will coordinate the pick-up of the boxes.
                                               THE BUZZ
MHTC Satellite: The Kingston Mid-Hudson Teacher Center Satellite Site at J. Watson Bailey Middle School is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3-5 pm. Rich Caliendo directs the site and has available a wide range of technology resources and expert help. Contact Rich at 336-8473 or through email:
In-Service: The Fall catalogue is out! If a member qualifies for the target group for any MHTC, BOCES, or district in-service, they need only to sign-up at and submit a request for approval to Greer Fischer, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum. Please check if certain BOCES and MHTC courses have any fees attached.
     Additionally, go to the website if you have a proposal for an In-Service course. Presenters should note that MHTC course presenters receive a different fee than is paid to district presenters.
Class Size: All classes should be at contractual levels. Any overages should have been reported to the building Principal by September 30.
Substitutes: Due to budget cuts, the district reports that only two (2) subs, down from five (5) last year, are available daily for teachers who have professional training events
KALP, Due to budget cuts, only three (3) KALP programs will run this year. Teachers looking for elementary science manuals? They are delayed by the printer, but are on their way.
SRO: The grant for establishing an armed School Resource Officer at $77,000/year at KHS was not awarded. The KTF is encouraging the district to review safety issues at all schools.
Arbitration: The KTF Grievance arbitration hearing on the scoring of state exams, scheduled for September 30, was postponed. A future date has not be set.
On The Mend: KTF Rep at KHS, Nick Avossa, is back at work following emergency angioplasty two weeks ago. The non-invasive procedure allowed Nick to miss only three days of work.

New Book: Congratulations to former Social Studies teacher Viola Opdahl and her husband on the publication of their new book on the Shakers in New York, “A Shaker Musical Legacy.”


                               RETIREES ON THE MOVE!

     The KRTF now counts over 500 members and, with retirements, continues to grow. Retirees traveled by bus to NYC on October 6. On Thursday, October 14, they will be manning the KRTF Phone Banks at NYSUT. On October 22, there will be a luncheon meeting at Williams Lake. And, they are contacting all of their members in the annual VOTE/COPE Drive.

     Retirees should contact President Anne Tucker or Don Sweeney for retiree information.


                                      NEW TEACHERS

     Kate Naughter, KTF New Teacher Coordinator, reports that 20 of the 32 new Kingston teachers attended the KTF Orientation on Monday, September 27.

     Among the agenda items was direction from the KTF regarding personal safety. All teachers are reminded that when they are alone with students in a room, especially during activity time, to always leave the door open and to inform other teachers in the area and/or the main office that you are there. Additionally, when working in the building either before or after the official school day, notify the office and another teacher of your whereabouts. When leaving the building after hours, especially during standard time, always try to be accompanied by another staff member.

     Of course, if you have a cell phone, always keep it near during these times.

                                    TRUST FUND

     The cost of prescription drugs has been rising at an inflationary rate of over 20% the past five years. Drugs now account for 25%-35% of the total medical costs in most health plans, including our Trust plan. Drugs are expected to exceed hospitalization costs within the next few years. Drug company advertising costs will soon exceed the money spent on automobile advertising. As we have continually expressed to members, your help is needed to keep drug costs as low as possible. Please discuss all medications with your doctor and ask them to prescribe proven medications before resorting to newer and higher priced medications.



     Any Trust material modifications and/or amendments will be printed in the November Torch.



    The Negotiations Team for the teachers contract has been meeting with the district every two weeks. 65 items have been tentatively agreed to in the formulation of a new collective bargaining agreement. At least 40 items remain on the table and most issues of substance are due to come on the table before the end of October. There are two more meetings scheduled in the next two weeks.


                                   SUBS SETTLE

    KSTF President Mae Stark reports that a new collective bargaining agreement has been agreed to with the district. Sub salary will increase$4/day in each of the next three years. Top salary in 2006-07 will be $108/day.