Answering the challenge in “their finest hour”

By now the numbers are familiar and the facts well known. As the Sullivan West school district approaches the vote on its 2005-06 budget, it faces an unprecedented shortfall of funds and by necessity, the superintendent, the school board and the three communities of the merged district will have to reckon with some difficult choices.

One of those choices, the proposed closing of the Narrowsburg School and the Delaware Valley School, has understandably elicited a great outpouring of opinion and emotion. The merger of the three communities of Narrowsburg, Delaware Valley and Jeffersonville into a unified school district was a Herculean task, one that exacted great costs financially and otherwise but one that has yielded great benefits as well.

Ask the children.

They will tell you how much better things are now than they were before the merger. A new high school, a larger and more diverse school community, fine academic and athletic achievements and thriving local elementary schools have allowed the three communities to retain their identity and their most important asset, their youngest school citizens.

But judging from the tone and temper of some of the comments at a recent school board hearing, it is clear that the voices of negativity, recrimination and divisiveness often heard during the problematic early days of the merger have resurfaced. Those voices have the potential to undermine all the hard work that was needed to overcome in-fighting, suspicion and insularity, obstacles that had to be set aside to facilitate working for the common good of our children.

The betrayal and frustration felt by many people are not baseless. Many voters now feel that they were lured by the unrealized promises of significant building aid and lower taxes. They also recognized the importance of their local schools as an integral part of their community identity. The merger was not supposed to alter that and to close these schools now is a betrayal far worse than the unrealized promise of adequate forthcoming funds. As a result, our current dilemma is not only one of maintaining educational standards and budgets, but of preserving community integrity.

As a result of all these disappointments, there are many who feel that if they knew then what they know now, they would never have voted for the merger. But there is no going back.

This crisis did not happen in a vacuum. Lost on many people is the fact that this country now faces a great economic crisis wrought by policies that have stretched us far beyond our means. Tax cuts, a deficiency of unprecedented proportions and a costly war are having their effects on people in our towns. Education has sunk to a low priority in the triage of our national and state government’s priorities and now we, as a community, must reckon with the consequences.

But it is in the bleakest of times that we are most challenged as individuals and as a community. Challenged to use our collective wits, nerve and hearts to act on what will be in our best interest for the future. Challenged to listen to our inner voices of reason. Challenged to silence the voices of recrimination and blame. Challenged to marshal our collective energy to make the best choices.

Facing up to a crisis requires courage, sacrifice and unity. Times change; circumstances change, but the marshalling of the collective human spirit to deal with great adversity is timeless. It is what prompted Winston Churchill to call upon the citizens of the free world to answer the daunting challenge of Hitler’s seemingly unchecked power after the defeat of the British and French at Dunkirk in 1940.

“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us…. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

Churchill’s words helped to spark an unprecedented effort in rescuing mankind from some of its darkest days. Let’s hope that the voices of reason, sensibility and purpose prevail in the face of this current crisis so that we too can look back on these days and say of our communities, “This was their finest hour.”

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Dr. Punnybone

Hard Drive

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A re-vote might be a good idea

To the editor:

With the additional damning information gleaned from the March 3 hearings on casinos under Bonacic’s direction, people who care about their homes in the counties of Sullivan and Orange may rest assured that the Sullivan County Legislature was highly irresponsible in voting prematurely for Pataki’s “Five Fiasco.”

On the day of the vote, Legislator Ron Hiatt encouraged leaders to not rush into a “yes” decision before having substantial written information from all parties involved. Too many questions and concerns had been left to fester unanswered, agreed Kathy La Buda who moved to delay the vote. Chris Cunningham and Rodney Gaebel joined in the call to delay the vote until after the hearings, which would reveal essential information from experts. Hiatt and five of his colleagues cast their “yes” votes when the wait was denied.