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Schools petition reviewed

By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE — January 4, 2011 — Enough signatures were delivered yesterday to the Sullivan West school district to potentially require a public vote on whether or not to rebid the sale of the closed Narrowsburg School.
Callicoon Center farmer and environmental consultant Dick Riseling and supporters carried the petitions to the district’s Jeffersonville offices Monday morning, just meeting the state-imposed deadlines on such challenges.
“We had 200 more than needed for Narrowsburg,” Riseling confirmed yesterday. “We were under on Delaware Valley, so that one will be removed from consideration for referendum.”
The district had said around 1,000 signatures would be needed on each petition, and Riseling and company obtained 1,255 for Narrowsburg.
The DV petition garnered 638, likely signifying less concern about a building located in a sparsely settled forest between Callicoon and Hankins.
But Narrowsburg’s school sits in its very heart, and residents are concerned about NYC developer Ilwon Kang’s plans for the two-acre property. So far, Kang has not indicated much more than a hospitality concept, soliciting ideas for the land from locals but getting a rough reception at a recent meeting.
Riseling, on the other hand, is eager to implement more than a dozen ideas under the 81-year-old school’s roof.
However, his $725,000 bid for the school arrived late, so the board majority chose Kang’s $700,000 bid (plus Kang’s $2.3 million bid for DV).
Riseling believes the board erred, and he and others mounted the challenge to put it in the hands of voters.
The district and its board, however, must agree that the signatures are from eligible voters in SW, then set a vote.
That could happen as early as this Thursday’s board meeting (7 p.m. in the high school library in Lake Huntington).
Or it may not happen at all, as Riseling confirmed the district’s attorney and administration “are not in agreement with the wording of the petition.”
The petition’s language and some of its signatures, in other words, might be thrown out on technical grounds.
Though pleased with the amount of signatures garnered from door-to-door visits and countertop displays, Riseling noted a vote hasn’t yet been set.
“We’re waiting on them,” he assessed.
Fight over financial documents
One of the three who voted against Narrowsburg’s sale to Kang was Noel van Swol, who has been trying unsuccessfully to access financial wherewithal statements Kang provided to the district’s attorney.
He has now filed a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request with the district – one Superintendent Ken Hilton said is likely to be rejected on confidentiality grounds.
“He does not have the right to see it,” Hilton said yesterday.
Indeed, only the school’s attorney has seen those financial documents thus far.
“I did not see it. The board did not see it. I don’t need to see it,” said Hilton, satisfied with the attorney’s certification that Kang “is the real deal.”
Hilton explained that revealing the documents to the board – who might then reveal them to the public – could “substantially hurt the position of the bidder.”
Kang, he added, had requested the documents be kept confidential, and public revelation of that information could endanger the district legally.
Van Swol replied that, by accepting Kang’s bids, the district has already endangered itself legally.
“This whole fiasco could have been avoided if Dr. Hilton and the administration had listened to Rose Crotty’s and my prediction that giving the bid to Mr. Kang without rebidding everything was going to open a can of worms and potentially lead to litigation against the district,” van Swol said yesterday.
He added that that “legal fiasco” is why he wants to see the info and not simply rely on the school attorney’s word.
“Every board member has a fiduciary duty to protect the assets of the school district,” he said, concerned with the vagueness of Kang’s resumé and background to date. “... I am very suspicious of the way this is being handled.”
Van Swol acknowledged his desire to release the information publicly to let the press and the community “doublecheck” Kang’s financial background. He urged Kang to voluntarily offer that transparency, as well.
Hilton affirmed he’s working on a way to get the requested information to the board yet keep it confidential.
Van Swol promised he’ll abide by a confidentiality request, even if he disagrees with it.
But even with that info, said Hilton, “our sole concern is, does the man have the financial wherewithal to make a serious bid?”

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