The Shawangunk Journal has printed a series of threatening emails that were sent to a Rondout Valley teacher, Elizabeth Harrington, after she wrote a letter to the Daily Freeman about the rising anger at local teachers over budget cuts. Here's the original letter:
I want to extend my congratulations to the group of taxpayers who so vigorously campaigned against our school budget. I hope you enjoy your dark victory.
However, as an educator in the Rondout Valley district, I must say that a victory that is won by misinformation, outright lies and distortions is not much of a victory.
Perhaps you can explain how larger classroom sizes, less support staff and fewer after-school activities benefits our students?
Every colleague I spoke with stated they felt assaulted when they drove to the district office to vote and saw the signs (that the oh-so-clever angry taxpayers hung up at 4 a.m. the day of the vote) maligning the teachers and staff.
Yes, teachers make a decent living and these are tough times. We need more good-paying jobs, not less. How does turning a community against itself help?
Furthermore, how dare you imply that teachers’ interests are different than those of our students. Clearly the orchestrators of this "just say no" crowd are clueless about what educators do.
I am an educator, a parent, and a taxpayer in this district. I know firsthand how high our taxes are. I understand that it is the system that is broken. I completely agree that property owners should not carry the complete burden of supporting our schools.
What good can possibly come of the mean spirited, ugly and unnecessary attacks on teachers? Your anger and frustration regarding our high taxes is understandable. What I vehemently disagree with are your tactics.
How many readers attended the many open budget meetings held over the winter and spring? Our new superintendent worked tirelessly to cut and trim the budget and there wasn't an item on it that wasn't scrutinized. What the district was asking for was reasonable. The process was fair and transparent.
I urge community members to work together to try to get the state to change the way we are taxed. Attacking teachers and school staff is just wrong.
What kind of message are you sending to the students you say you are trying to protect? That their teachers are greedy and lazy?
I urge taxpayers to become truly informed, to look at the broader picture and to focus on changing an unfair system.
And here's one email she got in response:
"You don't NOTICE all the kids FOCED (sic) out of your classes as their parents are FORCED from the area???...You have DECIMATED the local jobs with the taxes to support your REDICULOUS (sic) salary and benefits...My wife and I would like to tell you personally that you are a greedy CROOK!!!"
After a few back-and-forths, Harrington told the Journal that she asked her correspondent to stop emailing her. Here's how he replied:
"You really are vile and disgusting. And I am making it a point of meeting you face to face real soon so we can discuss that and leave NO doubt in your greedy pea brained mind about how much we ALL resent you!!! Actually HATE would be a better choice of words..See you real soon!!!"
The Journal reports that then Harrington got an email from the man's wife:
"Let me begin by saying that although I don't entirely agree with my husband, I have to tell you that many people, especially in rural upstate New York, feel the way he does... I too feel that something has got to change or there will be nothing left up there to love — just wasteland, another Appalachia. People are scared and emotional about this. I suspect the change will start with the public school system's overhaul, followed by other public-sector organizations' overhaul. And let's hope that it happens peacefully. Let's both pray that it doesn't come to open rebellion (and perhaps you laugh at that, but I feel it, that tension), because then not only will people lose their homes but their lives."
So far, according to the Journal, Harrington hasn't called the police:
At the time of this writing, Ms. Harrington has not taken any further action in response to these messages. What she did succeed in doing was to help exemplify exactly the kind of dissension she claimed to be opposed to in the first place — disunity that, should it continue, could well serve to prolong community problems, rather than solve them.