Thursday, July 19, 2012

5 East Ramapo trustees face ouster attempt, accused of using funds to support religious schools 

Critics of the East Ramapo Board of Education are asking the state education commissioner to remove Orthodox and Hasidic board members they say have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to support private religious schools while ignoring the growing needs of students in the public schools.

The New York-based public interest law firm Advocates for Justice, on behalf of 14 East Ramapo parents and community members, said it is calling for the removal of five board members and the appointment of a state monitor to oversee all spending and special-education placements at the district.

The nonprofit organization said it sent the state education commissioner a 52-page document Wednesday that accuses the East Ramapo school board of, among other things, improperly placing students with disabilities in private schools, conducting real estate transactions based on faulty appraisals, and buying religious textbooks to loan to religious schools.

The petition addresses school board President Daniel Schwartz, Vice President Yehuda Weissmandl, and members Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein and Eliyahu Solomon, and calls on the state education commissioner to bar them from holding future office.

The men are part of the seven-member board majority that often represents the interests of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities of the East Ramapo school district. These communities send their children to private schools within the public district and receive textbooks, transportation, special education and other services provided by the district, which account for millions in East Ramapo's budget each year.

The petition "emerges from several years of problems and tensions" within the district, as public school parents have become increasingly concerned about the board's financial decisions, including budget cuts that have eliminated hundreds of teachers and curtailed kindergarten programming, the group said in the statement.

"The East Ramapo school board has repeatedly snubbed the parents, students and teachers of the district. ... The board members have abused their authority and then thumbed their noses at the state, which gives them their authority," said petitioner Steven White, a former school board candidate and frequent critic of the board whose son is a graduate of the district.


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