Wednesday, June 11, 2014

East Ramapo schools monitor has broad charge, says King 

The state-appointed "fiscal monitor" for the East Ramapo school district is already receiving information about the troubled district as he prepares to "launch" his work, Education Commissioner John King said Wednesday.

The monitor, Hank Greenberg, a former counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he was state attorney general, will work on behalf of the state Education Department and will make recommendations to the department, King told The Journal News during a stop in White Plains.

"Potentially, those recommendations might also inform action that the governor or Legislature might take," King said. "They might inform actions that the U.S. Department of Education and others might need to take with respect to the district."

King said that Greenberg has a broad charge.

"The goal of a fiscal monitor is to look at how East Ramapo is using its resources, to make sure its use of resources is consistent with federal law, state law and is in the best interests of students," he said.

He said Greenberg will focus on how federal funds are used, in particular how East Ramapo carries out federal grant programs. Another area of focus, he said, is how the district is ensuring that students have access to services and course offerings required by state regulations.

King said Greenberg may also look at certain district "preferences" when it comes to special education and real-estate transactions, areas that he noted the Education Department has already reviewed.

Critics have long charged that East Ramapo's school board, run by majorities of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish men who send their children to private schools, has focused on reducing spending and has not served the best interests of public school students.

But board members and other Orthodox leaders have increasingly argued that their financially strapped school system simply cannot afford to maintain programs and that the state's aid formulas might be changed to reflect the large numbers of private-school students in East Ramapo.

The appointment came out of the blue Tuesday, with Cuomo announcing his recommendation of a fiscal monitor for East Ramapo and King accepting the governor's nomination of Greenberg hours later.

Also Tuesday, King sent a letter to East Ramapo Superintendent Joel Klein explaining the need for a fiscal monitor. The letter says that Greenberg will act in an "advisory capacity" to the district "in order to ensure that the District is able to provide an appropriate educational program and properly manage and account for state and federal funds received."

The letter praises Greenberg as a lawyer with a "history of public service as well as in public administration, including fiscal matters, and the stewardship of public resources."

The letter says that an Education Department official will contact Klein within the next week to arrange an initial meeting between Greenberg and district representatives.

King said East Ramapo will be the only district in the state with a fiscal monitor. He said the Roosevelt school district on Long Island had one when it was under state control for a decade. The Buffalo schools now have a "distinguished educator" assigned by King to consult with low-performing schools there.


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