Thursday, June 19, 2014

East Ramapo trustee disputes board chief on monitor 

An East Ramapo school trustee says he disagrees with "the whole concept" of a fellow board member's scathing response to state education officials on the recent appointment of a fiscal monitor for the district.

Pierre Germain said a three-page letter sent on behalf of the school board expressing "serious concerns about this deeply offensive action" — the appointment of the monitor — was "unnecessary and uncalled for."

Board President Yehuda Weissmandl sent the letter to state Education Commissioner John King Jr. on June 12 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the state to step up its oversight.

Referring to district critics who've accused the board of giving short shrift to public school students, Weissmandl writes that state officials were motivated less by fiscal concerns and "more by divisive local politics." He says the appointment of a monitor is akin to sanctioning "bigotry."

"That's not the type of letter that I would of written myself … because of the wording and also my position," Germain said Wednesday. "My position on the governor sending Mr. (Hank) Greenberg is, it's OK with me. Because if we're not doing anything wrong, why should we be afraid of (him)?

"Why fight back? Let it happen, let's move on," Germain added. "If they find problems, we will correct the problems and we will move on."

Greenberg will review how the district uses state and federal funds, among other areas flagged in recent audits of the deficit-plagued district. He will act as an adviser and make recommendations to state and federal officials.

Germain, who's served on the board for a year, said he expressed his difference of opinion in an email to his colleague when the letter was shared with board members before it was sent to the commissioner.

Others on the nine-member board, who did not want to speak for attribution, indicated they felt similarly opposed to the wording and content of their colleague's letter.

Germain said he also disagrees with the board's decision to reject a $3.5 million state-aid advance meant to restore programs because of its opposition to financial oversight stipulations.

Germain added that he attended a kickoff event for the grassroots Rockland Clergy for Social Justice group in April – which has called for state oversight of East Ramapo — because he is worried about the district's ability to provide a quality education.

"I wanted to listen to their concerns," he said. "I would not consider them to be bigots. They're entitled to their opinions."

Weissmandl declined to comment on Germain's opinions.

"The board is nine individual members who think and speak for themselves. We meet, discuss, vote and take action as a board," he said Wednesday.

Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish men hold a majority on the board and send their children to private schools; the board's "public" and "private" school factions have a history of splitting on votes amid racial and religious tensions in East Ramapo.

Germain, who is Haitian, owns a construction business in Chestnut Ridge and is the father of two daughters who go to private Catholic schools. He won a three-year seat on the board last year with running mates MaraLuz Corado, who later stepped down, and Bernard Charles.

The three ran with the backing of the South East Ramapo Taxpayers Association, a community group that represents the district's large ultra-Orthodox population; the group's bloc vote often dominates school elections.


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