Friday, February 06, 2015
A group of East Ramapo school district parents and officials Thursday urged the Board of Education to give the public a second shot at approving a $40 million bond to repair rundown buildings.
Residents including the PTA president, superintendent and three school board members said they wanted to rally public school parents to support the bond and hoped the powerful private school community would back the children or stay neutral. Just 1,098 people voted in Tuesday's referendum, and the bond failed 626-472.
The East Ramapo community's private school faction – composed mostly of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews – did not come out to vote, as their leadership said they left the decision to public school parents. The community's political muscle has mustered thousands of votes in board elections and to reject tax increases in school budgets in recent years.
Instead, referendum naysayers were some public school advocates, contending the school board and district would misuse the money and could not be trusted. They want a state monitor approved before the district gets money to spend.
PTA President Ramona Jones said Thursday that public school parents must carry the vote for their children and put aside animosity with the district and private school community. The PTA represents 13 schools.
"I feel personally we let down our children," Jones said in a news conference at the district administration building. "We are asking the board for a second chance. This is for the public school children. We need to educate the public on what's at stake. We need to get the vote out."
Children attend schools with leaky roofs and drafty windows, and some parents contend their children must wear jackets to stay warm. The bond would have let the district borrow $39,957,500 to repair and replace heating/ventilation systems, boilers, windows, roofs, pavement, high school bleachers and more.
Margaret Castelluccio of Chestnut Ridge, who has two children at Fleetwood Elementary, said she voted "no" Tuesday and would support another bond proposition only if a monitor were in place to ensure proper use of the money.
"I want my children to have a decent school but I cannot give $40 million and not expect it to come back to haunt us," she said when reached after the news conference.
Superintendent Joel Klein said the bond would not increase taxes, as the district is retiring debt. He also said replacement of 50-year-old boilers and new windows would provide energy savings. Trustees Bernard Charles, Yonah Rothman and Pierre Germain said they would support a second vote. The board — dominated by seven Orthodox and Hasidic Jews — has nine members. Klein also backed a second vote.
Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder, a former school board president, said he advocated for passage of the bond and supported a second vote. He said some public school advocates let their animus toward the religious community and the board hurt the children who needed better schools. The board has been criticized for cutting educational programs and hundreds of jobs, including those of teachers, deans, counselors and support personnel.
"Despite the differences, there are issues (on which) we should all come together," Wieder said. "We thought the bond issue was one of those issues. The fact that the so-called private school community didn't come out to vote 'no' is refreshing. Those who voted 'no' just to make a statement (are) wrong."
Reacting Wednesday to the bond's defeat, Kalman Weber said his group, the South East Ramapo Taxpayers Association, avoided a get-out-the-vote effort in the ultra-Orthodox community. He said he expected the bond vote to pass with support from the public school community. If ultra-Orthodox residents were encouraged to turn out, they would have voted "no" to protest proposed school board oversight supported by public school activists and then be blamed for defeating a bid to fix the schools, Weber and others said.
Many leaders said the community remained offended by accusations that the board steals from the public school coffers.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders have argued against state oversight of school board decisions, saying it would effectively disenfranchise their voting rights when they elect members of the board.
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