Friday, March 13, 2015
Despite a campaign against a state oversight proposal for the East Ramapo school district by the Rockland County Legislature's majority leader, most of his fellow legislators are pledging their "unequivocal support" for the measure.
Twelve legislators signed a Tuesday letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging passage of the controversial bill that would authorize rare state intervention in the troubled school district.
"We believe this is a thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-documented report with reforms that will provide transparency in the conduct of school business and will foster collaboration of the entire East Ramapo community to work towards a long-term solution that will address the unique needs of the school district, as well as provide important oversight," the letter states.
The legislators referred to a critical report on the district by a special state fiscal monitor, Hank Greenberg, on which the bill is based.
The bill calls for the state education commissioner to appoint a monitor to act as a non-voting 10th member of the East Ramapo Board of Education. He or she would be paid by the state and could propose resolutions for the board's consideration.
The monitor's main assignment would be to prepare a five-year strategic improvement plan for the troubled district. In addition, he or she could veto board decisions determined to be detrimental to students; the board could appeal.
The Legislature's chairman, Alden Wolfe, a graduate of Ramapo High School, penned his own letter to the governor Thursday, commending the bill's sponsors and efforts to provide East Ramapo students with an education comparable to that of their peers in neighboring districts.
"The school district can not continue on its current course amidst worsening acrimony in our community," he wrote. "For the sake of the public and private school students, I recommend your advocacy on this item."
In an interview, Wolfe said that in deciding to voice their support, legislators were "responding to the heightened discussion" of the bill. Since it was introduced three weeks ago by Assembly sponsors Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern and Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, lobbying efforts from all sides have been competing to be heard in Albany.
Aron Wieder, the majority leader of the county Legislature and a former president of the East Ramapo school board, has been at the forefront of an ongoing effort to prevent state oversight of the board, which is dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who send their children to private religious schools.
Critics say the board favors the interests of the private school community and has mismanaged the budget, while the board and its supporters argue that the state simply doesn't fund it properly. Wieder and his supporters have railed against the notion that a single appointee could override the board's duly elected members.
In a Feb. 25 address to state Senate leaders, including Carlucci, Wieder called the bill "egregious" and compared the monitor to a dictator. He asked the senators to "stand up for the American idea of democracy" and oppose the bill.
"Let me be very clear," he said. "Not only will it not solve the problems of East Ramapo, it will only compound the problems many times over. This bill is unprecedented in its scope, approach and powers vested in a single individual."
Supporters of the bill including the Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP, the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice and a group of about 1,000 East Ramapo alumni, parents and current students known as Strong East Ramapo, took their message to Albany last week. They delivered a petition to Cuomo's office with more than 3,100 signatures in support of the bill.
Legislators who signed Tuesday's letter in support of the oversight bill included deputy majority leader Toney Earl, minority leader Christopher Carey and deputy minority leader Lon Hofstein, as well as Nancy Low-Hogan, Harriet Cornell, Michael Grant, Jay Hood, Aney Paul, Joseph Meyers, Douglas Jobson, John Murphy and Patrick Moroney. Those who did not sign include Ilan Schoenberger, Philip Soskin and Frank Sparaco — who will resign from the legislature in April in the wake of his guilty plea to misdemeanor charges of falsifying petitions in a bid to take over the Clarkstown Republican Party.
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