Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The state Senate is thin on time, but East Ramapo school district parents and students are hoping it can find the time — not to mention the political will — to provide the troubled district with additional oversight.
Roughly 200 parents, students and community members came out for a sometimes-raucous, last grasp rally in Memorial Park Monday evening in support of Senate Bill 3821. The bill, passed by the State Assembly two weeks ago, would give the district a special monitor to independently monitor a school board accused of putting private school students ahead of their public school counterparts.
"We are reasonable people, but we deserve better than the crumbs Albany wanted to feed us," said Andrew Mandel, a former East Ramapo student who helped organize the rally.
Senate leadership is loath to vote on the bill as passed by the Assembly, with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, and other Senate Republicans worried allowing a state-appointed monitor with veto power would set a dangerous precedent. Changes have been proposed to the bill, but have not been popular.
The last day of the legislative session is Tuesday.
But Monday, amidst chants of "vote on that bill," East Ramapo stakeholders were less interested in issues of home rule.
"This is not a state takeover," said County Executive Ed Day, earning applause from the assembled crowd. "If the board is doing nothing wrong, the monitor is going to have the easiest job in the world."
Day highlighted many of the issues critics of the school board, dominated by members of East Ramapo's Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, have had since it allegedly began diverting resources from the public schools and the toward private, religiously-affiliated schools many community members attend.
Day said the board does much of its work in closed-door executive sessions, has sold shuttered schools for "discount prices," and levied charges of anti-Semitism against critics.
Board critics also point to a report from Henry Greenberg, former fiscal monitor for the district, that found the board "appears to favor the interest of private schools over public schools," by funneling students with special needs into religious schools and paying high prices for transportation to those schools.
The school board's defenders say the state's funding formula is broken and is shortchanging a district with high numbers of students on free and reduced lunch and a large special education population, which Greenberg's report also found evidence of. A petition with almost 6,000 signatures from school board supporters was delivered to Albany lawmakers earlier this month.
Changes to the bill have been proposed by state Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown. However, Assemblymen Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Zebrowski, D-New City, rejected those changes. Both attended the rally and Zebrowski told the crowd the changes would allow the monitor do nothing more than enforce state and federal law.
Carlucci was not present at the rally. Mendel told the crowd he was traveling to Albany.
Before marching to the district's nearby offices, the crowd also heard from East Ramapo students.
"We walk these hallways that are falling apart, we study outdated textbooks that crumble at our fingertips," said Aleah Green, a rising junior at Spring Valley High School and the secretary of the local NAACP youth council. "My education, and the education of every other Spring Valley High School student, is being tampered with, and that's why we need this bill to pass."
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