Friday, December 18, 2015

E. Ramapo: Opponents say report seeking veto power stabs them in back 

Several Orthodox Jewish leaders Thursday lambasted state Education Department-appointed monitor Dennis Walcott for stabbing the religious community in the back when his group recommended the state appoint someone with veto power over the East Ramapo school board's decisions.
Repeating their claim that a monitor with veto power undermines the rights of representative democracy, three speakers vowed to fight the recommendation in the state Legislature if the proposal is re-introduced next year. The speakers at the news conference in the Rockland Legislature chambers were state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn; Rabbi Yosef Golding, the CEO of Agudath Israel of America; and Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder, D-Spring Valley.

Wieder, a former East Ramapo school board president, also announced his resignation as Legislature majority leader because the contentious issue has become a distraction. Controversy has trailed the district for nearly a decade after Orthodox Jews won electoral control and slashed more than 400 jobs, including teachers, deans, counselors, and other support personnel, and cut educational programs to keep down taxes.

The Rockland and Clarkstown Democratic parties had issued statements critical of Wieder and contending Hikind doesn't represent county residents and "his opinions and those who stand with him do not represent the views of the Rockland Democratic Party." Party leaders supported the veto power and stated that all children must get a sound education.

"It is ironic and sad that it appears some in the Democratic Party locally are not aware of the brave struggle Democrats nationally are fighting to protect voting rights for all," Wieder said.

Critics claim the board shifted more money to the private yeshivas in the district. Supporters of the school board argue more money from Albany would solve most of the problems for the district, which boasts just under 9,000 public school students and 24,000 private school children.

Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor and deputy mayor, has become the target of criticism. He didn't return a call for comment.

On Monday, the state Board of Regents approved the recommendations of his three-person monitor team. Of the team's 19 recommendations, the proposal to install a monitor with the authority to override school board decisions is drawing the most attention and outrage.

.Hikind said Thursday he told the community that Walcott could be trusted, noting they had worked together. He and Wieder said Walcott worked with the board and progress was being made. He cited a new superintendent and programs supposedly being restored as examples.

"We were all optimistic," Hikind said. "Real change was about to happen. Dennis Walcott stabbed the community in the back. Not only are we back to where we were, but it's worse."

Hikind and Wieder spoke of the feelings of rising hate against Orthodox Jews from members of the non-Orthodox communities.

Wieder said some people have accused Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews of being "looters .. leeches" and people in the community are afraid.
"They feel Jews can't self-govern and can't be good neighbors without outside intervention," Wieder said.

Golding pointed out that the reports by Walcott's team or an earlier one by monitor Hank Greenberg did not find any misappropriation of money, corruption or criminality. Golding said no New York school district faces having its decision overridden by a state-appointed monitor.
Critics note no forensic accounting investigation into spending has been done so the issue has not been resolved.

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