Tuesday, March 01, 2016

East Ramapo: Walcott named Queens library director 

East Ramapo school monitor Dennis Walcott has been named the new president and CEO of the Queens Library, a post that puts his future as watchdog of the troubled Rockland school district in question.

It was not immediately clear if Walcott had resigned from the monitor position. Officials with the state Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment. East Ramapo Board of Education President Yehuda Weissmandl declined comment through a spokesman.

Advocates for the East Ramapo schools said they were grateful for Walcott's help, but they didn't blame him for moving on since the monitor position does not have veto power over the school board.

"Dennis Walcott played such an important role by spending months investigating and ultimately affirming the need for a monitor with veto power," said Andrew Mandel, head of the advocacy group Strong East Ramapo. "It is not surprising that he has chosen to move on given that he doesn't have the authority to make real change in the district."

Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor, was appointed by the state in August to lead a team of three monitors examining the East Ramapo district after a prior report suggested bringing in outside experts for a review of the troubled public school system.
A report issued in December by Walcott and the team of monitors outlined suggestions to improve the district, including the appointment of a monitor with veto power.

Tensions have been at the breaking point in East Ramapo for years. The majority of children who live in the district attend private religious schools, and the Board of Education is dominated by Hasidic men who make decisions for public school students who are mostly black and Latino. The board has cut hundreds of staff positions and dropped many programs.

The district has the lowest graduation rates in Rockland. A report released last week by the state found that all districts in Rockland were in good standing except East Ramapo.

Walcott is expected to start his new job as head of the Queens Library on March 14, according to the library.

The state paid Walcott and his East Ramapo team members nearly $180,000 for their work, through Dec. 31, including $81,300 to Walcott personally.

The monitors have continued their work through the first quarter of 2016. A state education department spokesman told The Journal News that they were expected to be compensated for that time once the state comptroller signs off on the payments. Beyond that is less clear.

"Until such time as legislation is enacted, the monitors have recommended — and the Board of Regents and the commissioner agreed — that it is important to retain independent monitors in the district to safeguard the gains made since August," Education Department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie told The Journal News in a written statement in late February.

"We have requested $450,000 in funding to keep the monitors in place from April 2016-April 2017.  Absent funding in the budget, we will be unable to pay for (the monitors) after April 1."

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