Clergy: Here's What We Know About East Ramapo
Tue, 05/20/2014
Rockland Clergy for Social Justice
Rockland Clergy for Social Justice

Recent Jewish Week exchanges over the East Ramapo Central School District reveal intense emotions and points of view that underlie the tensions and conflict affecting Rockland County.

The East Ramapo School District is directly responsible for the education of about 9000 public school children and indirectly for thousands of children attending non-district schools.

Though there is much disagreement about who is responsible, all sides agree there is a crisis. The question before us, and before our leaders in Albany, is how to best address that crisis.

Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, which consists of Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy and leaders, have come together to try to bring clarity to a complex issue and to seek appropriate assistance in finding a solution for a growing complex problem.

There is much we do not know, but this is what is known:

1. The public school community and the district’s board and school administration are at odds with contempt and bitterness expressed toward one another;

2. New York State Education Department has found the district violates special education regulations;

3. The board has challenged the state’s findings in court;

4. The NY State Supreme Court upheld the Commissioner’s finding;

5. The State Education Department and court found that the district violated law in selling school property at below market value;

6. 400 parents filed a federal class-action law suit against the district, alleging civil rights violations and financial improprieties;

7. The district is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights;

8. New York State’s Supreme Court has found that the district is in violation of State Education Department special education law and regulations;

9. Judges and police officials indicate that cuts in East Ramapo’s education and extracurricular services, resulting in excessive unstructured time, have led to increases in adolescent arrests and family court appearances;

10. The board moved public comment to the end of board meetings, often near midnight;

11. The district’s lawyer cursed at and threatened to physically fight an East Ramapo honors student;

12. The lawyer’s actions violated the District’s Code of Conduct;

13. Despite parent and student protests, neither the board nor the superintendent responded or addressed the incident;

14. The district’s cuts in funding have reduced the number of advanced placement classes; teachers, counselors, art and music programs, and assistant principals in excess of other Rockland school districts;

15. Former board member Stephen Price resigned in January 2013, citing harassment and intimidation by board members and lack of responses from the superintendent when he requested financial information, and explaining this led to an inability to fulfill his fiduciary responsibilities.

Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, as well as many students, parents and community members, perceive East Ramapo as being in a state of crisis. Crisis cries out for help. Five plus years into this conflict, with no appreciable improvement, East Ramapo needs help. Asking for help is not an indication of weakness. Just the opposite: It’s a sign of strength, intelligence, and realistic resourcefulness.

Recognizing the reality and seriousness of the East Ramapo crisis, in which the wellbeing and future of thousands of public and non-public school children have been placed at risk, Rockland Clergy for Social Justice serves as a rational voice of grassroots leadership from the community, a voice of Christian, Jews and Muslims in the midst of confusion and disarray.

We have submitted a petition signed by more than 1,000 religious people to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate leaders Dean Skelos, Jeff Klein and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, asking for help for the children of East Ramapo. Rockland Clergy for Social Justice asks for New York State to authorize immediate fiscal and administrative oversight of the East Ramapo Central School District concerning expenditures, budgets and financial and administrative policies.

Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV, Ph.D., First Baptist Church Spring Valley
Rabbi Ari Hart, Founder Uri L’Tzedek
Rabbi Adam Baldachin, Montebello Jewish Center
Trustee Azeem Farooki, Islamic Center of Rockland
Pastor Joel Michel, French Speaking Baptist Church, Spring Valley
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill, Orangeburg Jewish Center
Rabbi Michael Churgel, Temple Beth El, Spring Valley
Pastor Matt Poterbin, Grace Point Gospel Fellowship, New City

Please contact Dr. Oscar Cohen with any questions.
 

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Comments

It horrible that a group that defines itself as clergy would use lies to foment and advance hate and discord. You are all an embarrassment and doing great disservice and arm to your congregants (if in fact there are any). You doing just the opposite what Abby clergy person should be doing.

Many are in fact not residents of Rockland, certainly not of East Ramapo and do not have children or flock members who are students in ERSCD.

This group is either a not so thinly veiled hate group or just a group of thugs trying to extort the Jewish ERCSD board.

Consider yourselves under investigation by various human rights, state and federal agencies for your illegal acts.

As you all know, all it takes is an anonymous phone call, legitimacy not required.

It's amazing that you can know so many things and remain know-nothings.

If laws were broken, then obviously that needs to be remediated. However, the statement includes instances of "being investigated", and I would think that civil rights activists should be the last people to ignore the concept of "innocent until proven guilty." Frankly, this entire statement reads like one big "we want maximum spending on schools at taxpayer expense."

But, by far, the most telling line in the statement is the last one. After signing their names to the statement, the clergy write: "Please contact Dr. Oscar Cohen with any questions." Don't contact us.

Also, I don't think Mario Cuomo can help you. Think for just one second, for a change, and you will see why.

Mario? Think for just one second, for a change, and realize it's not Mario, it's Andrew. Come back to 2014, please.

LM, I want you to know that writing "Mario" instead of "Andrew" Cuomo was an editor's error -- mine. Rockland Clergy for Social Justice did not get this wrong; they alerted me to the mistake and I changed it right away. Apologies to all.

For clarification, my comment was directed at the responder, not at RCforSJ. Let me add, I'm just one of many grateful supporters of RCforSJ. They are a much needed voice for public school children in East Ramapo, and they do know exactly what they are doing. Their leader, Dr. Cohen, has been at the forefront of this battle for many years, is very knowledgable, and has earned the respect of many, including myself. East Ramapo public school children are fortunate in having RCforSJ going to battle for them. Thank you for letting me clarify.

You are well meaning, but misguided. You say there is much you don't know. That's certainly true. Perhaps you might exercise some caution before speaking then. But even of the things you think you know, most are wrong. Rabbanim: You are making fools of yourselves.

1. The public school community and the district’s board and school administration are at odds with contempt and bitterness expressed toward one another;
- And you think you are helping with this, how?
2. New York State Education Department has found the district violates special education regulations;
- Yes, but not that this harmed anyone. If anything, everyone seems to agree the District saves precious dollars for education.
3. The board has challenged the state’s findings in court;
- As it has the right to do.
4. The NY State Supreme Court upheld the Commissioner’s finding;
- And the Board has the right to appeal that ruling if it disagrees. So what?
5. The State Education Department and court found that the district violated law in selling school property at below market value;
- No. It found that the District failed to fully consider market value and stopped the sale. So, the District did not sell the school, and there was no impact on the budget.
6. 400 parents filed a federal class-action law suit against the district, alleging civil rights violations and financial improprieties;
- This does not make them right. That's why all but one allegation was thrown out. The lawsuit's costs are the only thing on your list that have actually harmed ERCSD.
7. The district is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights;
- No, it's not.
8. New York State’s Supreme Court has found that the district is in violation of State Education Department special education law and regulations;
- So nice, you needed to say it twice? You know the "Supreme Court" is just the county trial court, right?
9. Judges and police officials indicate that cuts in East Ramapo’s education and extracurricular services, resulting in excessive unstructured time, have led to increases in adolescent arrests and family court appearances;
- This is made up.
10. The board moved public comment to the end of board meetings, often near midnight;
- They have real business to attend to first during meetings.
11. The district’s lawyer cursed at and threatened to physically fight an East Ramapo honors student;
- Unfortunate, but the board is not the lawyer.
12. The lawyer’s actions violated the District’s Code of Conduct;
- That's what its there for.
13. Despite parent and student protests, neither the board nor the superintendent responded or addressed the incident;
- That's very obviously not true.
14. The district’s cuts in funding have reduced the number of advanced placement classes; teachers, counselors, art and music programs, and assistant principals in excess of other Rockland school districts;
- Budget cuts are necessary to address revenue shortfalls. ERCSD is larger and poorer than the other Rockland school districts, and cannot increase taxes because of political opposition. What else should they do?
15. Former board member Stephen Price resigned in January 2013, citing harassment and intimidation by board members and lack of responses from the superintendent when he requested financial information, and explaining this led to an inability to fulfill his fiduciary responsibilities
- What does this have to do with anything?

How would you know about any of this? Do you live in Rockland County? If you did, you would realize that you are the one who has no clue what you are talking about. As a resident of the area, everything in the article is accurate and the children in the public schools in East Ramapo are truly being disregarded and bullied. The system must change! Thank God for this group finally taking the issues to the government and public!

I am a senior and have no children in the district but I care about the children. besides paying my taxes I donate to Peserve Rockland.My children grew up with the best school district in the country an today 30/40 years later it is the worst. WHY? Do I have to spell it out?

I don't have time to go these silly rebuttals point by point I will just hit one. The board is not the lawyer, they hired the lawyer and promised to fire him. If you are just prejudiced against non orthodox Jews say it and stop wasting everyones time.the only reason there have been any conversations lately is because Jewish people have gotten involved on the side of minority children. Now your community needs to attack them

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