In Defense of the East Ramapo Central School District
Mon, 05/12/2014
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I write in response to the Opinion essay by Rabbi Ari Hart, of Uri L'Tzedek, regarding the Board of Education’s handling of the fiscal crisis and political turmoil within the East Ramapo Central School District.  I welcome Rabbi Hart's interest in our District.  Unfortunately, his piece is riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations, and seems unlikely to foster the dialogue he purports to seek.

For example, Rabbi Hart suggests that various state and federal agencies are "deeply troubled" by the board's management of the district, and implies that he is privy to their secret findings of wrongdoing.  This is untrue.  Despite the accusations of fraud and misappropriation leveled at the district's leadership, no investigation has revealed any misconduct or malfeasance by any member of the board.  It is deliberately misleading and morally offensive for Rabbi Hart to intimate otherwise.

Rabbi Hart's portrayal of the district's funding is also deeply flawed.  Even if it were true that the district receives an average of $5800 in aid per public school student --and it is not -- the fact that any aid is distributed on a "per public student" basis is the very crux of the problem.  Our district has 9,000 public students, and more than 21,000 private students.  The math is simple. Any aid calculation that looks only to the number of public school students -- recognizing that funding must be used to serve both public and private students -- is profoundly unfair and inadequate for our unique demographic.

Rabbi Hart virtually ignores these issues.  Instead, he challenges my board with a remarkably simplistic "thought experiment," in which he asks us to consider how we might feel if members of the "public school" community controlled a private yeshiva.  Here, Rabbi Hart crosses the line from masquerading as a concerned community activist and exposes himself to be a biased, agenda-driven ideologue.   While he says he is seeking to bridge divides, his patronizing tone and condescension to the district's elected officials belie that claim.  And while he claims to serve as an honest broker in a very contentious communal divide, he chooses to make selective references to several unconnected events which are the direct result of ongoing communal tension, but have nothing to do with the board’s educational policies, activities and decisions.

What makes Rabbi Hart’s "thought experiment" so pernicious, however, is his deliberate and calculated perpetuation of the false public community/private community dichotomy, which casts the chasidic and Orthodox communities as unwelcome invaders, with no legitimate interest or right to participate in school district politics.  I categorically reject that position.  East Ramapo is our home.  East Ramapo is our school district.  We pay taxes in East Ramapo, and our children are entitled to educational services just like every other child in our district.

The non-paying, public service, volunteer job of a school board member is complex.  Running the district's public schools is only one of the board's responsibilities.  We also are responsible for providing bussing to the dozens of private schools in the district, providing Title I, Title II, and Title III remedial education services to private school students, purchasing and loaning over 84,0000 textbooks per year for private school students, and for identifying, assessing, and providing appropriate special education services to disabled students from the private school communities.  In a district like ours, where more than two-thirds of the students attend private schools, the parents of private school students -- who support the system with their tax dollars -- have just as much interest in maintaining a fiscally sound, efficiently operated public school system as the parents of children who attend public schools.  It is wrong, and undemocratic to argue otherwise.

Frankly, the reason the Orthodox and chasidic communities became engaged in school politics in the first place is that children in the private schools were being denied services to which they were entitled.  The then-existing political establishment was happy to tax our growing communities, so long as we didn’t assert our children's rights or challenge their political dominance.  But that time is over, and it will not return.  Rabbi Hart and those who resent Orthodox and chasidic Jewish participation in democratic politics will just have to get used to

that new reality.  And if they want to change things, their remedy, as always, lies at the ballot box, and not by hurling insults and making false accusations.

No one likes to be accused of stealing from children.  And we will continue to defend ourselves against such hateful accusations.  But I would very much like to lower the temperature in the district, and welcome those who care about all students in our community and who are interested in fostering a more respectful discourse.  Unfortunately, I do not believe that Rabbi Hart’s opinion piece from last week is a step in that direction.

Yehuda Weissmandl is president of the East Ramapo Central School District.

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Comments

So sad what has happened to this former wonderful district. Such a shame. And that's all I have to say, as a Reform Jew.

As an orthodox parent in the district I wish everyone would just get together and send to public schools the way satmar did. This would adjust the state formulated allotment of funds not to mention yielding a free education for those 21,000 students.

The fact is that under the current model the ER school district is in a death spiral. Although the district is unique with 21k to 9k private to public students, the simple fact is if the 21k private students were made up of reform jews, ER would be in a lot better position. The reform household is significantly smaller, therefore a lot more tax revenue would be collected, in this case, at least 10 million more a year. Currently and in the future, the ER school district can not afford the ultra orthodox and hasidim community unless taxes are raised to support their community needs due to the large families. Also, it is wrong to cut public school programs while at the same time increasing money spent on private school students.

The special education committee had no problem with IDEA prior to board interference. The board had an appraisal for $6.8 million in their hands when Avir Yakov made a bid for $3.1, and then they ordered the second (fraudulent) appraisal and voted to accept the yeshiva bid immediately. Does it look like they got what they were asking for? If it was your house, and you had two wildly different appraisals, wouldn't you at least look into why the difference? And if a couple of parents could uncover the fraud on their own time, why didn't the overpaid legal team catch it? They supposedly specialize in real estate, and appraisal fraud is a problem they should know about. So, if you beleive the board had nothiñg to do with the illegal placements or the price of the school sale, perhaps I can Internet you in buying this bridge I am selling in Brooklyn? At the very least, the allegation that Rabbi Hart is acting based on no evidence is totally disproven. You cannot say that about the allegations against the board.

This is very interesting Mr. Steven, and you should also probably write something for Jewish Week like Mr. Yehuda so that you too can be heard. But I must remind you what you asked "Is it true that "no investigation has revealed misconduct?" The answer to your question is still yes I think, it is true. I do not see any "allegation that Rabbi Hart is acting based on no evidence" by Mr. Yehuda, but do agree that if such allegation was ever made it would be not true.

Hot air ... an embarrassment.

Agree with Anon 21:29. Not acting on axing this attorney removes all credibility to any action this Board takes. Deal with issues, not personal attacks. Question Mr. Weissmandl, why isn't the Board front and center on this issue instead of the inciters Wieder and Gestetner?

The late Senator Daniel Moynihan liked to say "you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." Is it true that "no investigation has revealed misconduct"? The State Education Department said "East Ramapo CSD is in violation of 8 NYCRR Sec 200.4(e)" and "East Ramapo's practices demonstrate a clear intent and pattern to circumvent IDEA" The notice was required to be posted on the district's website for 60 days, but is still available here: http://poweroften.us/fact-sheet/highlights/3rd-notice-of-spec-ed-violations/
Also, In reversing the sale of Hillcrest, the commisioner of Education found: "I am constrained to find that the board abused its discretion by hastily approving the sale of Hillcrest" and the appraiser who was hired by the board has been indicted for appraisal fraud.
Also, Aid to East Ramapo and other districts is available on the NYSED website: http://www.oms.nysed.gov/faru/Profiles/profiles_cover.html
East Ramapo gets more aid than other Rockland districts, DOUBLE what Clarkstown gets, TRIPLE what Ramapo Central gets, and 50% more than Haverstraw. The main reason East Ramapo gets so much more aid is that the formula ALREADY DOES take into account non-public school attendance and poverty, however it CANNOT treat non-public students the same as public students because the district is not educating those students: http://www.oms.nysed.gov/faru/Primer/primer_cover.html

I read the Education Department notice on your helpful website, and it does not say any misconduct by any member of the Board of Education. I also read the document about the Hillcrest school (which you did not make a link to, but there is a link on your site, which is very thorough and I thank you). It looks like the Board almost got cheated by a dirty appraiser, who you say was already indicted. That's good, a criminal should be punished. But the Board was not indicted, right? The Commissioner stopped the sale in time, so he did a good job, and the oversight worked. Nobody's perfect, but that's not the same thing as saying the Board did something wrong. He says no investigation “has revealed any misconduct or malfeasance by any member of the board.” So, from what you posted at least, yes I think what he says is true.

You say " the board almost got cheated" , do you understand that the board is just using tax payer money? Your readimg comprehension skills are very suspect.

I'm sorry, your reply does not make sense. What is your criticism?

Since you want to lower the temperature and stop the hateful rhetoric how about you start by keeping your promise to the tax payer and get the lawyer we pay, again we as tax payer pay, who verbally attacked students and parents in such a disgusting manner out. Then you can speak till then you need to stop hurling insults at Rabbi. You and the board have a record and it's very clear.

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