Community-Backed Candidates Win In East Ramapo; Budget Defeated

NEW YORK -

Voters in East Ramapo decisively elected the three candidates for the school board backed by the Orthodox community, while dealing a defeat to the board by overwhelmingly rejecting a budget that would have raised taxes.

More than 14,000 voters streamed to the polls, returning school board vice president Harry Grossman for second term and ushering in two newcomers — Mark Berkowitz and Joel Freilich.

Grossman received 9,055 votes in unofficial results to defeat challenger Eric Goodwin, who got 4,871 votes. Berkowitz defeated Alexandra Manigo with 9,075 votes, taking the seat of retiring member Moshe Hopstein, with Manigo getting 4,922 votes. Freilich won a vacant seat with 9,441 votes, while opponent Chevon DosReis took 4,470 votes.

Grossman, Berkowitz and Freilech will serve for a three-year term on the nine-member board, which sets education funding in a district home to the Torah centers of Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square.

Voters rejected by a lopsided majority the $232.6 million proposed budget, which would have busted the tax cap imposed by the state and raised property taxes by 2.46 percent. The 9,986- to 1,441-vote outcome reflected significant discontent among residents in one of the highest taxed areas of the country.

Turnout was markedly down in areas where opposition to the Orthodox-led board was high, with about a 30-percent decrease from an Assembly primary last year. In Orthodox areas, by contrast, turnout was estimated at 20 percent higher than last time.

The budget rebuff comes despite spirited efforts by the school board and yeshivah activists to get it approved, since it would grant for the first time in years free busing for nonpublic school on 14 days when there is no public school. In robocalls, car announcers and a social media campaign, East Ramapo parents were warned they would have to do what neighboring district do — two weeks of carpooling.

The budget would have raised the average tax bill by $190 — or $70 more than if it would have stayed within the tax cap.

The budget must now be reworked by the board. In a statement, board president Yehuda Weissmandl said that the board will work with interested parties to devise a new budget that can be approved by the voters.

“A school district budget is decided by the voters, the voters have spoken and we respect their decision,” Weissmandl said in a statement Wednesday. “We will now have extensive conversations that will include the monitors over the next couple of days on how to proceed and we will keep the public apprised of any developments.”

The rifts which has divided the district and led to the appointment of a monitor overseeing the board was evident at Tuesday’s election. The opposition Preserve Ramapo group circulated numbers for people to report “election fraud,” and several Orthodox voters reported being subjected to additional scrutiny before they were permitted to cast ballots.

East Ramapo was one of just five out of the 676 school boards around the state to have their spending blueprint rejected by voters on Tuesday. Thirteen districts had budgets that exceeded the state-imposed tax cap of 1.46 percent and required a 60 percent supermajority to pass; 10 of them passed.

Boards can put failed budgets before voters again June 20th or adopt a contingency budget that doesn’t raise taxes.