Injecting himself into the hot-button issue for the first time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called for a state monitor over the East Ramapo school district, weeks after both sides of the Rockland County dispute united to ask for his involvement.
Hours later, state education commissioner John King said in a statement that he was appointing Albany attorney Hank Greenberg, a former counsel for Cuomo in the attorney general’s office, to the position.
“The department has been working closely with East to try to address the district’s serious fiscal issues,” King said, “and the appointment of a fiscal monitor is the next step in those efforts.”
The move is perceived as Cuomo taking the position of groups from outside Rockland who are attempting to stir up anti-Orthodox sentiments, two people involved told Hamodia.
The antagonists have claimed that the school board, which covers the heavily Jewish areas of Monsey, New Square and Spring Valley, is controlled by Orthodox Jews who pay for state-mandated private school services such as busing by taking funds meant for public schools.
However, a broad coalition consisting of the Orthodox, Haitian and other communities say that the formula for allocating school aid broke down with East Ramapo’s unique makeup and must be changed.
Oscar Cohen, a NAACP official who has been critical of the school board, said he was pleased the state is finally stepping in.
“That’s what we’ve been asking for,” Cohen said, according to Gannet’s Albany edition. “The district currently is dysfunctional. The governance is dysfunctional. And the children going to the public schools are suffering by massive cuts — and intervention would be a beginning of transparency and perhaps relief.”
The reason why such a poor district ends up with so little state money is simple: The state calculates how much taxes a given district pays, and then divides that by how many students attend public school. In East Ramapo, only 8,500 of the district’s approximately 33,500 students go to public school. Under the current formula, this makes it a wealthy district, since the property taxes of the entire population goes to pay for the relatively small number of students. They have therefore appropriated school funds accordingly, giving them less money.
But there are the other 25,000 students who attend non-public schools, whose parents pay for tuition in addition to property taxes. These students are entitled to buses, textbooks, security and other services.
These past few months, representatives of the Jewish and secular communities have broadly coalesced around a single demand to Cuomo: the skewed formula must be changed.
That demand was repeated on Tuesday by Yossi Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.
“The Attorney General’s office, the Comptroller and the State Education Department already had and have inquiries and reviews of East Ramapo,” Gestetner said in a statement in response to Greenberg’s appointment. “Added government oversight will not bring back the classes, programs and sports that have been cut due to state underfunding. East Ramapo students need added fiscal help by means of formula change.”
Cuomo’s office met last week with the groups opposed to the school board but not with the OJPAC. He is scheduled to come to Rockland on Wednesday for an unrelated press conference.