East Ramapo Monitor Asks for State Oversight of School Board

RAMAPO, N.Y. -

In a stinging report accusing the East Ramapo school district of taking money from the public school system to deliver for yeshivos, a state-appointed fiscal monitor wants the state to oversee the school board.

Hank Greenberg said Monday that the Rockland County district’s finances “teeter on the edge of disaster,” asking for a level of state oversight that would be the strongest intervention in a school district in more than a decade.

In an interview with Hamodia three weeks ago, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli denied that the district was in any financial stress. And the Orthodox-majority school board says that they cannot legally remove the services from yeshivos, which are mandated by the state.

However, in a report to the Board of Regents, Greenberg made recommendations for a monitor to override the board and superintendent, saying it was more practical than removing board members.

Greenberg, who was appointed in June by state Education Commissioner John King at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, can highlight what he thinks are discrepancies in the school board’s allocations. But he cannot veto them — a power he is now requesting.

The board is made up mostly of Orthodox Jews whose children attend yeshivah. Most of the students in the public schools are black or Latino. Its president, Yehuda Weissmandl, told the Wall Street Journal it will carefully review the recommendations.

Weissmandl said that various extracurricular activities had to be cut from public schools to pay for state-mandated services in private schools such as busing. But he emphasized that no core services were cut in the public school system.

The long-festering problem stems from an anomaly unique to East Ramapo: the number of households in the district — mostly Orthodox who send to private school — are far greater than the number of children in the public school system.

The district is a poor one, yet it ends up with so little state money because of the way the state calculates the funding formula.

The state rates 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 seem like 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 mandated by the state to buses, textbooks, security and other services.

In recent months, representatives of the Jewish and secular communities have broadly coalesced around a single demand to the state: The skewed formula must be changed.

“They assume — based on our religion alone — that we have stolen from the very children we have been elected to serve,” Weissmandl wrote in a letter to King, the state education commissioner. “This is nothing but hateful bigotry.”