Ramapo Yeshivos Assess Impact of Monitor’s ‘Shocking’ Report

ALBANY -

Yeshivos in the school district encompassing Monsey and New Square gathered Tuesday evening to assess a state appointed monitor’s unexpected call for New York to appoint an overseer with power to veto the elected school board’s decisions.

In a letter written on Tuesday to Monsey residents, Aron Wieder, the Rockland County majority leader and a former chairman of the besieged East Ramapo school board, urged community members to show their support at the meeting at Ramapo High School.

“Our community is under attack,” the letter began starkly. “Your daily life hasn’t been noticeably impacted, but that is very likely to change. Yesterday, your children were attacked.”

The meeting comes a day after former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott submitted his report to the New York state’s Board of Regents, which unanimously approved its recommendations.

Yeshivos were “in total shock,” a Ramapo yeshivah official told Hamodia on Monday. They felt that a committee they cooperated with “stabbed them in the back” with the list of 19 recommendations.

“There is total shock in yeshivos,” he said. “I think that even a guy like Walcott who was good for yeshivos in New York City just gets poisoned when entering East Ramapo.”

The report, submitted on Monday by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who headed the three-member panel, is also calling for yeshivah busing to combine boys’ and girls’ routes in the East Ramapo school district.

Yeshivah advocates struggled to understand how Wolcott, the monitor who was appointed by the state education department, could find no wrongdoing with the school board yet call for state oversight.

“He actually praised the current board and its president [Yehuda] Weissmandel,” Wieder wrote in his letter. “Yet, he inexplicably called for a monitor with veto power! The bogus reason he gave is that we don’t know who the next school board will be. This is totally unacceptable and we can no longer remain silent.”

Weissmandl said in a statement that the board was “surprised” at the main recommendation that a veto-empowered monitor oversee the board. He said that frequent meetings with Walcott since the appointment in the summer had led him to believe that Walcott “spoke to these very issues and seemed intent on avoiding a repeat of the past.

“The final report to the Regents, however, went in a different direction,” Weissmandl said.

Local media outlets, even those considered hostile to the Orthodox-led school board, were also incredulous at the findings.

After Monday’s meeting, state monitor John Sipple told Adrienna Sanders, a reporter for the Journal News, that he has “found no fraud” in the distribution of funds in East Ramapo.

“People can disagree about the appropriate use of funds, but I didn’t see anything that crossed the line into fraud,” Sipple said.

Lohud included that quote in an editorial Monday, saying that “it’s important to note that Sipple and his colleagues did not mention any large-scale misappropriation of funds or potential criminal wrongdoing in East Ramapo.”

Walcott’s panel made a total of 19 recommendations on how to improve the district’s schools. The most far-reaching one, though, will need the approval of the legislature. While the Democratic Assembly earlier this year passed a bill to impose an outside monitor, the Republican Senate did not go along.

Walcott said he was hopeful the Senate would agree after viewing his report.

“We are serious about working with the board and SED and pursuing the legislation that’s required,” Walcott told the board. “We think as a result of this package, the district will be a lot healthier in serving the students of the district.”

The panel recommended 18 additional reforms, including an independent election monitor for school board elections, increasing state aid by about $15 million a year and ensuring that at least one public-school parent serves on the school board.

The proposal that will most likely impact yeshivos calls for ending “gender-segregated buses.”

The report inexplicably contends that East Ramapo, which buses more children to school than any other in the state outside New York City, spends “slightly below average” of other districts on busing per pupil.

However, according to the yeshivah official, yeshivos only get about $450 per pupil, while nearby districts get an average of $1,400 per student.

“How would you call that ‘slightly below average?’” he questioned. “It’s just unbelievable.”

The East Ramapo school board represents the district, which is mostly Orthodox Jews. About two-thirds of the district’s 32,000 students attend yeshivos.

“Based on the findings,” OJPAC, a group which advocates for Jewish interests said in a statement, “it appears that a veto-powered monitor to be appointed for East Ramapo is not meant to stop fraud, because no fraud by the current board members has been found. The un-American monitor is not about oversight, because East Ramapo is already overseen by three state agencies. The un-American monitor is not about programs that have been cut, because — according to the report — the cuts are primarily a result of $15 million in annual underfunding by the state.”

“The un-American monitor however is to interfere with discretionary decisions made by a democratically-elected board whose majority members are Orthodox Jewish. The un-American monitor is meant to nullify the elections in which the Orthodox Jewish voters have a clear say.”