Midwood Lawmaker Defends Ramapo-Slavery Comparison

BROOKLYN -

A Midwood lawmaker who ruffled some in the Jewish community by comparing budget cuts to the public school system in East Ramapo to slavery defended her stance, saying that she meant to illustrate how it is the civil rights issue of the day.

Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, a Democrat representing a heavily Jewish area of Midwood, responded in an email to a Hamodia article Wednesday about her remarks.

“My comments were not a comparison,” she said, “rather illustrating how laws are changed as time is changed. What was required then to make a child’s education complete is different now.”

Bichotte, a Haitian-American freshman lawmaker, said that cutting English as a Second Language classes, kindergarten, summer school and art and music classes “is a disenfranchisement that will not only impede on a child’s ability to excel but [impedes] that child from its fullest potential in life.”

Bichotte echoed a report widely panned in the community, calling for the state to authorize an overseer at East Ramapo’s school board. She said the state should “change the laws that will bring equity and justice in the same way we did in 1865, 1920, 1954 and in this year of June 2015.”

The years referred to the end of slavery, the year women were granted the right to vote, and when the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Meanwhile, the school board’s president, Yehuda Weissmandl, penned an opinion piece decrying the “animosity and divisiveness” that the report has kindled in the neighborhood.

Writing in Lohud.com, a local Rockland news site, Weissmandl lamented that the goodwill built up over the past few months on both sides was shattered when the state-appointed panel, headed by former New York City school chancellor Dennis Walcott, released their recommendations last week.

“The recommendations now threaten to undermine our positive momentum,” said. “Serious questions are being raised about the monitor process.”

Weissmandl added that the cuts made were necessary and were surgically done.

“The monitors affirmed what we have said over and over again — which is that in the middle of the worst recession in a century, the board was forced to cut non-mandated services, so mandated services [by the state] could be preserved,” he wrote. “No one wanted to do this, but it had to be done.”

Questioning how a monitor with veto power fits into American democracy, Weissmandl said that school board decisions are always controversial, especially in a district such as East Ramapo, where a skewed funding formula gives a poor school system less funds than other areas.

“What they propose to do is penalize the community that elected a majority of our board. This is very troubling. It speaks to the fundamental nature of our democracy.”

“Make no mistake about it: This proposal is contrary to law,” he said. “The state has no right or power to second guess lawful decisions of an elected board or engineer the results of an election to ensure that a preferred class of people obtains political power.

“Think about this in the abstract: What if someone in power suddenly said: From now on, every elected board is going to have a certain percentage of Democrats or Republicans? How about a set number of liberals and conservatives? Or, even more troubling, how about a limit on the number of Protestants, Catholics or Jews? How could any of this be right? How could it be constitutional? Well, it isn’t. And when we all take a moment to reflect, this will be apparent.”