Tumultuous Budget in East Ramapo Ends With Quiet Approval

A revised school budget for the upcoming year in East Ramapo passed by a comfortable majority in a voter referendum Tuesday, providing a host of increased benefits for the dwindling public school population and none of the additional busing days for private schools contained in the original proposal.

The $231.6 million budget is a 1.48 percent hike over the previous year, which translates into about a $120 annual property tax increase for the average household. It does not provideadditional 14 days of busing for nonpublic schools which the previous budget did — that plan, which would have busted the state-mandated tax cap, was defeated by voters last month.

Yehuda Weissmandl, president of the school board, acknowledged that “taxes going up are an unfortunate reality,” particularly in Rockland which is one of the most highly-taxed counties in the country.

But he pointed out that expenses have gone up 4.5 percent, far more than the 1.48 percent property tax hike.

“The public school system is a rite of passage in American culture,” he told Hamodia on Wednesday, and the burden of its upkeep falls on all taxpayers, even those who don’t educate their children there — or don’t have school-age children, for that matter.

“It is our way of showing that we appreciate the public school system,” Weissmandl said, “and this is how we show that we participate in it.”

In a statement following the budget’s passage, Weissmandl framed the vote as having come from the new atmosphere of collegiality rather than aggressiveness among the district’s disparate groups.

“The past two years have been a tribute to the willingness of all communities to come together for the benefit of those in our classrooms,” Weissmandl said. “Challenges brought collaboration, dedication and a successful outcome. Today’s vote is another indication of the broad-based support we have earned to continue the progress of academic excellence in our schools.”

The current budget stayed within the cap and was OK’d by a vote of 2,121 for and 1,809 against. This turnout of about 4,000 was a dramatic decrease from last month’s vote, when there was heavy turnout by opponents of the school board. Then more than 14,000 voters streamed to the polls.

Andrew Mandel, a leader of the Strong East Ramapo group which is critical of the Orthodox community, lamented the low turnout in an email to supporters Tuesday night.

“The results also mean we have a ton of work to do,” Mandel wrote. “First of all, voter turnout mirrors the current level of apathy, cynicism and disengagement that many in the community feel. We need to find ways to energize the public about critical votes like this.”

He added that Strong East Ramapo “must try to begin a new chapter of sitting down and discussing differences across the various communities of the district.”

John Sipple, one of three monitors overseeing East Ramapo’s school board, praised the community’s vote in a tweet Wednesday.

“After much effort and support from the non-pub community,” Sipple posted, “the budget passed allowing more forward progress.”