East Ramapo Puts Same Budget Rejected by Voters for Do-over

MONSEY -

The same school budget rejected by East Ramapo voters last week will be put before them for a do-over vote next month.

Residents of Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square last week Tuesday rejected by a narrow margin of 614 votes a proposed $237 million school budget. The spending blueprint would have raised taxes on those earning higher incomes in exchange for four extra days of busing for private schools. It was one of only 2 percent of school budgets that were rejected across the state.

School board president Yehuda Weissmandl proposed at a special meeting Wednesday night that the board put the exact same budget plan up for a vote on June 19. He told Hamodia on Thursday that a careful study of voting patterns last week indicates that it could pass this time if the community understood the details.

“Do we want more? Absolutely,” he said. “Can we achieve with less? Absolutely not.”

The budget goes primarily for the district’s tiny public school population, which likely is the reason most voters who pay private school tuition rejected the 2.7 percent tax increase. The sweetener of extra days of free busing, coupled with the fact that the budget pays for some services to yeshivos such as busing and textbooks, was not enough to get them to vote for it.

The district has 33,500 students, with about 25,000 of them attending private schools, mostly yeshivos. Private schools get busing only on days when public school is in session; for the approximately 11 days when yeshivos have class but not public school, they could choose four days of free busing, according to the plan.

Activists in the Orthodox community said they were disappointed the budget failed since it was the first time they were invited to help craft one.

Weissmandl said that a large segment of the community only voted for the election of three school board candidates who were up for reelection but did not vote at all for the budget. In addition, voter turnout was extremely low.

“On the recommendation of the superintendent,” he said, “the board determined that it was a good choice to put this budget back on the ballot. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job explaining the benefits of this budget to the community and hopefully the community will show up and vote. Essentially, we are saying that we believe in this budget and the children of this district need this budget.”

One drawback was state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who approved the original plan. She said ahead of last week’s vote that if it failed the budget would have to be scrapped. But in a follow-up letter Monday, Elia agreed to give it one more chance.

However, she added in her letter, if the budget failed again on June 19, the district will revert back to the current transportation schedule of zero days of free busing.

“I would normally argue that you can’t do the same thing twice and expect different results,” Weissmandl said. “But in this case we are sending a message to the community that we cannot give up. We have to fight for a quality education for all of our children.”