Disillusioned by Tax Hike, East Ramapo Rejects School Budget

MONSEY -

In a sparsely-attended referendum, voters in East Ramapo rejected for the second time Tuesday a school budget that would have raised taxes to pay for extracurricular activities in public schools and added a small amount of free busing for yeshivos.

The $237 million proposed budget was the same one rebuffed by voters in Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square a month ago. It would have raised taxes by 2.7 percent on higher-income earners and added four additional days of free busing for private schools.

According to unofficial results, 3,137 voted to reject the budget while 2,509 voted for it. Districts made up of parents who predominately send to private schools voted no by lopsided margins while areas where public school students lived gave it an equally uneven number of yes votes.

However, nobody can be blamed for the budget’s downfall since voter turnout was dismal in public school strongholds, which regularly brings out 5,000 to 6,000 votes in regular elections.

As opposed to the first election, there was a campaign this time around for voters to reject the tax increases. Others, including school board president Yehuda Weissmandl, have argued that calm has recently returned to the district after years of strife and to reject the budget would throw a delicate relationship into turmoil.

East Ramapo was one of a handful across the state whose voters turned down the school budget in May. Districts are generally allowed one redo of the vote. When residents in East Ramapo again rejected it three weeks ago, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia sanctioned one more referendum, but warned that if it failed the district will revert back to the current budget.

With the budget now off the table, activists are wondering what comes next. Public and private school parents have been at odds in recent years as the pie of state education funds grew smaller. This has been somewhat alleviated these past two years with the state providing an additional $3 million a year directly to the district’s dwindling public schools.

But activists say that it is not enough. In order to achieve parity with other school districts, they say, the state should be giving at least $5 million a year.

“Albany must cough up the money,” said one activist, who asked not to be named.

Mr. Weissmandl will be appointed next week as a member of Ramapo’s governing board, meaning that this is his last term overseeing the budget. He will stay on as a regular board member, though.