School Board Preps for $4M in Cuts After East Ramapo Rejects Budget

Stung by a rare double rejection of its budget by voters, the East Ramapo school board prepared Tuesday night to vote on cutting $4 million from its activities while trying to keep intact hard-gained programming and classes in public schools.

Yehuda Weissmandl, the outgoing president of the board, told Hamodia that the school’s superintendent was scheduled to present a plan at the weekly board meeting Tuesday night to divide the cuts as fairly as possible.

“Deborah Wortham, the superintendent, is going to present a three-tiered approach — a third by repaying loans and reducing the amount of interest owed, a third by cuts in administration and various support positions, and a third by dipping into the reserves,” Mr. Weissmandl said. “There are no planned cuts in programs.”

The austere budget comes a week after voters in a sparsely-attended referendum for the second time rejected a $237 million proposed budget. It would have raised taxes by 2.7 percent on higher-income earners to pay for extracurricular activities in public schools while adding four additional days of free busing for yeshivos.

The spending blueprint was the same one rebuffed by voters in Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square a month ago, when East Ramapo was one of a handful of districts across the state to rebuff a school budget.

Mr. Weissmandl will be appointed next month 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 until his three-year term ends next year.

According to unofficial results, 3,137 voted last Tuesday against 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 repeatedly brings out 5,000 to 6,000 votes in regular elections.

As opposed to the first election, voters last week were subjected to a spirited campaign to reject the tax increases. Activists who spoke to Hamodia complained that they are expected to pay more for a dwindling public school population whose own parent body didn’t show up to vote.

Others, including Mr. Weissmandl, argued that calm has recently returned to the district after years of strife. To reject the budget, they said, would throw a delicate relationship into turmoil.

“This is a sad reality that we live in,” Mr. Weissmandl said. “People are just so overwhelmed paying taxes in so many different areas that they are not willing to pay a little extra for something as important as education.”

“The bottom line is,” he added, “we didn’t do a good enough job getting this budget passed and now we are two steps forward and one step back. This is a setback in the progress we were making, but I see this as a bump in the road.”

When the first budget was turned down, 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 extra a year, not $3 million.

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