Accountability New York Race

Tisch and Sciarra: Time for a Fiscal Monitor to Save the Public School Children of East Ramapo, New York

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Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, have written an excellent opinion piece about why the East Ramapo school board needs a state fiscal monitor. Frankly, in light of the facts they lay out, they make a good case for a state takeover of the district.

They write:

East Ramapo is a divided community. Of the roughly 32,000 school-age children enrolled in schools in the district, about 24,000 attend private schools, nearly all of them Orthodox Jewish yeshivas. Of the more than 8,000 children in the public schools, 43 percent are African-American and 46 percent are Latino; 83 percent are poor and 27 percent are English-language learners.

The East Ramapo school board, dominated by private-school parents since 2005, has utterly failed them. Faced with a fiscal and educational crisis, the State Education Department last June appointed a former federal prosecutor, Henry M. Greenberg, to investigate the district’s finances.

Mr. Greenberg’s report, released in November, documented the impact of the board’s gross mismanagement and neglect. Since 2009, the board has eliminated hundreds of staff members, including over 100 teachers, dozens of teaching assistants, guidance counselors and social workers, and many key administrators. Full-day kindergarten, and high-school electives have been eliminated or scaled back. Music, athletics, professional development and extracurricular activities were cut.

The Greenberg report also detailed dismal outcomes for East Ramapo students. In 2013-14, only 14 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 were proficient in English Language Arts, and only 15 percent were proficient in math, according to the most recent statistics from the State Education Department. The graduation rate, 64 percent, is far below the state average of 76 percent.

While slashing resources in its public schools, the school board vastly increased public spending on private schools. The cost of transporting children, including gender-segregated busing, rose to $27.3 million in 2013-14 from $22 million in 2009-10, a 24 percent increase. Public spending on private school placement for special education students grew by 33 percent between 2010-11 and 2013-14, and the district placed students in private schools when appropriate spaces were available in public ones.

The report also exposed disturbing practices by board members. The board conducts 60 to 70 percent of its meetings in closed-door executive session. It does not tolerate, and is overtly hostile to, the complaints of public school parents, students and community members. Public protests against the board are now commonplace.

There is now a bill that has been introduced in the legislature to enable the appointment of a fiscal monitor to make sure that the children in public schools in East Ramapo to ensure that public money is spent appropriately in the best interests of the children in the district.

Critics of the legislation have said that those who want to limit and supervise the East Ramapo school board are anti-Semitic. This is ridiculous. The authors say that the legislation is not about acting against the interests of one group, but “acting to make sure that the civil rights of a community of overwhelmingly low-income minority children are not denied and that their constitutional right to a sound basic education is enforced.”

The legislature must act by June 17, when the session ends, or nothing will happen, and the minority children in the East Ramapo district will continue to be denied their right to equal opportunity in education.

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