East Ramapo Candidates Make Their Pitch to “Concerned Citizens”

BY SARA GILBERT

Candidates promise to change controversial school board policies in East Ramapo district

Hiram Rivera makes a case for children and education in East Ramapo at the Chuggin’ Rhino in Pomona.

Gathered at the Chuggin’ Rhino in Pomona from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, Kim Foskew, Hiram Rivera and Joanna Thompson rallied a group of roughly 50 for support in this year’s East Ramapo school board election.

These three candidates were picked by the Concerned Citizens of East Ramapo because they claim to be committed to putting the “children first.”

The goal of the evening was to hear what the candidates stood for, support their campaign and encourage residents to vote for them on Tuesday, May 15.

The Concerned Citizens banned together to change the direction of the current school board because they fear for the value of public education in the district.

Among many other concerns is the 2012-2013 budget, which recommends eliminating kindergarten, music, band, sports, clubs, assistant principals, security personnel, social workers, elementary librarians, classroom teachers, advanced placement classes and more.

“I’d like to see East Ramapo return to its prominence,” said Rivera, who lives in Hillcrest with this wife, Jacqueline, and three children who attend East Ramapo High School and Kakiat Elementary.

Rivera believes that his job working for the New York State Department of Health, where he analyzes contracts in the nonprofit sector, will be helpful if he gets a seat at the school board.

“There are many ways that schools receive funding. We need to analyze where the money is coming from and going to and what it is being utilized for,” he said. “Transparency is key.”

Foskew couldn’t agree more. “After seeing so much taken away from children in the district, I knew I needed to fight,” she said.

Her own two children graduated East Ramapo High and she has worked in the county’s elementary schools for the past 16 years. She said she has watched the decline in education and leadership.

“We’re backpedaling, not moving forward like we should be,” said Foskew. “It breaks my heart to see this.”

She admits that money is part of the problem, and that the current tax-cap and lack of funding makes it more difficult. But “bad things have been building for longer than that,” not just over the past few years, she said.

Cuts to the system are what all school districts are facing these days, but remembering your product (or service) is necessary, said Thompson, who is a current school board member.

“When we’re making cuts we must remember we’re in the business of teaching – the integrity of our product is at stake and we must not lose focus of that,” Thompson said.

A mother of an East Ramapo advanced placement graduate who recently performed at Lincoln Center, Thompson scoffed at the idea of cutting kindergarten, art programs and other key items listed in the budget proposal. “How can we support that? That’ll hurt our children and their education. We need to be reasonable in the cuts we make.”

Introducing the three candidates was Judith Johnson, former assistant secretary of education. “We need all the support we can get,” she said.

Johnson, along with each of the candidates, said their ultimate goal was to restore the level of education at East Ramapo to “what it once was.” Her children, now ages 36 and 41, received a wonderful education and “the quality ought to be the same for all.”

Whoever ends up on the school board “controls the destiny of our children,” she said. “So you want a board who always starts the conversation with asking ‘How are the children?’”

What does the current school board start with now?

“I’m not sure,” she said. “Well, really they just talk money. There used to be a lot of talk about special education. Now, there’s nothing about that.”