BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – A majority of county legislators signed a letter addressed to Governor Andrew Cuomo, requesting his support for state oversight over the beleaguered East Ramapo Central School District.
The letter, which was also sent to state legislators and Commissioner of Education John B. King, endorses the passage of NYS Senate Bill S.3821 and it’s corresponding Assembly Bill A.5355, which would restore between $30 to $40 million in funding to the School District and allow King to appoint a state fiscal monitor to oversee and possibly even wield veto power over the school board.
“These bills are designed to engender collaboration between a State Monitor and East Ramapo officials to improve the operation of the District and rebuild trust in the community,” The letter states. “We applaud Rockland County State Assembly members Ellen C. Jaffee and Kenneth P. Zebrowski Jr. and State Senator David Carlucci, the sponsors of these bills.”
The District has struggled fiscally since the mid-2000s when severe budget cuts instituted by the majority ultra-Orthodox school board drove a wedge between academic leaders and public school families who perceived the changes as a prioritization of private yeshivas over public schools.
Hence, the primary goal of the state bill would be a collaborative five-year plan between the Department of Education and East Ramapo to boost the district’s finances and academics and re-fund programs which had been cut to the bone over the span of a decade.
The plan grew out of an investigation and report on the school district by State Fiscal Monitor Hank Greenberg, who concluded that years of fiscal mismanagement and insensitivity to the needs of public school students had hampered operations and polarized the school district.
Greenberg argued a monitor could provide direction for the School Board by overseeing and reporting on administrative and educational activities, accessing records and conducting studies and overriding Board decisions as a last resort. The report, though criticized by the School Board for ignoring the impact of perceived deficiencies in the state’s school funding formula, was widely praised by reform advocates.
Support for oversight from the public has also exploded since the release of the report. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma, Alabama, the Rockland NAACP threw its support behind the state bills.
Likewise, the county legislators explicitly echoed their faith in Greenberg’s conclusions as a blueprint for rectifying the district’s longstanding problems.
“We believe this is a thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-documented report with reforms that will provide transparency in the conduct of school business and will foster collaboration of the entire East Ramapo community to work towards a long-term solution that will address the unique needs of the school district, as well as provide important oversight,” The letter reads.
Signatories to the letter included Nancy Low-Hogan, Harriet Cornell, Michael Grant, Jay Hood Jr., Toney Earl, Aney Paul, Christopher Carey, Lon M. Hofstein, Joseph L. Meyers, Douglas Jobson, John Murphy and Patrick Moroney. A formal legislative vote on a memorializing request for oversight is expected to follow later this year.
Legislators who did not sign the bill included Aron Wieder, Alden Wolfe, Phillip Soskin, Ilan Schoenberger and Frank Sparaco. Though he was not a signatory, Wolfe sent a separate letter to Albany praising the bill’s sponsors and urging state action on the situation in East Ramapo.
Legislator Frank Sparaco also did not provide his signature, likely because he will resign his post in April in the wake of a guilty plea for falsifying petitions to secure the leadership of the Clarkstown Republicans.