BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
The much-beleaguered East Ramapo School District received some needed good news this week as voters overwhelmingly approved a $58 million bond. The bond was dedicated to capital improvements to schools throughout the district.
In addition to the capital improvements bond, voters also approved the borrowing of over $1.1 million to replace windows at two elementary schools.
According to State Senator David Carlucci, “The approval of the bond is a major victory for the students of the East Ramapo. In conjunction with legislation passed earlier this year to provide support for monitors on the ground, this bond will ensure that our students have the facilities and equipment they need to succeed…”
The East Ramapo School District has been under scrutiny for many years based upon claims of favoritism and improper spending on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community at the expense of others. The area of the school district is replete with many private, religious schools. By law, the district must provide busing even for those students whom attend private schools.
Public school parents have frequently complained that the cost to bus the private school attendees, as well as other transfers of monies into the private school system, took resources away from need public school programs. Indeed, the classes and extracurriculars available within the East Ramapo School District have been laid barer and barer almost every year. The perception of unfair treatment has been furthered by a majority of Orthodox Jews sitting on the board, even though their own children do not attend the public school system.
The problem festered for many years until reaching a boiling point over the last half decade. Many local politicians became involved in passing legislation to assist the school district and sometimes confront the school board, leading to the state government becoming involved in ensuring fair treatment of public school students. The state commissioner of Education appointed a monitor to oversee the actions by the school board, a move which led to a lawsuit claiming the state had violated home rule.
Currently, Charles Szubera, a retired educator with 29 years experience, acts as the appointed monitor and reports directly to the State Education Commissioner. Szubera replaced Dennis Walcott as the monitor for the school district earlier this year. The state will continue to keep an eye on the actions taken by the school board to make sure all necessary services are provided and no discrimination occurs.
According to state and school board officials, the school district is now pointed in the right direction and will focus on its budgetary issues to try to restore the services that were previously removed. The approval of the $58 million bond may even be perceived by some as an olive branch from the Orthodox voting bloc to the public school community.
By contrast, last year voters in the school district voted down a proposed $40 million dollar capital bond designated to repair ailing buildings in the district.