Response to Grumet East Ramapo LoHud Op Ed

In Reply: East Ramapo can learn from Kiryas Joel split
Joel Petlin 2:09 p.m. EDT April 12, 2016
A plan that creates a new district for East Ramapo public schoolkids would benefit the education of all

TJN 0330 ContributorsBuy Photo
(Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)

Re “State’s inertia fails East Ramapo,” March 24 Community View:

I have personally followed this issue closely, both as an East Ramapo resident for 28 years, and as a Kiryas Joel Public School District administrator for over 24 years. In all of this time it has been made abundantly clear that the creation of the Kiryas Joel School District has indisputably created peace and harmony for the residents of both the Kiryas Joel and Monroe-Woodbury School Districts. For nearly three decades, this solution has allowed both districts to thrive, have adequate resources and the ability to specialize in the areas that each community desires for their district.

VIEW: State’s inertia fails East Ramapo

EAST RAMAPO: Proposal fails to get into state budget​

I truly believe that Monroe-Woodbury’s success in academics, athletics and arts are in no small measure due to the existence of an independent Kiryas Joel School District, where we provide special education, remedial services and transportation to the children of Kiryas Joel’s 24,000 residents. We have separate elections, separate Boards, separate budgets and separate tax bases. I have tremendous respect for the M-W Board and administration and we have successfully worked together on issues of mutual interest, and we continue to do so today.

East Ramapo, on the other hand, has had no partners, not in Albany or locally, to solve their problems. Solutions, namely the removal of the Board, a BOCES takeover or the dissolution of the District and dispersion of the students to the surrounding districts, present their own problems. Let’s look at each of these proposals through the lens of the law and reality:

Education is a key issue in the Lower Hudson Valley.
Education is a key issue in the Lower Hudson Valley. (Photo: ASBURY PARK DESIGN STUDIO)
Numerous laws give the Commissioner the power to remove school board members. If spending down reserves, terminating staff and selling underutilized buildings were grounds for removal, the Commissioner would’ve already acted here and in similar situations throughout the State.
A BOCES takeover sounds appealing until you consider the rights of the individuals to run for school board seats, regardless of religious affiliation, as well as the rights of taxpayers to elect the candidate of their choosing. There are almost 5,000 school board members, equivalent to one-half of the elected officials in NY. Their rights are also worthy of protection – regardless of their faith or to which schools they send their own kids.
While dissolving East Ramapo, is the most intriguing, it presupposes that other neighboring School Districts will actually want the mostly minority students who make up the majority of the public school population. Moreover, it also presupposes that Ramapo Central, Clarkstown and others will welcome the thousands of new Orthodox and Hasidic private school students and taxpaying voters into their districts, at the same time that these families are already moving into those districts at a rapid pace.
I therefore believe that there are two viable solutions to truly help the students of East Ramapo. The short term solution is funding – the State should recognize the unique nature of the District and modify its funding formula. The District needs, and is entitled to, millions of dollars of additional Foundation Aid in order to restore programs, repair buildings and rehire staff affected by layoffs. The State can and should monitor the use of these additional funds to ensure they are used as intended.

The long-term solution to bring educational equity and community harmony to East Ramapo is precisely the KJ plan. But unlike the KJ legislation that was opposed for over a decade, the new School District would be created for the public school community — in an ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse section of the District such as Spring Valley. It would allow for a newly elected Board of Education who could work hand in hand with the East Ramapo School Board on tuition and transportation agreements to ensure fair funding and opportunity for all students.
It is frankly the only solution that truly protects the educational rights of all students, as well as the voting rights of all taxpayers. We owe it to the kids to break the deadlock and bring peace to East Ramapo.

The writer, a New Hempstead resident, is the Kiryas Joel School Superintendent.


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