All of our state legislators were united in their demand that a robust and powerful monitor be appointed to oversee the East Ramapo School District with powers to act in the interests of the public schoolchildren in real time. They agreed that the district should get more money for the restoration of public school services once the monitor bill was passed. Money was set aside during the budget process for this very result. It was the opponents of the bill that “left money on the table.”
Lest we allow the victors to re-write history, we must note that it was the Senate Republican majority leadership who refused to even put the Assembly-passed monitor bill to a vote, and only then proposed alternatives. After all, Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, was a co-sponsor of the Assembly-passed bill. The Assembly members did offer a compromise, a compromise that would have severely weakened an appointed state monitor for the district, even on issues of discretion.
Lest we forget that state-appointed fiscal monitor Hank Greenberg, who was more than fair to the board, called for a monitor to have powers broader than to merely identify illegal activity and report it to the appropriate authorities. Greenberg cannot be accused of having “biased views about” the school board. Like all of our state legislators, he too called for more money to the district once a strong monitor was in place.
To the victors
East Ramapo school board President Yehuda Weissmandl wrote that the debate over the monitor legislation had been “tainted by racially and religiously charged rhetoric and by unfounded accusations of discrimination.”
Only a fool would fail to recognize that each side in this debate has its share of these haters. This fact does not relieve either side of the responsibility to do the right thing for the public schoolchildren of the district whose parents did not and, for the vast majority, could not have sent their children to private schools. Private school education in America is a choice — one to be respected but never one to be favored over the needs of public schoolchildren.
Anyone who lived through any part of the Civil Rights movement and anyone who reads the high school history books that are taught in public and private schools all over America knows that the Southern racist segregationists used the very same arguments to justify their deliberate neglect of public education facilities for African American children.
They claimed, correctly, that they were duly elected by the majority of the voters in their states and cities. Therefore, they said that the federal government or the federal courts had no right to countermand the policies of these democratically elected public officials in the Southern states. They provided education to black children claiming that this was within their discretion under the law, but as we know, it was substandard in every way.
How is their argument any different from that made today by East Ramapo’s school board president? Does this mean that the board is motivated by racism? I do not think so. As I heard one board member say within the last year, “I have to answer to those who elected me.” This is not racism; it is merely the age-old attitude that to the victors belong the spoils. But it creates a racist result.
The opponents of the monitor from the beginning used the tactic of accusing anyone who supported the monitor bill of anti-Semitism. As they did this, not one member of the school board could be heard opposing this canard. Just silence and an appeal for “Democracy!”
No need to wait
Going forward, Gov. Andrew Cuomo fought to set aside $250 million to the help private schools with public mandates. I suggest that he allocate $15 million for each of the next three years to East Ramapo to pay for the private school transportation costs now picked up by East Ramapo taxpayers. For years, the East Ramapo School Board has prioritized meeting this transportation mandate over funding the mandated high-quality public school education guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. Let these funds free up others that can then be used to restore the East Ramapo public schools to the high standard they set for decades.
And while we are at it, I suggest that the school board request that the state education department appoint a full-time monitor who will have access to all school board records and decision-making processes and be present at all meetings of the school board, including those held in Executive Session. There is no need to wait until next year as suggested by the East Ramapo board president. Our kids can’t wait another day!
The writer, Bruce Levine, is a Montebello resident, is a former Rockland County Legislature chairman.