This is a response, posted in The Journal News, to Joseph Petlin’s complaint about lawsuits directed at the East Ramapo School Board. Petlin is the Superintendent of Schools in Kiryas Joel.
East Ramapo did not have any problem with legal fees before the school board was taken over by people who favor the interests of the nonpublic schools. One of the first things they did was to get rid of the district’s a longstanding lawyer, Stephen Fromson, and replace him with a law firm charging over twice as much. This law firm worked with the rogue school board to spend public dollars on tuition in private schools. This resulted in citations by the state education department and loss of state funding.
The rogue East Ramapo school board then sued the state education department and lost. I don’t see any comment from Mr. Petlin, who claims his motto is “devote yourself to educating, not litigating,” criticizing the school board for initiating this lawsuit. Nor is there any criticism of all the money spent appealing after they lost. Also not mentioned by Mr. Petlin is the money spent fighting the New York State Attorney General’s investigation into fraud related to the sale of the Hillcrest Elementary School.
In the parent/taxpayer lawsuit, New York Supreme Court Judge Stephen Bucaria found that the school board had authorized spending $2.2 million for legal fees when a reasonable amount would have been $187,000. Contrast this to the settlements that the school board makes with nonpublic schools. It seems that the school board has a double standard regarding pursuing legal actions based on school board members’ personal affinities.
In at least one instance, a complaint filed by a public school parent brought more money into the district. I filed an appeal of the ridiculously low sale price of the Hillcrest Elementary School and the commissioner of education annulled the sale. The school was eventually sold again, still at far below market value, but for $1.7 million more.
There is no doubt that the board’s actions alleged in the parent/taxpayer lawsuit are real. They have already been verified by the state education department in multiple citations and reports. The issue decided by the Appellate Court in a split decision related only to whether children have standing in a technical legal sense. It is disingenuous to argue that plaintiffs should not pursue a claim when their children are harmed because the people that are harming them have access to the funds for the children’s education.
As superintendent of Kiryas Joel school district, Petlin’s position with a school district that receives millions of dollars from East Ramapo for out-of-district placements could possibly factor into his frequent strident defenses of the school board policies.
The writer, a Spring Valley resident, leads the group Power of Ten, which advocates for quality education in East Ramapo.