East Ramapo budget fails second vote

“East Ramapo once again failed to pass a budget plan at the polls. Tuesday’s vote on a revised spending plan went down by about 2:1. The district now must operate next academic year under a contingency plan that restricts the amount that can be collected by taxpayers and spent by the schools.

East Ramapo’s was one of only seven budget plans that failed statewide among 673 school districts that held votes on May 17. Five were in the Hudson Valley. “By operation of law, the East Ramapo Central School District Board of Education will move to adopt its 2022-23 contingency budget,” Superintendent Clarence Ellis said Wednesday. “Our administration has worked thoughtfully to craft a contingency spending plan that preserves as many core academic programs and supports as possible.”

Facing a ‘fiscal cliff’

East Ramapo in recent years has seen more defeated budgets at the polls than any other district in the state. It has frequently operated under contingency plans that require freezing the tax levy at the previous year’s level. Earlier this year, the New York State Comptroller classified the district as the “most fiscally stressed” in the state.

East Ramapo’s revised 2022-23 budget proposal of $258,944,880 carried a 1.63% tax levy hike. 

The original spending plan proposed a 3.9% tax levy hike. More than 70% of voters in the district that covers the greater Spring Valley area rejected that plan on May 17. Turnout was low for both votes: 4,354 voted on May 17 and 3,223 on June 21, according to district records.

In both budget votes, a large number of votes against the spending plan were seen primarily in the wards with a larger Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish presence. The district is represented by a nine-board seat, with each trustee elected to represent a specific ward. The unusual structure was ordered after a successful federal voting rights court challenge by the Spring Valley NAACP and NYCLU.About three-quarters of the school-age children in the district attend private schools, mostly yeshivas; around 9,300 children attend public schools in East Ramapo, and most are Black or Latino. About 86% of public school children are considered economically disadvantaged, as are a majority of the children whose families use yeshivas.

State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, whose district includes part of East Ramapo, decried the spending plan’s failure and the potential fallout.

“We cannot allow this school district to be systematically starved of necessary funding,” the West Nyack Democrat said. “If there are going to be cuts due to failed budgets, we must ensure that those cuts don’t just fall on the backs of public school students but also are shared equitably by the entire educational community.”

Zebrowski said the district’s “bloated” transportation system needs to be addressed. “We can’t allow critical opportunities for Black and Brown students to be on the chopping block while the district provides an extravagant ‘Cadillac’ door-to-door busing system” at some nonpublic schools. The state mandates that districts provide transportation for students who attend private schools. East Ramapo’s transportation costs climb each year. “

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