East Ramapo: Trustee predicts budget failure as district scraps rental to private camps

Trustee Harry Grossman summed up the feeling of voters in his ward: “They want me to care about someone else’s kids, they obviously don’t care about my kids.”

An East Ramapo trustee, citing community resentment that private camps have been axed out of using district property this summer, has warned that the district’s slimmed-down budget plan is already “DOA” when voters weigh the measure May 18.

The $262 million spending plan for 2022-2023 is nearly $10 million lower than the current budget. But the district still faces a financial mess – it has used federal COVID funding to plug a deficit that swelled to $36 million, and faces an end to that funding.

Meanwhile, the state is still considering clawing back $7.8 million in transportation aid because of missed filing deadlines.

So even with a spending decrease, the budget plan carries a 3.9% tax levy hike. At Tuesday’s meeting, Trustee Harry Grossman made clear it was too much.

Recounting the frustration within the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish community over the school district’s decision not to supply space for private summer camps, Grossman said Tuesday that the community feeling was: “They want me to care about someone else’s kids, they obviously don’t care about my kids.” 

Trustee Ashley Leveille and Superintendent Clarence Ellis called Grossman’s comments offensive. Grossman said they weren’t his own. He said he was just sharing the impression of the residents of Ward 7, which he represents. 

As a sometimes heated conversation ensued during Tuesday’s meeting, Leveille walked out, ending a quorum. With Passover starting Friday night, the board had limited time to approve the spending plan by the state’s April 19 deadline.

The board subsequently passed the spending plan during a virtual meeting held Wednesday, 5-0, with little comment and a quick adjournment.

But Tuesday’s bitter exchanges already cast the tone for the upcoming budget vote.

Big fixes set for buildings

The district this year is departing from a longstanding practice of renting out schools for summer camps that serve children in the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities.

The district is undertaking a $90 million facilities upgrade, using federal pandemic aid, that involved repairs to all 14 of its buildings. Because the work has to be completed in two years and the repairs to the dilapidated schools are extensive, district officials say the work has to be done in the summer when children aren’t present. 

Meanwhile, the district is using other federal pandemic funding to run an academic enrichment summer program to catch up public-school kids who fell behind during interrupted in-person learning during the pandemic. Those programs will be housed in the buildings that aren’t undergoing work this summer.”

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