State oversight should be focused on repairing past damage rather than contributing to it.
The New York State Board of Regents sought to protect public schools in East Ramapo by advocating for state oversight. It’s therefore shocking to see State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia use that power to cut a sweet deal for the school board president and yeshivas, leaving the public to pay for it.
The budget proposal approved by the commissioner holds public school advocates hostage by voiding their state rebate checks and requiring a double dose of school taxes to restore 14 days of non-mandated, non-public transportation in exchange for a moderate increase in public school services compared with what has been lost.
This quid-pro-quo decision not only flies in the face of the law, which requires the commissioner to expand educational programming “to the greatest extent possible” given the district’s history of slashed services, but also of her own logic. Commissioner Elia recognized just a week earlier that prioritizing even five days of non-mandated transportation would be highly inappropriate in the academically and financially struggling East Ramapo district. So, how is adding a mere $1.5 million to the tax base through a tax-cap override meaningful enough to reverse her decision?
Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman called this plan “deceptive and prejudicial,” and this entire dynamic with the state indeed suddenly feels far from neutral. On April 21, the commissioner saw the school board demonstrate a lack of good faith by hiding their intent to fund five days of non-mandated transportation. A week later, she rewarded this behavior, all the while failing to regulate the lack of secular education in some of the schools to which she is using these funds to send children. By quickly meeting behind closed doors with the school board president, shutting out and then ignoring public school advocates — not to mention the cautions of our state lawmakers, who arranged for her expanded power in the first place — she has eroded our trust. By putting busing on the ballot, which is catnip to private-school voters, she is interfering with efforts to win back public school representation on the school board. The monitors were not even present the evening of this critical vote, when board member Sabrina Charles-Pierre had not been given the 18-page budget until after the meeting had begun. I was stunned when the State Education Department dared to call this arrangement a “compromise,” since that term implies that multiple sides participated in a negotiation. This was strictly unilateral.
When several of our public schools don’t have so much as a librarian, when less than 20 percent of elementary school students are proficient, when the first year of state oversight should be focused on repairing past damage rather than contributing to it, the voters of East Ramapo should not be asked to pay for non-mandated, non-public services. It is meaningless to claim that this measure means future public school benefits because there are never year-to-year guarantees in total school aid. Many who always vote for the budget will vote “no” this year, too burned to be either charmed or strong-armed. How could the commissioner orchestrate a scheme unacceptable to the very people her power was intended to help?
As a result, on behalf of the Spring Valley NAACP, Padres Unidos, the Power of Ten, East Ramapo Underground, Strong East Ramapo, Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Emilia White, and school board candidates Alexandra Manigo, Eric Goodwin and Chevon Dos Reis, I call the Board of Regents to issue a vote of no confidence in the commissioner. Her rash, one-sided and contradictory actions have taken us inexcusably backwards.
The writer is co-founder, Strong East Ramapo.