Critics of the East Ramapo Board of Education have retained a public interest law firm and are asking the state education commissioner to remove Orthodox and Hasidic board members they say have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to support private religious schools while ignoring the growing needs of students in the public schools.
The New York-based nonprofit organization Advocates for Justice says on behalf of 14 East Ramapo parents and community members, it is calling for the removal of five board members and the appointment of a state monitor to oversee all spending and special education placements at the district.
In a statement released late Tuesday, the group said it was sending the state education commissioner a 52-page document that condemns the East Ramapo school board for improperly placing students with disabilities in private schools, conducting real estate transactions based on faulty appraisals and buying religious text books to loan to religious schools, among other accusations.
“The East Ramapo School Board has repeatedly snubbed the parents, students and teachers of the district,” petitioner Steven White, a frequent critic of the school board whose son is a graduate of the district, said in the statement. “It has never honored the opinions of the users of the public schools. The Board members have abused their authority and then thumbed their noses at the State which gives them their authority.”
The petition addresses school board president Daniel Schwartz, vice president Yehuda Weissmandl, and members Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein and Eliyahu Solomon, and calls on the state education commissioner to bar them from holding future office.
Schwartz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Friedman defended the board’s actions and said the petition would drive up the district’s legal fees and subsequently “hurt children” by taking money away from them.
“It bothers me that they get up there and they say that they’re there for the children and meanwhile, they’re the ones hurting the children,” Friedman said, referring to White and other vocal opponents of the school board who have filed complaints in the past.
The state Education Department declined comment on the petition today and said it hadn’t received the document as of 2:30 p.m.
According to state education law, the commissioner has the right to remove board members, school superintendents and other “school officers” if they’re found “guilty of any willful violation or neglect of duty.” School officers have the right to legal representation at a hearing before any decision is made.
Board president Schwartz and the other men are part of the seven-member board majority that often represents the interests of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities of the East Ramapo school district. These communities send their children to private schools within the public district and receive text books, transportation, special education and other services provided by the district, which account for millions in East Ramapo’s budget each year.
The petition “emerges from several years of problems and tensions” within the district, as public school parents have become increasingly concerned with the board’s financial decisions, the group said in the statement.
In addition to White, petitioners include two parents, Hiram Rivera and Kim Foskew, who ran unsuccessfully for seats on the school board this spring and the current president of the East Ramapo Parent Teacher Association, Rebecca Montesa.
Source: The Journal News