Strong East Ramapo 5/1/17: Commissioner Elia Approves Revised ER Schools Budget

BREAKING NEWS: Elia Approves Revised Budget

 May 1/17
Hello everyone,
Despite the strong objections of the NAACP, our three state lawmakers, and many public school advocates who called and sent passionate e-mails, State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia has just given her approval to the East Ramapo budget that calls for a tax-cap override, which will now go to voters on May 16.
Her letter (attached) emphasizes that 62% of the $3.7 million in total tax increases will benefit public school students in 2017-18 (and 89% of it will in 2018-19), including 12 new teachers, more aides, teacher collaboration and more after school and summer programming. (This is in addition to the $3 million of state aid that will continue to fund full-day kindergarten and some elementary arts programs.) However, it will also mean 14 days of non-mandated non-public transportation, which will require collecting additional taxes and forfeiting people’s state tax rebate for going beyond the cap. This move, when public school programs have not yet been fully restored, seems to contradict state law — which we will be investigating.

Meanwhile, given that so many people are contemplating voting down such a budget, we are strongly advocating that the ballot give voters two separate propositions: (1) to support the budget without the tax cap override and (2) to ALSO support the tax-cap override. That allows those people who do not want to accept the override to vote against it while still voicing their support of the rest of the budget. This is an established practice in other districts. PLEASE plan on attending the budget hearing on Monday, May 8 at district headquarters to raise your voice!

Andrew

May 16: School Board Election
website: www.strongeastramapo.org
facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/strongeastramapo
twitter: StrongERamapo

Power of Ten 4/30/17: ER Politicians Oppose Busing for Non-mandated Schools

Power of Ten Update

April 30/17

Special Edition:

Once again, apologies for the technical difficulties with the Power of Ten website over the past few days.

The site is now up and running again, and the petition is live.  Please sign and share.

All of East Ramapo’s State representatives (Assembly Members Ellen Jaffee and Ken Zebrowski, Senator David Carlucci) have now come out calling on NYSED to block any budget that includes funding non-mandated busing for non-public schools. Perhaps Assembly Member Zebrowski said it most succinctly: “The district must ensure that all public school programs are fully restored and adequately funded before considering expanding non-mandated services”.

Also in opposition to the proposed budget are the Journal News and the NAACP.

Steven White – editor of The Power of Ten

Journal News 4/28/17: ER School Approves Busting of Tax Cap for Budget

East Ramapo’s tax-cap busting calculation: Editorial

The East Ramapo school district’s proposed 2017-2018 budget plan would break the state’s tax cap and provide 14 days of non-mandated busing to private schools.

School leaders are banking on strong support from parents who want more private-school busing. But at what cost?

If you thought an added state role in the East Ramapo school district could restore public-school confidence and priorities in the district, think again. The district’s 2017-18 budget plan — newly revised after the state education commissioner sharply rejected an earlier proposal — contains a huge lure for the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities that send their children to private yeshivas: a big boost to busing. The new budget plan also adds some more extra-curricular programs for public schools.

But it busts the property tax levy cap to do it. The district’s budget plan would hike taxes 2.49 percent, a full percentage point over the cap.

Read more…

Strong East Ramapo 4/27/17: ER Board Proposes Overriding the Tax Cap

Overriding the Tax Cap

April 27/17

Hi everyone,

Last night, the East Ramapo board was expected to revise the district budget by reallocating $505,000 that had been planned for private school transportation and putting it toward public school programs instead. The board did add five high school teachers to the budget — but there was a twist.

In what appears to be a way to convince private school voters to vote for the school budget, the board is now proposing what they have always said was unthinkable: an override of the state’s tax cap (of 1%, an additional $1.5 million) in order to add 14 days of non-mandated busing for non-public schools. Due to significant state reimbursements for transportation, Dr. Wortham is saying there will be $1 million for additional public school programming in 2018-19.

Overriding the tax cap requires a 60% super-majority of voters, which may be difficult given that public school families will not be keen on subsidizing private school busing when public school children still aren’t getting everything they need — and given that private school families have historically been uninterested in a tax increase, since they are already paying private school tuition. The district is gambling that public school families will want the rest of the budget to pass, and that private school families will approve the budget to get what they’ve always wanted. In particular, I imagine that including busing on the ballot would motivate private school families to come to the polls, affecting the election of new board members.

But first this budget must be approved by State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who has been charged by law with ensuring the budget, “to the greatest extent possible, expands educational programming for students including but not limited to extracurricular activities, course offerings, non-mandated support services, non-mandated art and music classes, programs.” Approving a budget with a tax cap increase so that non-public school students can get busing on days when public schools are not in session does not appear to fit that bill. But maybe she will argue that this deal helps public school students “to the greatest extent [politically] possible.” She apparently met with the superintendent and the board president on Tuesday to discuss revisions to the budget, but she has not officially rendered an approval.

Dr. Wortham reiterated what the monitors have said in the past about a tax cap override: since so many East Ramapo budgets have not passed in the past several years, residents have not seen their tax increases at nearly the same rate as the rest of Rockland, making a tax cap override inevitable at some point. This increase, she is asserting, would start to beef up the local share of the school budget to where it really should have been.

I have been told that the school board meeting that had planned for May 2 is now going to be on Monday, May 8. We should know the Commissioner’s official opinion by then. I will be speaking with a number of advocates and officials today, and I’ll keep you posted on what I learn.

Andrew

May 16: School Board Election
website: www.strongeastramapo.org
facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/strongeastramapo
twitter: StrongERamapo

 

Strong East Ramapo 4/26/17: ER Budget Drama & Board Meeting

Budget Drama + Meeting Tonight

April 26/17

Hi there,

The East Ramapo School District has called another budget meeting for TONIGHT (Wednesday) at 7:30 p.m. at 105 S. Madison, presumably to authorize a revised budget for the State Commissioner of Education.

As if on cue, Kalman Weber has written in the religious Hamodia newspaper that non-public school parents are “left with no choice” but to defeat the district budget on May 16.

Why? Weber, the “president of the South East Ramapo Taxpayers Association” who issues some statement about the district roughly once a year, wants non-mandated busing for non-public schools. So, he appears to be retroactively protesting the law passed in June 2016 that required the Commissioner of Education to ensure that the East Ramapo budget increase services for public school services after years of deprivation.

Weber paints the religious community as generous benefactors of public school students who “made sure” that the $60 million bond passed (by not voting, presumably, since turnout was quite low). Yet in addition to misleading the public about the cost of the extra busing (this year’s cost would be $500,000), and in addition to ignoring the mandated services that East Ramapo students still lack, he somehow skips the part of the story where the board FAILED TO TELL Commissioner Elia — who is a “she,” Kalman, not a “he” — they were planning to use funds for non-mandated transportation. If Kalman wants to blame anyone, it should be the board for appearing to deceive Albany, which presumably is going to be even more vigilant now after seeing this shell game up close.

But I am not surprised readers of Hamodia are confused. Last June, when our oversight bill granting the Commissioner approval power over our entire budget, Hamodia wrote this article (http://hamodia.com/…/lawmakers-pass-east-ramapo-deal-endin…/): “Elia will have authority to offer recommendations on the $3 million, not the entire school budget. And the school board, whose majority of Orthodox Jews represents the district’s make-up, can override her.” This was simply not accurate, but perhaps it made the paper’s readers feel better about the decision at the time.

So, now, Weber is urging people to deny the children of East Ramapo critical services, even though his real beef is with the State Education Department after this arrangement had been supported by the school board itself. It’s ironic that he feels “disenfranchised” when public school parents have a school board that makes decisions every day that do not represent their interests. May 16 is shaping up to be an epic day.

Andrew

 

App.Com 4/25/17: Education Law Center says NJ Must Fix Lakewood Schools Budget

SCIARRA: State must fix Lakewood schools budget

The crisis is so acute that the district told Department of Education officials it can’t certify the budget provides Lakewood students a thorough and efficient education.

Lakewood’s budget crisis is nothing new. The district lurches from year to year, making cuts in essential teachers, support staff, programs and services.

The victims of this tragedy are the 6,000 Lakewood public school children. Virtually all are poor and 95 percent are Latino or black. Twenty-seven percent are limited English proficient and 15 percent require special education.

Read more…

Journal News 4/21/17: NYS Education Commissioner Rescinds Approval of ER School Budget

State rescinds approval of East Ramapo school district’s budget

East Ramapo district officials are being told to revise their proposed spending plan for the 2017-18 school year after the state education department discovered the budget would provide busing for private school students on days when public schools are closed.

Although the proposed $231 million budget approved on Wednesday by the school board includes an additional five days of transportation for private school students when district schools are off, state Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia said the budget materials she reviewed and approved two days prior indicated no such increase.

Read more…

4/21/17: Strong East Ramapo Head Andrew Mandel Thanks Commissioner Elia

Hello everyone,
Today, New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia thankfully used the power we fought so hard for her to have and rescinded her approval of the East Ramapo budget. 
In a strongly-worded letter to School Board President Yehuda Weissmandl, Elia said the budget approved yesterday “includes an additional five days of non-mandated transportation for non-public school students when the public schools are closed,” an item that was in none of the materials she reviewed.
Elia wrote she “could not and would not have approved” given the state legislation passed last June that requires her to ensure that the budget, “to the greatest extent possible, expands educational programming for students.” Citing the law, she said the board “shall” make adjustments to the budget and submit it no later than April 28. 
 
I just sent her the following thank-you letter; I encourage you to send your own as emphasis that the law must be enforced. All of the work over years to get the state involved feels very meaningful at this moment.
 
Happy Friday,
Andrew
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Andrew Mandel <akmandel@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 5:33 PM
Subject: Thank you
To: Commissioner <Commissioner@nysed.gov>, Charles Szuberla <Charles.Szuberla@nysed.gov>, regent.johnson@nysed.gov

Dear Commissioner Elia and Monitor Szuberla,

I just read your letter to Board President Yehuda Weissmandl and, for the first time since I learned of the board’s latest moves regarding non-mandated transportation, was able to take a breath.
Thank you for putting your foot down on what was both a flagrant flouting of both the spirit and the letter of the law. To me, your clear and strongly worded letter is exactly the reason we spent two years in Albany working to secure your involvement in the district. My team of volunteers and I have not been working so hard for months to pass a budget that did not maximize the needs of public school students, as the law requires.
 
I hope that we can also count on strong, independent election monitoring on May 16 since it is clear that the board continues to operate as if it is above the law. Chuck has familiarized himself with details of community concerns, and I hope we can ensure integrity in our process.
Thank you,
Dr. Andrew Mandel
Strong East Ramapo

 

4/21/17: Commissioner Elia Rejects 2017-18 Budget for Non-mandated Busing

In a strong letter to School Board President Yehuda Weissmandl, Commissioner Elia said that the 2017-18 school budget approved “includes an additional five days of non-mandated transportation for non-public school students when the public schools are closed,” which was in none of the materials she reviewed.

Commissioner Elia made clear she did not approve the extra five days of non-mandated transportation to non-public schools, ordering the board to make adjustments to the budget and submit it no later than April 28.  She stated that Funds for the five non-mandated days of transportation must be used for public school students’ education.

Below are Commissioner Elia’s and Board President Weissmandl’s letters:

Letter Elia to Weissmandl re budget 04-21-17

Letter Weissmandl to Elia re nonmandated transportation 04-21-17

Strong East Ramapo 4/21/17: 25 Days Left to Board Election

Strong East Ramapo

25 Days Left: Powerful Speeches Wednesday + Door-Knocking Saturday

Hi there,

The election countdown continues with 25 days left! Can you feel the momentum? Group door-knocking continues this Saturday morning (10:30 a.m.) and this Sunday afternoon (2:30 p.m.). Join us in the back parking lot of the Hillcrest Fire House (across from Bravo, on N. Main and Eckerson) for supplies and instructions.

Below you’ll see a report from the NAACP’s Oscar Cohen about the Wednesday forum with Monitor Szuberla, which underscores the importance of our ongoing work. This week’s board meeting included a review of the budget — which I will write about in an upcoming message to you all — but also speeches from folks like Mimi Calhoun, who asked why a Pomona parent, volunteering 2-3 hours a day, three days a week, is the only reason why the school has any type of librarian, and implored the district to hire enough substitute teachers such that specialists for English language learners would not be pulled from their duties to cover for absences. Steve White and Naftuli Moster also spoke powerfully about the need for the district to ensure the secular education of Hasidic boys, who only receive religious instruction past the age of 13.

You also don’t want to miss listening to our candidate, Chevon Dos Reis, relating the unacceptable situation facing her daughter; when students in the high school do not have a teacher or substitute, they check in with a security guard and sit in the cafeteria. She also spoke about the proposed multi-million dollar contract with the Brega Transportation company, with which the county stopped working after its owner was indicted under federal bribery charges.  “I would not take lightly if something were to happen to one of my children while under your care,” she concluded.

We MUST get Chevon and her running mates on this school board.

Thanks, everyone,

Andrew

—-

More than fifty community members attended a forum with State Monitor Chuck Szuberla and District Clerk Cathy Russell Wednesday evening (4/19/17) prior to the ER board meeting.

The board’s approval for five year $27 million transportation contract to Brega Transport subject to May’s budget approval bewildered attendees. Why would the board approve a company whose owner has been indicted over allegations of fraud against BOCES and where, as a result, County Executive Day severed ties with the Brega Transport? Community members were agitated over how a principal of a company could be indicted for fraud in January and the company awarded a multi-million dollar contract in March to transport children. Mr. Szuberla indicated he would look into the matter. He was asked that the decision be retracted until further governmental and board scrutiny and investigation take place. [Candidate Chevon Dos Reis raised this same question to the board hours later.]

Asked about the status of the ER bus depot property, Mr. Szuberla was unclear whether it is or may be put up for lease or sale. He was reminded that East Ramapo’s history shows leased property has always been put up for sale. Community members asked that a moratorium be placed on lease or sale of all district property. Mr. Szuberla asked whether they would prefer doing nothing with the bus depot property at this time, they said, yes.

Allegations of election fraud occurring during past ER elections and fears over the forthcoming May elections were discussed. Dennis Walcott’s concerns over community suspicions of election fraud were cited. Members of the audience cited repeated incident regularly occurring at polls involving voter fraud.

Mr. Szuberla indicated independent inspectors appointed by the commissioner would once again be present. It appears the inspectors appointed last year may not have been prepped regarding specific issues raised by Walcott. Mr. Szuberla agreed to set up a meeting between the independent inspectors and 2-3 community members knowledgeable with past irregularities. Oscar and Steve will follow up.

We recommended that prominent signs, in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Yiddish, be posted at all polls noting lawful and unlawful voting procedures making clear the implications and consequences of voter fraud.

Community members need to be educated regarding election procedures understanding it is their right and obligation: “If you see something, say something” and to know to whom to report improprieties. A “real time” communication system was recommended for individuals to report voting problems.

Audience members raised the concern that notice of or background on non-public school candidates for board seats is made public giving off their stealth appearances at board meetings should they be elected. This pattern does little to help heal the wounds that Greenberg and Walcott indicate drive the community apart. Mr. Szuberla was informed of the May 4 NAACP Candidates’ Night at the Kurtz Center to which all candidates are invited. He indicated he would attempt to promote their participation. Mr. Szuberla and Ms. Russell were asked to clarify criteria re: how the district verified eligibility of candidates. Follow up is needed.