Andrew Mandel of Strong East Ramapo provided the following summary of a meeting between members and Monitor Chuck Szuberla on Aug. 20/ 17:
1. Summary from Meeting With The Monitor: Parents and other concerned community members attended Strong East Ramapo’s virtual question-and-answer forum with Monitor Chuck Szuberla on Monday night. We will be following up with Mr. Szuberla in a month’s time to make good on the pledges he made to the group. Below are highlights, compiled by Carol O’Brien:
— Carole Anderson asked about enrollment projections for the next five years, and Mr. Szuberla said he will get those numbers and share them. The district and the teachers’ union negotiated a high student-teacher ratio, but if we are aware of specific incidents of overcrowding in classrooms, we should name those for him.
— By early fall, Mr. Szuberla said he and Dr. Sipple will be releasing a compendium of research-based responses to questions asked by the public over the past year.
— Teri Mersel questioned the district’s expenditure of monies on a scheduler, a search firm for replacing two principals, and Mr. Fenton, transportation consultant. Mr. Szuberla said he believed the district needs greater transparency about its budget. Specifically, he will advocate for more specific, detailed, line-item budgeting, including the choice to use consultants for particular purposes, in next year’s budget. He wants to see a “user-friendly” version of budget that non-experts can understand.
— Naftuli Moster reiterated his long-standing concern that particular yeshivot are not providing students with a proper, secular education and asked when Mr. Szuberla would investigate these schools. Citing scheduling conflicts and work demands in the past, Mr. Szuberla promised to visit specified yeshivot in September.
— Alexandra Manigo asked about student performance this year — and why the 2017-18 District Comprehensive Improvement Plan indicated the district had met “fewer than 50% of the goals” in the previous year’s plan and that “fewer than 50% of activities were carried out.” Mr. Szuberla said he was not clear yet and needed to review the results so that he could explain this fully.
— Mrs. Manigo also asked about the future of all-day kindergarten and the funding strategy for the future. Mr. Szuberla said the district would need the state’s $3 million again for 2018-19, and the monitors will “argue with all their might to continue that money into the foreseeable future.”
— Kim Foskew shared concerns about how busing will be handled to be ready for the start of the school year with the board postponing its decision about laying off drivers at their last meeting. Mr. Szuberla said he will follow up with the district to make sure there is a plan in place.
— Mrs. Foskew also asked whether the district was moving forward with the plan to cut down on the number of different schools that students attend over the course of their 13 years in public school. Mr. Szuberla said the full timeline for this plan has been somewhat delayed, but the goal is for there to be fewer transitions for students during their school career.
— Chevon Dos Reis asked for the reasoning behind outsourcing busing for public school students — and more generally questioned what role the monitor was actually playing in stopping actions that concerned the public. Mr. Szuberla said the sudden decision to announce the layoff of the bus drivers was a surprise to him, and he said he will see what he can get in terms of more information. He reiterated that the monitors do not have veto power over the district’s decisions, but he did note that the commissioner had to sign off on real estate sales. Maybe there should be additional items that the commissioner should be responsible for authorizing?
— Jean Fields asked why there were so many decisions made without meaningful community engagement. Mr. Szuberla agreed that this has been an issue, and it’s a priority for Commissioner Elia. He and Dr. Sipple will be setting up a number of face-to-face community meetings over the course of the year, and go over prior monitor recommendations and progress. He said that he will be “pushing strongly” for a citizen’s budget committee, as well as increasing the number of polling places based on public input. With the polling places, Mr. Szuberla said he wants to kick off that process right after the start of the school year.
— Eric Goodwin asked about the status of the bus depot. Mr. Szuberla said he told the Commissioner he did not want the depot sold and suggested leasing instead. Mr. Goodwin further asked the condition of the buses and the status of maintenance records. Mr. Szuberla said he’s asked for information as well — and wants more transparency about these decisions put on the district website.
— Steven White expressed concern that school board member Sabrina Charles-Pierre often learns of district decisions as they are being finalized, rather than when they are first being considered. Mr. Szuberla said he would work closely with Ms. Charles-Pierre and make her aware of any district news as soon as he learned of it.
— Carole Anderson concluded by asking for an example of a decision that Mr. Szuberla offered to the board that caused them to change their course of action. Mr. Szuberla said he “could not think of one at this time.” He mentioned there were certainly times they brought up matters to board members, but “those were more cases that they had already made up their minds.” Mrs. Anderson asked, “Doesn’t this show the need for veto power?” Mr. Szuberla said that this was “a discussion I’d like to continue.”
2. Tuesday, September 19: In addition to this Tuesday’s board meeting at the district headquarters at 7:30, mark your calendars for the Strong East Ramapo Back-to-School Strategy Kickoff, now scheduled for Tuesday, September 19 (not Thursday, September 14 as previously announced) at 7 p.m. at the MLK Center in Spring Valley. We’ll be electing officers and establishing committees for this year’s work together to ensure educational excellence and equity for the children of the district. Hope to see you there!