The Atlantic 11/17/17: Another Blow to Controversial ER School Board

A Heavy Blow to One of America’s Most Controversial School Boards

A new lawsuit focuses on a district whose governing board is dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews who send their kids to private schools.

Students of the East Ramapo School District hold a sign that reads "Save our schools!"
Students of the East Ramapo School District hold a sign during the One Voice United Rally in Albany, N.Y. Shannon DeCelle / AP
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Updated on November 17, 2017.

As is the case in districts across the country, the racial composition of a school board in the New York City suburb of Ramapo doesn’t look anything like that of the predominantly nonwhite student population it serves. The news Thursday of a lawsuit challenging the district’s school-board election proceedings in attempt to change that might just seem like another effort to challenge the status quo.

But this case is a little different. It’s not just an equity-minded attempt to reform a seemingly flawed policy—it’s also an explosive development of a chaotic tale of cultural collisions and political dissonance that has been simmering for at least a decade.

Read more…

President of Spring Valley NCAAP Speaks of Lawsuit at Nov. 16 NYCLU Press Conference

Willie Trotman, Spring Valley NAACP president, spoke at the NYCLU Press Conference on Nov. 16th announcing a new federal lawsuit against the East Ramapo Central School District. The lawsuit claims East Ramapo school elections violate voting rights and asks for the current system of electing board members to the East Ramapo School Board to be replaced with a ward election system that would give minorities “an equal opportunity” to elect their favored candidates.

New City Patch 11/21/17: NYCLU Suit Seeks Ward System for School Board Elections

Suit Seeks Ward System For East Ramapo School Board Elections

Acting on behalf of the Spring Valley NAACP and several school district residents, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the at-large method of electing members of the East Ramapo Central School District Board of Education. They argue that the system unlawfully denies black and Latino citizens in the district an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Read more…

NY Times 11/16/17: NYCLU Brings Action vs. ER District; School Board Elections Violate Voting Rights

East Ramapo School Elections Violate Voting Rights, Suit Claims

An at-large voting system for electing members to the East Ramapo school board — long dominated by Orthodox Jews whose children attend private yeshivas — has prevented public school parents who are largely black and Latino from electing candidates of their choice, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“What we have in East Ramapo is a common case of disenfranchisement of minority voters in the extreme,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York A.C.L.U. “The system allowed for the white community that does not send its children to public school to hijack the school board.”

Read more…

11/16/17: Press Conference to Announce NYCLU Action vs. ER School District

CONTACT:   NYCLU Press Office, 212.607.3372

THURSDAY: NYCLU Announces Action Against East Ramapo School District

NEW YORK CITY – On Thursday November 16 at 11 a.m. the New York Civil Liberties Union will hold a press conference to announce a new action regarding the East Ramapo Central School District Board of Education.

The East Ramapo School District has been a site of contention for the last 10 years, as school board members have systematically reduced public school resources in order to lower property taxes and shift millions of dollars to private schools. The drastic cuts have led to a precipitous decline in school quality.

What:

Press conference to announce new legal action against the East Ramapo School District Board of Education.

When:

Thursday, November 16 at 11 a.m.

Where:

Offices of the NYCLU at 125 Broad Street, Floor 19, New York City 10004.

Who:

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman

NYCLU Legal Director Art Eisenberg

NYCLU Attorney Perry Grossman

Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman

Affected residents of East Ramapo Central School District

Ultra-Orthodox Newspaper publishes an Oped Criticizing Organizers of YAFFED

On Nov. 13/17 the daily Ultra-orthodox newspaper published an oped article implicitly inciting violence against the organizers of YAFFED, the organization focused on improving the quality of secular education in Yeshivas.  The article equated providing secular education to stabbing a baby, using the term “Rodef” in his analogy, which is an ancient Jewish legal term that justifies killing as a defense.

There are many organizations advocating for better education.  YAFFED is one of these organizations, claiming in part that NY State has “turned a blind eye” to children in some yeshivas who are not learning “general studies”  – subjects most people know as English, Math, Science, and History.  Please visit www.yaffed.org  to learn about its work, sign their petition, contribute to their cause, like their Facebook page, or just send a message of encouragement.

Read the Oped in Hamodia…

 

 

 

Monitor Issues Update on ER Fiscal & Academic Progress 10/11/17

STATE EAST RAMAPO MONITORS PROVIDE UPDATE ON DISTRICT’S CONTINUED ACADEMIC & FISCAL PROGRESS

State Monitors of the East Ramapo Central School District today released a report that found the district is taking actions to improve its financial stability, academic opportunities and outcomes for all students, success for students with disabilities and English language learners, and compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.

“Commissioner Elia worked with the State Monitors, the East Ramapo Central School District and the community to restore full-day kindergarten and elementary arts programs last year and a host of academic programs for this school year,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said. “The work must continue to improve the district’s fiscal and academic health.”

“With the help and guidance of our State Monitors, the East Ramapo Central School District continues to make great strides in improving academics and its financial position,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “With increased education opportunities, improved learning environments and better fiscal oversight, the district is addressing long-standing problems to help all students succeed.”

State Monitor Charles A. Szuberla, Jr. said, “Over the past year, John and I have had dozens of meetings with teachers, parents, administrators and community members. We’ve taken the feedback from these meetings to help the district craft and implement academic and financial changes to address the needs of the school district and community. We will continue to work with the district, the school board and the community to make improvements to provide students with the education they deserve and need to excel in life.”

In the report on the district’s progress, Monitors Charles A. Szuberla, Jr. and Dr. John W. Sipple noted the district collaborated with them and community stakeholders to develop and implement strategic and academic improvement plans. The fiscal improvement plan aligned fiscal resources with strategic academic plan, noted risks and liabilities, identified internal control improvement opportunities and examined long-term fiscal sustainability.

As a result of the work of the district that is included in the plan, the district:

Increased its General Fund unassigned fund balance by $4.3 million as of June 30, 2017 from the previous year;

Restored full-day kindergarten for all students and elementary arts programming using a $3 million grant from New York State;

Provided additional academic opportunities in the 2017-18 budget including:
– offering summer academies in music, computer science, health science, extended school year for K-8 students and interrupted instruction for grades 9 & 10;
– expanding English as a New Language and bilingual instruction;
– adding a STEAM program;
– strengthening special education instruction; and
– increasing teacher supports;

Embarked on a $58 million capital improvement plan to address the district’s most critical infrastructure needs; and

Strengthened its financial management practices, implemented an improved accounting policy and vigorously monitors expenditures.

Both the State Comptroller and Moody’s Investor Services, Inc. recognized the district’s improving fiscal condition. The Comptroller rates and groups districts into one of four fiscal risk categories: Significant Fiscal Stress, Moderate Fiscal Stress, Susceptible Fiscal Stress and No Designation. The Comptroller upgraded the categorization of East Ramapo from significant stress in the prior two years to moderate fiscal stress in January 2017. Moody’s Investor Service upgraded the outlook for the District from negative to stable for general obligation bonds in July 2017. The District’s Baa2 bond rating remains and reflects ongoing weakness in the District’s financial position, despite recent balanced budgets.

In addition to continued focus on improving instruction, the monitors recommended that the district improve transparency and communication with the community regarding the District’s fiscal matters by creating a Budget Advisory Committee and developing regular methods of communicating with the community on the actions the district is taking to improve academically and fiscally. Further, the monitors recommend the district review its nonpublic student textbook loan program and that the board convene a work group to examine nonpublic school transportation. Finally, the monitors recommend the Board of Education work with the monitors to convene community meetings this fall to gather input from the entire community to help inform whether any changes to polling site locations are needed.

Commissioner Elia appointed Mr. Szuberla and reappointed Dr. Sipple as State Monitors in August 2016. Pursuant to legislation enacted in June, Szuberla and Sipple have monitored District operations, including fiscal and operational management and educational programming. They also have provided guidance, recommendations and proposed actions to the District and State Education Department for improvements to ensure that students have access to appropriate programs and services and that the District is on a path to fiscal and programmatic stability.

Lohud 10/11/17: Court Rules ER School Board Breached Open Meetings Law

E. Ramapo breached Open Meetings Law, court says

A May 2014 vote by the East Ramapo school board to ax 20 bus driver positions has been reversed by a state Supreme Court judge who ruled the district breached the Open Meetings Law by discussing the cuts behind closed doors prior to acting.

In an Oct. 5 decision, Judge Rolf Thorsen in New City vacated the district’s motion to eliminate the positions, writing that the school board did not adequately justify why it did not address the layoffs in public.

Read more…

See the Court decision…

Power of Ten Update 9/7/17 re: ER Local Primaries etc.

1) Vote Sept 12

Tuesday September 12 is the Primary Election.

In Spring Valley, Emilia White, Chevon DosReis, and Eustache Clerveaux are running together as The Team You Can Trust.

Each of these three candidates have been part of our struggle for quality education in East Ramapo.

Learn all about the candidates and their campaign at: www.SpringValley2017.com

2) Bus Drivers Get a Reprieve

Three times, elimination of East Ramapo buses and drivers was put on the agenda. Three times, it did not pass. Bus drivers who attended the meeting, fearful of losing their livelihood, left in joy and amazement that their jobs were not outsourced and privatized.

Public school advocate Sabrina Charles Pierre voted three times against this unwise proposal. She deserves our thanks.

3) Education Under Attack

In Israel, A Hasidic Educator faces violent opposition for teaching secular subjects.

In NYC, Mayor DeBlasio is turning a blind eye to deliberate enforced ignorance of tens of thousands of children.

In East Ramapo, thousands of students attend schools that deliberately fail to teach the NY State required curriculum. A large part of the East Ramapo budget goes towards busing and other services that enable this system of enforced ignorance.

Parents and children around the world are fighting for better education. Most face barriers of poverty and lack of resources. Some, including girls in certain neighborhoods in Pakistan and Nigeria, and boys in certain neighborhoods in Israel, NYC and East Ramapo, face opposition from religious zealots and negligence from state educational authorities.

Power of Ten stands in solidarity with YAFFED, an advocacy group committed to improving educational curricula within ultra-Orthodox schools. We believe that every child is entitled to receive the full benefit of education. We believe it is everyone’s responsibility to provide the necessary resources for the next generation to thrive, and everyone’s responsibility to ensure that no child’s education is neglected.

Strong East Ramapo 8/20/17: Summary of Meeting with ER Monitor Chuck Szuberla

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!