Lohud 3/25/19: East Ramapo is Desperate for Monies Owed to District by NY State

East Ramapo desperate for Foundation Aid fairness in state budget

New York state legally owes the East Ramapo Central School District $25 million, and now that Democrats control both the legislative and executive branches of government, nothing can excuse a failure to deliver. The money owed is called Foundation Aid.

According to a 2006 decision by our state’s highest court in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, Foundation Aid represents the minimum amount in supplemental funds needed to ensure our public school students receive the sound, basic education they are guaranteed under the state constitution.  For more than a decade, the state’s debt to our public school districts, including East Ramapo, has not been fully paid.

Read more…

Power of Ten 3/4/19: Update on East Ramapo Monitor and Candidates

See below the March 4/19 Power of Ten Report on East Ramapo:

Power of Ten Update
In This Issue:
1. Call for Candidates
2. Monitoring the Monitors

1) Call for Candidates – March 14 Forum.

The school board and budget vote will take place on May 21. Strong East Ramapo will be working hard to get the vote out to pass the budget. Power of Ten will work to identify and assist candidates for the school board positions.

There are certainly many people in East Ramapo who are qualified to serve on the board.

The Center for Public Education says an effective school board member should:

    • inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in the local public schools
    • enhance the mix of skills and backgrounds on the board and help represent the diversity of the community
    • have the commitment to do what is right for all children, even in the face of opposition

Does this sound like someone you know? Or maybe you might be interested yourself?

Those interested in being a candidate should fill in this google form.

We will hold a forum at 7:00 PM on Thursday, March 14 at the MLK Center, 110 Bethune Blvd in Spring Valley for the public to hear from all those who are interested in being candidates.

2) Monitoring the Monitors

We as a community expect a lot from our schools. A job this big requires a plan, and East Ramapo has a plan.

East Ramapo also has a monitor, because the school board has had its own agenda which was not the official plan. The monitors produce reports about the district. The latest report is titled “Continuing Progress“.

Any plan should have goals, and those goals should be measurable. The monitors report describes a plan with four “pillars”. Each pillar has multiple bullet points. The report does not include a checklist as to how well each item has been implemented. Some we already know – for example, full day kindergarten exists. But for the rest there is no “report” in the report. Has the curriculum been “aligned”? Are instructional practices culturally responsive? How many students are and are not participating in the integrated arts?

The report does include a number of accomplishments which have benefited the students over the past three years. These include enhanced services for English language learners, restoration of some special education programs, repairs and improvements to buildings and grounds and restoration of the fund balance. These are areas in which the district had been in violation and has now made improvements to comply with laws and regulations.

While there is no doubt that added and improved programs are improving the lived experiences of the students, there’s still a need for objective measurements of academic achievement to ensure accountability of the district to the community. The monitors note that it’s difficult to assess progress over time due to changes in assessment methods, tests, and graduation requirements. Power of Ten has produced a short video reviewing the assessment measures which goes beyond the methods used by the monitors.

The monitors also reviewed “restorations” of positions which had been eliminated in past years. It is encouraging to know that there has been some increase in essential staff. According to the report, 185.5 out of 506.5 positions that were cut have been restored. There is some fuzzy math, as Music and Art positions are not listed in the cuts, but are counted as restored. The restorations are made possible by increases in state aid. As reported by Power of Ten, state aid increased by $14 million from 2014-2016.

There continues to be inadequate attention by the district and the monitors to the three most vulnerable groups of children. Students with interrupted formal education need wraparound services. There continues to be racial disparity in Pre-Kindergarten enrollment. The biggest non-public schools in the district continue to provide appallingly substandard education. There is no mention in the monitors report of the new state guidelines for non-public schools, how they will be implemented or paid for.

The final section of the report is mildly labelled “concerns”. These include failed budgets, impending financial collapse and massive cuts to essential programs. The monitors plan to address this catastrophe is for the Board and the Superintendent to “reach out to the community to explain how strong public schools can benefit everyone in the community.” This report is titled “Continuing Progress”, but the takeaway for those who read carefully is “Impending Catastrophe”.

There is no mention of the State of New York’s constitutional responsibility to the children. The monitor is the official representative of the State, which is the body that has a legal responsibility. The school board and superintendent’s responsibilities are derivative; their authority and responsibility are delegated to them from the state. Given that the current arrangement is providing so little protection for this vital community resource, it is absolutely necessary for our representatives in Albany to do something NOW, before the next budget fails and the “concerns” of the monitor become reality.

12/10/18 ER School Board President Wieder Attacks NYS Equivalency Guidelines

Thousands of children are getting almost no education in many yeshivas in East Ramapo and other parts of NY.  In response to the updated guidelines on equivalency of education in non-public schools issued by NY State, East Ramapo School Board President Aaron Wider has effectively “declared war” on the State Board of Education.

See a brief video clip at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88AQJUq4Pcw&feature=youtu.be

12/4/18 – YAFFED Announces NYS Release of New Guidelines For Non-Public School Curriculum

YAFFED announced the following on Dec. 4/18:

(see NYS Guidelines here…http://www.nysed.gov/nonpublic-schools/substantial-equivalency

GREAT NEWS!!!

After years of hard work, and with the help of average people like you, New York State felt the pressure building and finally released updated guidelines pertaining to the requirement for nonpublic schools, including Yeshivas, to provide an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.

The new guidelines mince no words, spelling out the subjects that need to be taught and the number of minutes each subject needs to be taught for.

This is far from done since it gives local districts plenty of time to go and inspect all schools before implementing actual changes.
And Yeshiva leaders have vowed to fight this, and have declared “war” against the state.

WE MUST KEEP UP THE PRESSURE TO ENSURE THAT THE NEW GUIDELINES DON’T GET WATERED DOWN IN FUTURE DISCUSSIONS AND THAT LOCAL DISTRICTS COMPLY WITH THEM AND ENFORCE THE STANDARDS IN ALL NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

11/1/18 New Documentary on East Ramapo by Award Winning Film Maker

Outsider is a short documentary that explores how activists are fighting for better education for students of both public schools and private yeshivas, fire officials are fighting the widespread epidemic of illegal housing and over development, and long time residents are reflecting back on how exactly this sudden and drastic change occurred.

It is produced by award-winning New York and Boston based filmmaker Noah Graham, who grew up in Rockland County.

You can be a part of this project by supporting it on Kickstarter.  Here is the link…

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/noahgraham/outsider-a-short-documentary/description

Power Of Ten Update 11/18/18: News on Appointed Monitor, Aid & ER Performance Measures

Power of Ten Special Update:

New East Ramapo Monitor Announced
With the announcement of a new monitor for the East Ramapo school board, it seems to be an appropriate time to review what has been happening in the district.
Notable Accomplishments
The announcement by the state education department about the new monitor contains a review of “notable accomplishments by the district”:
  • improved fund balance and improved reports from auditors and comptroller
  • capital improvement projects underway
  • full-day kindergarten for all students
  • elementary arts programming
The impact of these accomplishments on the lives of children in the district is admirable and should be applauded.
Information about the work of the monitors is available at: https://eastramapomonitorupdate.wordpress.com/
None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the work of hundreds of activists. Students, parents, clergy, education professionals all worked to demand action from Albany. They formed groups such as the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, Save Our Schools, Padres Unidos, and Strong East Ramapo. They’re the ones who caused monitors to be appointed, they’re the ones who caused a new superintendent to be hired, they’re the ones who caused the state to increase aid.
The school board fought these changes tooth and nail, just as they fought the NYS Education Department’s oversight of illegal special education placements and the NY Attorney General’s criminal investigation into fraud in the sale of the Hillcrest elementary school.
Increased State Aid
Increasing educational programming costs money, and the accomplishments that the monitors report could not have been realized without increased state aid. The following table illustrates changes to district revenue from the 2014-15 school year (before the monitor law) to the 2016-17 school year (the latest data available from the state website)
(in millions)
2014
2016
% Change
State
85
99
16%
Local
145
140
– 4%
Federal
22
25
12%
Total Revenue
252
263
4%
Measuring Results
One of the objectives the monitors set for themselves in 2016 was to “set clear performance objectives for students”. It does not seem unreasonable that an organization with a budget of a quarter billion dollars per year, and whose mission is so vital to the community, should be able to demonstrate quantitatively and qualitatively that it’s fulfilling its mission. However, after this one mention in September of 2016, the word “performance” does not appear again in the monitor’s blog.
The statistics available on the state education department web site present a mixed picture:
  • Scores on state tests have been improving overall, with the exception of math scores of Latino students, which have remained flat compared to the state average since 2014.
  • Even after modest improvements, only about one quarter of our students are deemed “proficient” by the state, as compared to about half of students statewide.
Graduation rates are not yet available for the school year ending in 2018; they dropped overall between 2014 and 2017:
  • African American students in East Ramapo graduated at about the same rate as others in New York State.
  • The graduation rate for Latino students has fallen further behind, down to 37 percent in 2017!
Factors which are known to be associated with lower educational outcomes:
  • Elementary class size in East Ramapo is higher than the average in New York State.
  • Children with special needs are less likely to be placed in a regular classroom in East Ramapo than the state average.
  • Children in East Ramapo often lead separate lives from their peers of other races (de facto segregation).
The Most Vulnerable
A public education system cannot be measured only by the achievements and opportunities available to those who excel. It can’t offer math only to those who excel at math or art to those who display talent or gym to those who are physically fit.
There are laws in place which force educational institutions to provide education for all, because there is a long sordid history of educational institutions neglecting students with disabilities, those in need of remedial services, female students and students of color.
There are three groups of students who are the most vulnerable to educational neglect in East Ramapo today. These are: preschool children, students with interrupted formal education, and students in some yeshivas (Jewish private schools).
  • Many preschool children in East Ramapo are not exposed to a modern early childhood development environment. The main barrier is economic. Parents do not earn enough to pay for quality, licensed childcare or for transportation to pre-K programs. The children don’t understand that this is not their fault. The result is that the district will spend years trying to undo the damage to the child’s self-esteem. Knowing the tremendous impact that lack of preschool education is having, the district (and the monitors) should be addressing this issue, starting by stating publicly that it is a problem and proposing plans to address it.
  • Every year, families move into East Ramapo with school age children. Some of these children have experienced difficulty and hardship, including missing school, sometimes for years. The technical term is “students with interrupted formal education”. The district has just as much responsibility to these children as to any other child in the district. The failure of the district to adequately address the special needs of this group is a major factor in the higher dropout rate over the past two years. Many of the dropouts are going to work in the same underground economy as the parents who can’t afford early childhood education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty in our district.
  • Years ago, the administration of the East Ramapo school district made a deal with the operators of some of the yeshivas. The school district would not enforce the state truancy law which requires that all children receive an education regardless of placement, and the yeshiva parents would stay home on school budget day and not vote the public school budget down. This secret arrangement was covered up for decades until some of the children who had attended yeshivas began to realize they had been cheated out of an education. They found themselves unprepared for the job market and unable to provide for their families.
Reading Between the Lines
What do you see between the lines when you read reports from the NYSED monitors? What are they not saying about the most vulnerable? What are they not saying about the governance of a public school system where most children attend private school?
The monitors will either serve the children or they will serve those who profit from the status quo. They do not have veto power over the school board, but you, dear reader, have veto power over the monitors through your elected representatives in Albany.

NYS Board of Regents 11/7/18: Press Release Re: Appointment of Second Monitor for ERCSD

NEWS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   November 7, 2018
 Media Contact:
JP O’Hare or Jeanne Beattie
(518) 474-1201
www.nysed.gov

COMMISSIONER ELIA APPOINTS DR. DENISE LOWE AS SECOND MONITOR FOR THE EAST RAMAPO CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

 Appointment Continues Cooperation Among State, District and Community to Advance Progress Already Made by Monitor Team

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today appointed Dr. Denise Lowe as a State Monitor for the East Ramapo Central School District. Dr. Lowe will coordinate efforts with Mr. Charles Szuberla, a State Monitor in the District since August 2016, to propose actions for improvement to ensure students have access to high-quality instruction, programs and services and oversee District operations.
“Through the efforts of our State Monitors, the school district and the school board, we are starting to see needed improvements in East Ramapo’s academic and fiscal affairs,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “We know our work is not done and the Board of Regents remains committed to ensuring all children of East Ramapo receive the education they deserve to help prepare them for success in life. Dr. Lowe’s expertise in high-need schools and curriculum-driven budgeting  will be invaluable to a district that faces so many challenges.”
“With over two decades of experience as a school leader and nearly five years helping struggling schools and districts, Dr. Lowe has demonstrated an ability to effectively lead, develop staff, implement programs and policies, and adapt supports to meet school and community needs,” said Commissioner Elia. “Dr. Lowe’s background in special education and experience providing technical assistance to Priority and Focus schools will enable her to provide the support and oversight needed in East Ramapo to build on the progress we’ve seen over the past several years.”
“East Ramapo continues to focus on instructional initiatives that offer promising progress for putting students on the path to success,” said Regent Judith Johnson. “Facility repairs and renovations are underway at many schools, kindergarten and arts programming are being restored and, there is new leadership to help ensure English Language Learners and students with disabilities get the supports they need to learn. I look forward to working with Dr. Lowe and to continuing to support the administration’s efforts to set East Ramapo in the direction that gives all students the comprehensive educational resources they need to become successful students.”
Dr. Lowe has extensive experience in top leadership positions and has served as Superintendent at the Asbury Park School District in New Jersey and Assistant Superintendent in Central Islip Central School District in New York State. Dr. Lowe’s 34 years in education also includes roles as an associate at the State Education Department to help schools in needs of assistance, a special education teacher and an adjunct professor. She holds a BA in psychology from Northeastern University, an MA in special education from C.W. Post College, a P.D. in educational administration from C.W. Post College and an Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Columbia University.
Dr. Lowe will report directly to Commissioner Elia and will be a regular presence in the East Ramapo School District. Her responsibilities will include to:
  • monitor district operations in the areas of curriculum and instruction, budgeting, and planning;
  • provide guidance and technical assistance related to educational policies, practice, programs, and decisions of the district, its Board of Education, and superintendent;
  • consult with the district to develop a long-term strategic academic and fiscal improvement plan;
  • provide an annual report to the Commissioner and the Comptroller on contracts that the districts entered throughout the year; and
  • provide regular feedback, progress reports, and updates to the district, SED, and to the Board of Regents upon request.
Monitors Szuberla and Lowe will continue to build on the progress that East Ramapo CSD has made over the past several years and will continue to work with the district, the school board and the community to help address academic and fiscal challenges. Dr. Lowe will replace Dr. John W. Sipple, who has been a State Monitor since 2015.
“Dr. Sipple was instrumental in working with the district to develop a long-range fiscal improvement plan that balanced the budget and funded improved learning opportunities for students,” Commissioner Elia said. “We thank Dr. Sipple for his fiscal expertise and extraordinary efforts to get the district’s finances back on track.”
Working cooperatively with the State Monitors and the School Board, the district has taken 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.
Notable accomplishments by the district in recent years includes that it:
  • ended the 2017-18 school year with a $245,000 surplus and started 2018-19 with a fund balance equal to 3.6 percent of the general fund. (State law allows 4 percent). Further, the district received an unqualified opinion from its external auditor, an improvement from previous years.  Also, the State Comptroller upgraded the district’s stress category to undesignated from moderate, also an improvement from previous years.
  • started $58 million in capital improvement projects at 11 schools and is on a path to complete the projects by 2020;
  • strengthened its financial management practices, implemented an improved accounting policy and vigorously monitors expenditures;
  • restored full-day kindergarten for all students and elementary arts programming using the $3 million grant from New York State; and
  • hired new directors of Special Education and English Language Learners while implementing new systems to identify students needing these services.
East Ramapo students, parents, teachers, community members and other interested stakeholders can sign up for the Department’s email distribution list to receive updates on district-related information.
Community members can contact the monitors directly by emailing EastRamapoMonitors@nysed.gov.