Power of Ten Update
In This Issue:
1. Lakewood School Cuts Driven by Yeshiva Costs
2. School Board Loses Appeal
3. Notice of Proposed Voluntary Discontinuance of Class Action with Prejudice
4. Senator Carlucci at Center of Budget Controversy
1) Lakewood School Cuts Driven by Yeshiva Costs
The Lakewood NJ school system this year is facing cuts to education similar to what happened to East Ramapo from 2008 to 2014. Then, East Ramapo cut hundreds of teachers and support staff, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, deletion of entire programs of education, and being designated a “focus” district by NY State.
According to a new article by Leslie Brody in the Wall Street Journal, the Lakewood school board is dominated by ultra-Orthodox men who don’t have children in public schools and is proposing a budget that will decimate those schools. Protected in the budget are busing for yeshivas and payments to special education programs that serve only ultra-Orthodox students.
These are the same factors that are driving the continuing problems in East Ramapo. Increasing costs are being driven by increasing numbers of students enrolled in yeshivas, but ultra-Orthodox voters have no incentive to increase school tax to cover these costs.
Adding insult to injury, most of the children attending yeshivas aren’t being educated as required by law. There have been repeated scandals involving public funding of out-of-district special education, including the recent indictment of one Lakewood Rabbi on charges of stealing $630,000.
All of the advances of the last year could be wiped away unless we change the way schools are governed and funded. If we as a society value education, then we must make our laws support and protect it.
2) School Board Loses Appeal
Before the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act), students with disabilities were often kept out of classrooms with their peers for no good reason. They were given a second-class education and otherwise abused and mistreated. The IDEA mandated school districts to provide education for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. It said that districts couldn’t get out of providing education just by saying they didn’t have specialty resources; they would have to pay for out-of-district placements if they couldn’t do it in house. The East Ramapo school board found their own way to twist this law which was meant to protect disabled students from discrimination. They started approving using public funds to make out-of-district placements that were not in the least restrictive environment.
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) does audits of these kinds of things. They found that the districts placements were not consistent with the IDEA law. The district sued NYSED to block them from telling the district how to do out-of-district placements. They lost that lawsuit. Then they appealed. On March 28 they lost the appeal too.
3) Notice of Proposed Voluntary Discontinuance of Class Action with Prejudice
The following link is to a legal notice regarding a potential class action lawsuit. The suit was filed by parents and taxpayers, including myself, regarding the legal fees incurred by the district.
Readers are strongly encouraged to read this notice in full.
4) Senator Carlucci at Center of Budget Controversy
Our own Senator Carlucci is increasingly in the center of the controversy about education funding in this year’s NY State budget. The Democratic controlled Assembly has proposed spending more than the Republican controlled Senate. At stake for East Ramapo is the $20.6 million in foundation aid that we are owed from the CFE lawsuit.
The issue has been debated on the opinion page of the Journal News:
There will be a rally on Friday, April 7, at 12:30 pm across the street from Senator Carlucci’s office, 20 South Main Street, New City, asking Senator Carlucci to work with the Democrats on a number of issues, including funding for foundation aid.
About Foundation Aid:
The State Aid Formula is designed to address unequal financial abilities of local districts. The State of NY has a constitutional responsibility to children. The formula is how the state measures where the help is most needed. It takes into account the income and property value of the local district, as well as special needs such as poverty and services to non-public schools. Without some objective measure, state aid could be influenced by politics.
The formula provides East Ramapo with the largest amount of state aid of any district in Rockland County. However, from 2008 to 2014, state funds were reduced. Other districts increased local revenue so the children would not be harmed. But in East Ramapo board members chose not to compensate, claiming voters wouldn’t approve.
There are three factors that caused the cuts to programs in East Ramapo. The largest is the reduction in local contribution, caused by lack of support for public education in areas with heavy concentration of ultra-Orthodox voters. This results in East Ramapo having what is called a low “local revenue effort rate”.
Another impact is spending on non-public schools. Because these expenses are guaranteed, ultra-Orthodox voters can vote down school budgets without worrying about it affecting yeshivas. By electing a school board dominated by ultra-Orthodox members, they can even guarantee they won’t ever even be asked to pass a budget based on public needs.
The third factor is the state budget. If the formula was fully funded by the NY Senate, there would be a lot more state aid for East Ramapo. Calculations by the Alliance for Quality Education are that East Ramapo is owed $20.6 million.
Beyond all of this there is still the issue of governance. Bad governance has a negative impact on the budget through property sales at below market value, out-of-district placements; and over-priced lawyers. Efforts to change the problem with governance include the annual school board elections, monitors supplied by NYSED, and legislation for a monitor with veto power.