East Ramapo Fiscal Monitor: A Letter to the Leaders in Albany

I, along with Legislator Lon Hofstein, have drafted to our leaders in Albany expressing support for the appointment of a fiscal monitor in the East Ramapo school district:

To New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb:

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. Perhaps the best means available to ensure this principle extends beyond the point of man’s creation is through equal and unfettered access to a public education system that provides the same opportunities for all. By providing every child with the basic and inalienable right to a quality education, government can offer all children, regardless of race, religion or socio-economic standing, the opportunity to succeed. As another great American, Horace Mann, once said, “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Sadly, these principles have been abandoned by the school board of the East Ramapo School District.

The students in the East Ramapo School District are being willfully deprived of access to a quality education, and in turn are being willfully denied their basic and inalienable rights as citizens of the United States of America. There are roughly 8,000 students facing this tyranny at the hands of the very school board that is supposed to be acting in their best interests. 43% of these children are African-American. 46% are Latino. 83% of these students are considered poor. These children are the most vulnerable and powerless among us, and it is our moral and constitutional duty to protect them. The evidence that the school board has completely failed in their custodial obligations is found in the harsh reality that, as of 2013-2014, only 14% of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English Language Arts. Only 15% were proficient in math. These children are being failed by the school board at every level, and it must stop.

The East Ramapo School Board has decimated the public school system while simultaneously taking every possible step to ensure the success of the private school system in which most of the board’s own children are enrolled. During the time the board has illegally cut state mandated programs such as music and art in the public schools, it has increased spending to place special education students in private schools even when spots are available for those students in the public schools. While spending on transportation for private school children increased by 24%, over 100 teachers were being laid off along with social workers, guidance counselors and administrators. All these facts and many more are detailed in a report by Henry M. Greenberg, who was appointed to investigate the district’s finances by the New York State Education Department in June of 2014. This report by Mr. Greenberg recommended the appointment of a fiscal monitor to oversee and, if necessary to overrule decisions made by the board. A bill is now before the State Assembly that seeks to implement this recommendation from Mr. Greenberg. This bill must be passed.

The Assembly Education Committee voted in favor of advancing this bill further in the legislative process. However, it must be noted that the Republican members of this committee voted against this bill. It must be noted that there have been many reports of reluctance and outright opposition to this bill by other Republican Assemblymen and State Senators. We, as representatives of the Republican Party in Rockland County where the East Ramapo School District is located, want to make it very clear to our fellow party members that we fully and unequivocally support this bill to place a monitor in the East Ramapo School District. We implore the members of our party who have a vote in this matter to put aside any and all political concerns and to act in the best interests of the children in the East Ramapo School District. This should not, and cannot be a partisan issue.

We understand the practical concerns that the state has in its reluctance to intervene in a matter where a duly elected board should have the responsibility to make decisions regarding the school district. However, Mr. Greenberg’s report confirmed what many of my legislative colleagues in both parties in Rockland County have been saying for years now, which is that the East Ramapo school board’s extraordinary dereliction of duty necessitates this extraordinary course of action. The opposition to this bill states it must be a matter of last resort. The opposition states the monitor must not hold veto power. We hold that this measure is one step below the last resort, which is a complete state takeover such as the one that occurred in Roosevelt, Long Island. We believe that an independent monitor is the best available means by which to safeguard the interests of the children and the taxpayers. A monitor is needed to help remove the built-up mistrust and hostility that exists in our divided community. However, a monitor without veto power is essentially meaningless. The school board can simply ignore the monitor’s suggestions. Moreover, the appointed monitor will not have final say, as the school board can appeal any decisions with which it might disagree.

In reality, all this reasoning and arguing over details pales in comparison to the larger picture, which is the willful and consistent deprivation of the civil rights of these children. The future and well-being of these children must come before any concerns regarding the rights of the school board which has repeatedly victimized them. We do not live in an outright democracy where the majority rules all and is free to oppress the minority. We live in a democratic Republic where the rights and needs of the minority are safeguarded and protected. This precisely what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote the following, also found in the Declaration of Independence; “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

This is what we ask of you, our esteemed Republican representatives of New York State:

We ask that you stand up against this long train of abuses that have been imposed upon the children of the East Ramapo school district.

We ask that you recognize and carry out your duty to provide new and effective guards for their future security.

We ask that you support the appointment of a fiscal monitor in East Ramapo.

Respectfully,

Rockland County Legislator Christopher Carey
Rockland County Legislator Lon Hofstein
Candidate for Supervisor and Clarkstown Councilman George Hoehmann
Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli
Candidate for County Legislature Laurie Santulli
Candidate for Clarkstown Town Council John J. Noto
Candidate for Rockland County Sheriff Richard Vasquez
Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Rockland County Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Garvey
Clarkstown Republican Party Chairman Ralph Sabatini

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