Monsey, NY – A diverse group of community leaders, clergy members, elected officials, activists and school board members met on Tuesday afternoon in Monsey to discuss a possible solution to the financial crisis that has turned East Ramapo into a veritable battleground that pits public school parents against their private school counterparts. While over 75 people were present for the 45 minute press conference, notably absent was any animosity, tension, or any notion of “us versus them” which are normally the hallmarks of meetings within the beleaguered school district.
East Ramapo’s demographics are unique within the state, with private school students outnumbering public school students by a ratio of almost three to one. While state formulas allocate funding based on property values within the district, they do not take into account what percentage of students within the district are actually enrolled in public schools, making East Ramapo one of the wealthiest districts within the state on paper. Yet in reality, the district, which provides services including bussing, textbooks and nursing services to both public and private school students, has been plagued by financial difficulties for years.
“The state comes to conclusions about the district’s wealth based on the pupil wealth ratio which takes the property value of the entire district and divides it by the number of students enrolled in public schools,” explained Aron Wieder, majority leader of the Rockland County Legislature. “In any other district this works, because over eighty to ninety percent of the population sends their kids to public schools. In East Ramapo the 22,000 private school students aren’t considered in the formula so the numbers are terribly distorted.”
According to Wieder, the solution is obvious.
“What we are telling Albany is change the formula,” said Wieder.
To further that goal, the newly formed Community United for Formula Change plans to begin a proactive campaign which plans to publicly lobby state legislators to change the funding formulas in any district that has an overwhelming majority of students enrolled in non-public schools. The group plans to travel to Albany in the near future and also intends to circulate petitions, take out newspaper ads and encourage district parents to call their representatives and press for the changes. Radio ads in both Albany and the greater New York area will be sponsored by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council in an effort to further promote the funding reallocation plan.
Wieder cited the neighboring Clarkstown school district as an example of the inequity that exists because of the current allocation of funds.
“Clarkstown is considered to be poorer than East Ramapo according to the state aid formulas, yet in Clarkstown less than five percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. In East Ramapo, more than 75 percent of students in the district are eligible for lunches, yet East Ramapo is still considered to be the wealthier district.”
Among those who spoke at the press conference were Rabbi Chaim Schabes of Congregation Knesseth Israel, Rabbi Gavriel Bodenheimer, principal of Yeshiva Bais Mikroh, Aron Wieder, Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, head of Community United for Formula Change and a liaison to various Rockland County agencies, Ramapo Councilwoman Brendel Logan, East Ramapo Superintendent Dr. Joel Klein, former East Ramapo employee May Davis, whose grandchildren attend East Ramapo public schools and Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of OJPAC. Also present were Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, community activist Rabbi Ronald Greenwald, Rabbi Shmuel Gluck of Areivim, Latino activist Juan Pablo Ramirez, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of the Community Outreach Center, Pastor Jean Dorcelly of Rock Apostolic Church, Rabbi Moshe Schwab, principal of Yeshiva Degel Hatorah and East Ramapo School Board members Yehuda Weissmandl, Eli Solomon, Bernard Charles and Harry Grossman.
Rabbi Bodenheimer spoke about the possibility of an extra $25 million being allocated to East Ramapo with a potential formula change. According to Wieder, approximately $1 million could go to private schools with the balance going to East Ramapo’s public schools.
“We could restore all the programs that were cut with that amount of money,” said Wieder. “”There is constant bickering and fighting going on in East Ramapo and this is the solution.”