Three Frum Candidates Try to Bring Change to Teaneck


teaneckJoseph Ax of The Record reports: Esther Kamin­etzky has six children, ranging from kindergarten to 11th grade. And like most Orthodox Jewish parents in town, she sends them to yeshivas rather than to public schools.

The question of how that should affect her candidacy for school board is at the heart of this year’s campaign, which pits Kaminetzky and two other Orthodox candidates, none of whom have children attending public school, against three incumbents.

The incumbents – board President Henry Pruitt, Margot Embree Fisher and Sebastian Rodriguez – view the three challengers’ motives with suspicion, suggesting that they are only interested in cutting the budget to the bone.

The challengers – Kaminetzky, Earl Sandor and David Einhorn – insist that a strong public school system is important for all residents, not just those with children in the district.

And with a budget on the ballot that would raise the tax rate more than 8 percent, the challengers are accusing the board of fiscal mismanagement.

“Because the challengers don’t have children in the school district, that causes a little alarm,” Barbara Jenner, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Organization Council for the district, said of the reaction from parents.

“On the other hand, when you live in a community, everybody has a right to what goes on in the public schools. We live in a democracy.”

Fisher and Rodriguez have children in the district. Pruitt’s four children graduated from the system, and he has three grandchildren in the district who attend the Teaneck Community Charter School.

Pruitt said voters should be wary of the challengers’ agenda.

“When you run for the board, the motivation you should have is that you’re concerned about improving instruction and making Teaneck a better school district for all of the kids,” he said. “If the school district isn’t serving your kids, what’s your motivation?
“It seems ominous to me that someone would be willing to put in 50 hours a year in terms of meetings to look after someone else’s kids.”

Sandor, who has been a regular critic at public meetings in recent years, said the idea that he is only running to cut costs is part of a “smear campaign.”

“At no point have I come out and said, ‘I want to slash the budget,'” he said. “The reason I’m doing this is, I think it’s absolutely imperative that we have a viable public school system.”

He pointed out that the district spends more per pupil than many others yet has lower test scores.

“We need to reprioritize our funding, from inflated salaries and excessive costs to ensuring the academic success of our students,” he said.

Fisher said the challengers do not have practical solutions.

“They have absolutely zero content in practical, useful ways to improve the education system,” Fisher said. “They claim that it’s not about the taxes, but they don’t offer anything else. Their level of ignorance about the public school system is staggering.”

The school budget has fared poorly in voting districts with high Orthodox populations. From 2005 to 2009, the budget was rejected in Districts 10, 11 and 12, while District 9 voted no three times and yes twice, according to voting records.

Last year, when the budget was defeated, nearly half of the no votes came from those four districts, while Herbert Burack, an Orthodox Jew, received more than 60 percent of his votes from there while winning a seat on the board.

The growing Orthodox population has accelerated the disparity in racial and ethnic makeup between the school system and the town as a whole. As of October, only 14 percent of the schools’ 4,000 students were white, compared with 52 percent of the town’s overall population.

This isn’t the first time such issues have arisen. Seven years ago, three Orthodox challengers ran unsuccessfully for the board, facing similar criticism that they were concerned only with their tax bills.

But Kaminetzky, who has a background in special education, said she does not want to cut spending alone.

“I’m an educator, not a budget slasher,” she said. “If we were spending more on students and were receiving a first-rate education, I would not be running. I’m doing this because I really care.”

Einhorn said it’s “unfair” to suggest that candidates without public school children are only interested in saving money.

“I’m not coming in and saying I’m looking to cut,” he said. “I’m looking to stretch your dollar further. You have student performance falling, and you have the budget rising. We’re trying to reverse that.”

Fisher is blunt about whether that is a viable goal.

“It is not possible,” she said. “Everything costs more. Taxes go up, they don’t go down. My goal is not to reduce our costs. My goal is to improve our outcomes.”

“That is a reasonable, rational, achievable goal. And it’s a goal that benefits the children, which is what we’re elected to do. We’re not elected to be babysitters for the taxpayers.”

{North Jersey/Noam Newscenter}