June 2, 2015 — Subject: Restoration of Public Accountability to East Ramapo Central School District
A. 5355-A (Jaffee) / S.3821-A (Carlucci)
The East Ramapo Central School District is in crisis. The District’s Board of Education has been harshly criticized – by community members, in the press, and by a state-appointed fiscal auditor1 – for financial mismanagement and for failing to provide for the education of all its students. The Board has sharply reduced the numbers of teachers and support staff; similar cuts have been made to programs, services, materials, and facilities for public schools, instead allocating limited resources to the disproportionate benefit of private school students. And when residents and parents have called upon Board officials to answer for these actions, they have met with hostility.
It has been suggested that calls for state intervention in this matter are driven by animus toward the local Orthodox community – members of this community make up a majority of both the District’s students and its Board’s members – but to the contrary, the call to action is a response to gross mismanagement of both public funds and education policy.
A report by a state-appointed fiscal monitor recommends that the State Education Commissioner exercise his authority to appoint a monitor charged with overseeing – and, if necessary, overriding – decisions of the East Ramapo School Board. This monitor would have authority to review the board’s financial and administrative activities, attend and take part in Board meetings, arrange for training of board members, and develop a five-year academic and fiscal improvement plan for the district. Should the monitor override a Board decision, it may appeal to the commissioner for review.
This legislation (A5355-A/S3821-A) proposes extraordinary legislative action. However the facts giving rise to this bill are egregious; immediate state intervention is called for. For this reason, the NYCLU supports a state-mandated special monitor for the East Ramapo School Board.2
In New York, school-aged children are guaranteed a sound basic education pursuant to the State Constitution, and the citizens who elect local school officials have the right to expect that their representatives will uphold that fundamental interest. New York law makes clear what is involved in providing a sound basic education: the judicious and fair allocation of education resources, including resources for curricula, materials, programs, and facilities.3 By this standard, the Board is in violation of its constitutional obligations to the students of East Ramapo.
In order to restore public accountability for the administration of the East Ramapo Central School District, and to ensure the District’s students the education to which they are entitled, the NYCLU supports passage of A.5355-A/S.3821-A.
1 Henry M. Greenberg, New York State Education Dep’t, “East Ramapo: A School District in Crisis - Report of Investigation” (Nov. 17, 2014), available at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/docs/east-ramapo-fiscal-monitor-presentation.pdf.
2 Lawmakers must appreciate that the appointment of a monitor for the East Ramapo School Board is a drastic measure, in response to a particularized circumstance: the catastrophic failure in the management and operation of the East Ramapo Central School District. (The legislation does not provide for removal of school board members; nor does it prescribe a standard pursuant to which the state may appoint a monitor for a local school board.) This failure has led to systemic violations of children’s constitutional right to a sound basic education. What’s more, it is children in low-income communities of color who have, and will, suffer most directly the harm caused by the East Ramapo School Board.
3 Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York, 100 N.Y.2d 893 (2003).