Advocates Urge NY Senate Introduction of Bill to Rein in East Ramapo School Board’s Abuses

On May 31, Education Law Center, the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), and the Spring Valley Branch of the NAACP sent a letter to New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, Chair of the Committee on Education, urging her to introduce a Senate version of Assembly Bill No. 10407 before the imminent end of the legislative session. The bill would establish a fiscal control board in East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD).

East Ramapo’s public schools enroll 10,427 public school students, approximately 75% of whom are Latinx, 18% of whom are Black, and 7% of whom are other races and ethnicities. Approximately 84% of the district’s public-school enrollment are economically disadvantaged students, 52% are identified as English learners, 15% are classified as students with disabilities, and 12% are experiencing homelessness. Over 30,000 ERCSD resident students are enrolled in nonpublic schools. 

In 2014, Henry M. Greenberg, a state-appointed fiscal monitor, documented the ERCSD board’s fiscal mismanagement and diversion of public funds to private schools, along with failed budget votes, all of which resulted in drastic cuts to essential educational resources. These severe reductions, such as the loss of hundreds of teachers, contributed to inadequate student outcomes, such as a 64% graduation rate, which continues today.

Subsequent to this report, attempts have been made to redress the situation, both through judicial and legislative channels. For example, in 2016, ELC represented ERSCD parents in an unsuccessful petition asking a court to direct the New York State Regents and State Education Department to safeguard ERCSD’s students’ constitutional rights to a sound basic education. The Legislature passed a bill that same year installing monitors with limited powers in the school district.

Yet, a decade after the Greenberg report, fiscal mismanagement and failed budget votes persist to the extreme detriment of public school students in East Ramapo. As the most recent state monitors’ report indicates, years of neglect have resulted in deteriorating school buildings with undrinkable water. The district lacks critical staff and programming to enable students who require additional services to access a sound basic education. For example, the Greenberg report notes that the ERCSD has “major deficits at every stage of the process for identification, assessment, placement, and instruction of English language learners.”

Despite the efforts of the Legislature, the Commissioner of Education, and the monitors, the existing mechanisms have failed to safeguard the constitutional rights of public school students in East Ramapo.

The letter notes that Assembly Bill No. 10407, introduced by Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski and supported by the State Education Department, provides a helpful solution. The Fiscal Control Board proposed by the Assembly bill is a limited and targeted mechanism to redress the severe deficits in East Ramapo’s public schools. In order for it to pass, a similar bill must be introduced in the Senate.

As the advocates noted in their letter, “[a] generation of children have passed through the ERCSD district, deprived of the educational tools they need to learn successfully.” The Legislature must act to ensure that students in East Ramapo have a chance to access the education they are promised by the New York Constitution.

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Sharon Krengel
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