On December 26, 2017, parents of East Ramapo public school children filed their brief in the New York appeals court seeking State intervention to address their school board’s gross mismanagement of school funding, budget and resources.
The appeal stems from several investigations by the NY State Education Department (SED) that documented patterns of fiscal and organizational mismanagement by the East Ramapo Central School District Board of Education (Board). The SED confirmed the Board’s diversion of substantial funds from the public school budget to pay for excess transportation and special education costs for thousands of children attending private religious schools. The budget shortfalls then triggered severe cuts to teaching staff, services for English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and subjects such as art, music and foreign language.
The SED also found the Board’s gross mismanagement had brought the district to the brink of financial collapse and impaired the provision of educational opportunities for district students.
In January 2016, several parents of East Ramapo students filed a petition in the State Supreme Court in Albany asking the court to compel the SED and the State Education Commissioner to intervene and take all necessary and appropriate action to ensure district students a sound basic education, as guaranteed by the New York Constitution.
Supreme Court Judge Raymond Elliott dismissed the petition in September 2017, ruling that the parents did not have standing to sue. Judge Elliott also concluded that the SED has unfettered discretion in supervising local school districts and, therefore, the courts could not compel the SED to take affirmative action, even where necessary to protect students’ constitutional rights.
The appeals court brief argues that the parents have standing to sue because their children are directly harmed by the Board’s mismanagement. The parents also argue that the SED has a mandatory duty, enforceable in court, to intervene to protect the constitutional rights of schoolchildren in East Ramapo while retaining the discretion to decide what specific action might be needed to ensure the proper use of all district funds.
The East Ramapo parents are represented by Brad Elias and Matthew Schock of O’Melveny & Myers and ELC Senior Attorney Wendy Lecker.
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