Eighteen months after being asked to rule that the East Ramapo Board of Education’s sale of the Colton Elementary School for $6.6 million to the Congregation Bais Malka/Hebrew Academy for Special Children null and void because the the board allegedly did not make a good-faith effort to get the best price possible, New York State’s Education Commissioner John King has dismissed the challenge to the sale, causing critics of East Ramapo’s scandal-ridden school board to cry foul.
State Says Sale Of East Ramapo School To Haredi Yeshiva Can Go Through
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Eighteen months after being asked to rule that the East Ramapo Board of Education’s sale of the Colton Elementary School for $6.6 million to the Congregation Bais Malka/Hebrew Academy for Special Children null and void because the the board allegedly did not make a good-faith effort to get the best price possible, New York State’s Education Commissioner John King has dismissed the challenge to the sale, the Journal News reports, causing critics of East Ramapo’s scandal-ridden school board to cry foul.
The challenge was filed in 2011 by Carole Anderson, a retired New York City public school teacher and administrator who lives in nearby Wesley Hills.
In decision dated Dec. 24 but only made public Wednesday, King asserts Anderson did not “meet her burden of proof.”
“… I am unable to find the Board’s sale of Colton for $6.6 million was for less than fair market value or was otherwise improper and, consequently, am unable to overturn it,” King wrote in a 14-page decision.
King also denied Anderson’s request to remove six haredi board members who supported the sale.
Anderson can appeal King’s decision by filing an Article 78 appeal in state Supreme Court.
According to LawNY.org, her appeal would have to meet one of the following criteria.
1. King didn't follow his own agency’s rules when it made the decision.
2. The decision was "arbitrary and capricious” – meaning the decision is not reasonably related to the facts of the case.
3. King’s decision was not supported by "substantial evidence” – evidence that a reasonable person would accept as enough to support the agency's decision.
“New York courts very often decide in favor of the agency if the agency has written down some reason for its decision, even if many people would think the decision was wrong,” LawNY.org’s website notes.
Anderson now sends her 8-year-old grandson to a Catholic school because of the problems with Ramapo’s once excellent public schools.
“That’s because I feel very strongly that I believe in quality education and I don’t feel that the children at this point are receiving a quality education,” she reportedly said.
The timing of King’s decision is suspicious because East Ramapo had until Wednesday to provide the state with details of how it intended to get out of its more than $8 million. It apparently did not do it.
Peggy Hatton, an area resident and anti-current-school-board activist whose son attends high school in the district, points out that the Colton sale will bring East Ramapo’s Board of Education only $2,627,038. The rest of the $6.6 million sale already went to inducements to the haredi buyer – including counting its rent as mortgage payments, so the haredi school essentially gets three years of free use of Colton Elementary if the sale goes through.
Still, just over $2.6 million will go a long way toward eliminating the board’s deficit, which is why the timing is so suspicious – especially because of who the board’s major creditor is.
“I find the timing to be suspicious since the district was given until Jan. 2 to submit a plan to fix the insolvency brought on by poor management of the district,” Hatton told the Journal News in an email. “Was this decision made now only because East Ramapo owes BOCES [Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in New York State] millions of dollars? The public school students are the ones who suffer.”
Parents strongly objected to the closing of Colton in 2009. But the haredi-dominated school board insisted it was necessary due to dropping enrollment. Parents questioned their data. Parents lost.
Since then the student population in East Ramapo has increased, not decreased. Class sizes had to be increased to handle the increased load.
COMPARABLE SCHOOL SALES THIS FALL (Compiled By Peggy Hatton):
1. 360 New Hempstead Rd: Sold for $6,925,000. 9/5/2012, 6.7 acres. (former Rueben Gittlemen)
2. 70 Highview Rd: Sold for $7,000,000. 8/30/2012, 5.43 acres. (converted residence on a double lot)
3. COLTON ELEMENTARY: Sold for $6,6000,000, 21+ acres. (Less $36,000 electrical, less $100,000 repaving, less $250,00 asbestos removal, less $881,437 EXCEL refund to NYSED, less $2,705,525 rent credit = only $2,627,038 net to ERCSD!)
Update 9:32 am CST – According to Preserve Ramapo, the appraised value of Colton Elementary at the time of the sale was $11,966,758.
The "rent credit" Hatton referenced above appears to be a combination of overdue rent HASC and the yeshiva did not pay plus loss of revenue to the school board from breaking the lease. The total of that is $2,705,525.
Here is a synopsis of Anderson's petition to King that details much of this taken from the Preserve Ramapo website:
A Request for Proposal (RFP) was made after the school was sold. The RFP seeks higher bids, which will be opened on July 27, 2011.
Board President Aron Wieder has a child in Bais Malka. Wieder recused himself from the vote on the sale, but he then signed the "flawed and preferential contract with Bais Malka."
"Town of Ramapo Real Property Assessment has a market value of the Colton School Property being sold at $11,966,758 as of July 1, 2010."
"The District has at least two appraisals for this property on file and has not released these appraisals through FOIL request. The value of the appraisals was not properly and publicly taken into consideration by the board members."
There are still three years remaining on the lease of the school to Bais Malka and HASC. During that time, prompt payment of $58,515 monthly would produce almost the same amount as the adjusted sale price of the school to the same parties. "The district would lose revenue from this lease in the amount of $2,705,525 without any additional compensation for termination of the lease."
It’s apparent that "preferential treatment has been provided to Bais Malka and HASC, to wit, the provisions of the current lease agreement were not enforced in regards to late and/or missing lease payments."
The Board has not made a good faith attempt to obtain the best price for the school by the limited exposure in the market place (limited posting of the RFP).
"The property was not listed with any broker; it was sold and then put on the market in the form of a Request for Proposal only."
"Excel funding may need to be paid back to New York State. The board has not considered this impact on the actual amount the district would net from the sale of the school."
"Yehuda Weissmandel has improperly served on the board and voted upon the sale of the Colton School. Weissmandel has neither been appointed by the board nor elected to any seat in the current school year. He was elected to succeed Nathan Rothschild (the indicted board president) in his seat which expires on June 30th. Weissmandel’s term for which he was elected starts on July 1, 2011."
"Board members Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein, Morris Kohn, Eliyahu Solomon, and Yehuda Weissmandel have ignored directions about selling school district property from prior decisions from the Commissioner (Appeals #16239 White and #16153 Hatton). These board members have abused their fiduciary responsibilities by approving the sale to Bais Malka and HASC prior to the issuance of the RFP." A member of a board of education may be removed from office pursuant to Education Law §306 when it is proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the board member has engaged in a willful violation or neglect of duty under the education law or has willfully disobeyed a decision.
Update 1:08 pm CST – Here is King's decision as a PDF file: