New York State Education Commissioner John King has ordered the entire haredi-controlled scandal-plagued East Ramapo Board of Education and the district’s Superintendent Joel Klein to undergo diversity training and complete a course on the state Open Meetings Law after a fiscal monitor appointed by the governor found systematic intentional violations meant to hurt non-haredi non-Jewish parents, students and residents.
Above: Several members of the Easst Ramapo school board about the time the open meetings violations became the norm
State Orders Scandal-Plagued Haredi-Controlled School District And Board To Undergo Diversity Training, Training In State Open Meetings Law
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
New York State Education Commissioner John King has ordered the entire haredi-controlled scandal-plagued East Ramapo Board of Education and the district’s Superintendent Joel Klein to undergo diversity training and complete a course on the state Open Meetings Law, the Journal News reported tonight.
The board and Klein must complete all the training by very early next year, one by January 15 and the other by February 13. Board members and the superintendent must all give the state signed certification proving that each person completed each training.
King issued the orders in a letter to board President Yehuda Weissmandl.
Neither Weissmandl or Klein reportedly responded to a request from the Journal News for comment, but district spokesman Darren Dopp said the board would cooperate with the state’s order.
"There's no problem with either training session. It's always a good idea to review practices and policies (in) those areas. Everyone can benefit,” Dopp reportedly said.
After rising public pressure, a special fiscal monitor for the district, Hank Greenberg, was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo several months ago.
But Greenberg lacks the power to do anything other than issue recommendations.
In a report Greenberg issued last week, he excoriated the boar and the district for a series of apparently illegal and discriminatory practices and recommended that a fiscal monitor with teeth be appointed to oversee the board and district.
This new fiscal monitor, if the legislature approves, would have the power to veto all decisions made by the board and the district.
Greenberg,’s report also said the district and board need diversity training and training in New York State’s open meeting law, and recommended the state increase aid to the district – if a new fiscal monitor with teeth is put in place.
Greenberg found the scandal-plagued haredi-dominated school board "routinely spends 60 to 70 percent of meetings" in closed-door executive sessions and illegally limits (or excludes entirely) public comments during what is supposed to be the open portions of the meetings.
The haredi-controlled board members shifted the public comments period from its traditional spot at the beginning of each meeting to the end of each meeting, meaning the board would convene and immediately go into closed executive session in a room hidden from the public. Later – sometimes hours later – it would reenter the public meeting room and open the floor to public comment. But this often happened at 11:00 pm or later on school nights, forcing students and parents who waited hours for the board to reappear to leave before the comment period began.
FailedMessiah.com has repeatedly reported on this arguably illegal activity, including one instance when then board president Daniel Schwartz – an attorney who is likely one of the masterminds behind the board’s manipulation of the open meetings law – actually appeared to ask a haredi board member to leave the public meeting room in order that the board lose its quorum so the public comments period could be ended.
Dopp claims the board "has always and only acted on the advice of counsel in convening executive sessions to discuss personnel or legal matters."
But that counsel is controversial law firm known for threatening and insulting parents and students and behaving in ways that shock ethics experts. It also is known for helping another haredi-dominated school district put down complaints by non-haredi and non-Jewish residents, students and parents and, some say, loot those Long Island public schools.
Greenberg makes mention of the firm in his report and notes that the board is paying it very exorbitant fees – fees that far outstrip what more honorable competition charges.
"The board's systematic violation of the Open Meetings Law is legally indefensible and counterproductive. It breeds suspicion and distrust,” Greenberg’s report says.
Education Commissioner King’s action was taken in response to Greenberg’s report and after he received a letter from State Senator David Carlucci and State Assemblymembers Ellen Jaffee and Ken Zebrowski.
"We are presented with an historic opportunity here to rectify a situation that has gone on for far too long, and the children of East Ramapo deserve nothing less than the full efforts of all parties involved," the lawmakers’ letter to King reportedly says.
Carlucci, Jaffee and Zebrowski are also drafting a bill that will appoint the special fiscal monitor with veto power for the district that Greenberg recommended.