Haredim in Rockland County, New York are in the process of forming a class action lawsuit against the state to try to stop it from installing a fiscal and policies monitor with veto power for the scandal-plagued haredi-controlled East Ramapo school board.
Haredim in Rockland County, New York are in the process of forming a class action lawsuit against the state to try to stop it from installing a fiscal and policies monitor with veto power over the scandal-plagued haredi-controlled East Ramapo school board.
The truth is that many of the haredim who held East Ramapo school board seats over the past few years (and some of those who hold one now) could likely be criminally prosecuted.
However New York State is reluctant to enflame the haredi voting bloc. So instead it has chosen to pretend that what was done in East Ramapo amounts only to serious mismanagement and is moving toward installing a full time monitor with veto power to oversee the scandal-plagued school district.
But that under-reach has, rather predictably, allowed for a haredi overreach and, along with the predictable but false claims that every opponent of how haredi school board members behave is an anti-Semite and that baseless hatred of haredim is behind every state enforcement action, comes the following proposed class action lawsuit:
Since colonial times, citizens of New York State have looked to local governments for basic services. Even now, in the twenty -first century, citizens continue to rely on cities, counties, towns and villages for a great many of their needs.
The enactment of Article IX of the State Constitution, the Municipal Home Rule Law and the Statute of Local Governments have provided local governments the means to meet the challenges of our times. Through the adoption of local laws, cities, counties, towns and villages may implement the policies as mandated by the demands of the people and the times.
Bill of Rights
Among the rights and powers enumerated under the Bill of Rights for Local Governments are the rights to have a legislative body elected by the people; power to adopt local laws; the right to have local officers elected or appointed by the local residents or officers; the power to agree, as authorized by the Legislature, with the federal government, a State or other government to provide cooperatively governmental services and facilities.
The constitutional basis for school district organization appears in Article XI, section 1 of the State Constitution: “The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of the state maybe educated.” The 1795 legislative session provided, on a five-year basis, a statewide system of support for schools, but comprehensive legislation establishing school districts was not enacted until 1812. Education in New York State today is a massive enterprise. It represents the largest single area of expense for local governments, accounting for approximately one-third of all local government expenditures in the state.
School districts cover the entire area of New York State, frequently crossing city, town, village, and even county lines. With the exception of the “big five” cities (over 125,000 in population), where the school budget is part of the municipal budget, each school district is a separate governmental unit that has the power to levy taxes and incur debt. The State Education Department, acting in accordance with policies determined by the Board of Regents of the
University of the State of New York, supervises and provides leadership to the public schools. Some of this responsibility is exercised through supervisory districts headed by district superintendents of schools.
Property Taxes. With few exceptions, property taxation is the only major local revenue source available to school districts. Property taxes for schools totaled more than $19.5 billion in 2002-03, or 50.8 percent of all school revenues. School districts are not subject to constitutional or statutory tax limits, but resident district voters approve annual school budgets, except for the “Big Five” cities. The practical effect of this referendum, however, is considerably constrained by law. Even if the voters defeat a proposed budget, a school board may still levy sufficient taxes to meet costs for debt service, teachers’ salaries and a number of “ordinary and contingent” expenses as long as the board adopted budget does not exceed a specified percentage increase over the prior year’s budget. This percentage is based on 120 percent of the consumer price index as specified by law, not to exceed 4 percent.
State Aid. Receipts from state aid programs represented the second largest revenue source for school districts in the 2002-03 school year. Over $14.6 billion was received in that year, representing about 37.9 percent of total school revenues. There are two major categories of state aid to education: general and special aid. The latter is a group of relatively small programs, generally experimental or aimed at meeting the special needs of a specific group of pupils.
General aid is paid to all school districts, with variations related to formulas taking into account such items as taxable property, income of district residents per pupil, and district size and organization. The category of general aid includes:
operating expense aid;
high tax rate aid;
building aid; and
reorganization incentive aid.
Operating aid, which represents more than one-half of total aid provided, is for the general operating expenditures of a district. Other general aid formulas exist to compensate for particular cost factors in school operations, building construction costs, high tax rates, and transportation costs.
If the American system of government is to function properly, citizens must actively participate in its operations at all levels, but especially at the local level. Local officials have both a responsibility and a stake in keeping citizens fully informed about local programs and activities and giving them clear opportunities to play meaningful roles in determining and implementing local public policy.
The history, tradition, development and patterns of local government in New York State are based on a belief that a responsive and responsible citizenry will maintain a vigorous, informed and continuous participation in the processes of local government. A basic principle upon which New York local government, with its broad home rule authority, is constructed is that local community values can be fostered and served. Assuring meaningful participation by citizens in government at all levels in the face of the complexity of contemporary society is one of the great challenges of American democracy.
The individual citizen has numerous ways to influence government. Some of these, such as writing letters to public officials, joining interest groups and supporting lobbying efforts, are of a private nature. The structure of government itself, however, provides other avenues of a more formal character. These include applications of the electoral process through which citizens may express their interests and concerns, plus devices such as public hearings and open meetings of legislative bodies. All local officials have a basic duty to assure that citizens have ways to participate actively and meaningfully in local government affairs. Apart from making themselves accessible to their constituents, local officials can keep citizens informed about public affairs; citizens, in turn, may express their will through the electoral process.
School District Elections
With certain rare exceptions, all local school board members in New York are elected. The method of election varies from district to district. In all school districts that elect board members, however, the citizens of the entire district elect all board members at large. The number of school board members prescribed by state law varies from one or three for common school districts to not more than nine for union free, central and city school Districts. In most cases, the district has some latitude to decide upon the number of board members. Terms are staggered so that the entire board is never upfor election at the same time.
The Threat to Local Rule
Despite the undisputed success of local rule, taxpayers living within the East Ramapo Central School District are facing a tremendous threat. A three-member monitoring panel, led by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, has recommended the implementation of a full-time monitor with full veto power over the democratically-elected Board of Education; and – perhaps most troublingly – a drastic altering of the Board of Education’s make-up: at least three members must be parents of public school children, and candidates vying for this “public school” seat must be picked by the “public school community.”
We see from Lakewood the danger a veto-monitor poses to all taxpayers, parents and students. As reported in September,
Last month, state monitor Michael Azzara exercised his veto authority after the school board voted to renew the district’s annual contract with Catapult Learning. The Camden-based company provides federally-funded support services to eligible schoolchildren with disabilities who are enrolled in private schools, serving Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community.
That veto rankled not only the school board but many parents in the Orthodox community who believe Azzara has overstepped his authority as a state-appointed fiscal watchdog and is now making policy decisions for their children.
Following a contentious legal hearing, the veto-monitor prevailed:
An Administrative Law judge has rejected a motion from the Board of Education to override a veto by its state monitor, who prevented the board from reappointing an educational firm popular with parents in the Orthodox Jewish community whose children attend private schools.
What’s worse, the judge set a dangerous precedent:
Indeed, given past rulings of the (state Department of Education) Commissioner as affirmed by the Appellate Division, the Monitor’s authority is broad and wide-ranging when a matter has fiscal involvement, such as prevention of costly litigation.
State Monitor Michael Azzara made headlines at the start of his tenure, when he overrode the Board of Education’s budget decision:
On the job for just two weeks, state monitor Michael Azzara flexed his muscle at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, overruling the school board and approving the new $151 million school budget on his own.
The dramatic turn of events happened after a three-hour school board meeting, where school officials discussed changes to the proposed 2014-15 school budget. One of the changes included reinstating courtesy busing for public and private school students in kindergarten through third grade.
With our own budget vote coming up soon, what will happen here? Not to mention that Mr. Azzara has been threatening to end gender-separated busing and void critical special education placements.
Lakewood’s is an all-too-familiar situation for us. We have seen not only the writing on the wall, but the American flag torched. Let us not waste a moment: We must preempt the imposition of a State Monitor and a radical overhaul of Local Rule by preparing a class-action lawsuit against the State of New York, the New York State Education Department and the New York State Board of Regents.
We are at a pivotal crossroads. Our children haven’t a moment to spare. We – as parents and taxpayers – must do all we can to protect the integrity of our community, our children and their futures.
Our Legislator Aron B. Wieder issued this dire warning:
Our Community is under attack. Your daily life hasn’t been noticeably impacted, but that is very likely to change.
Yesterday, your children were attacked. Let me explain. Dennis Wolcott, the monitor who was appointed by the NYS education department, for the East Ramapo School district found no criminal wrongdoing whatsoever. He actually praised the current board and its President Mr. Weissmandel [sic]. Yet, he inexplicably called for a monitor with veto power! The bogus reason he gave is that we don’t know who the next school board will be. This is totally unacceptable and we can no longer remain silent. He has suggested taking away many of the programs that are currently mandated for private schools by NYS … including severely impacting transportation to the private schools!!
The current board who are working lshem shamyim lmaan hklal need your support. Please come out tonight to show your support at Ramapo High School on Viola Rd. 7:30 P.m..