A reader who is familiar the school situation in East Ramapo e-mailed me privately to clarify some of the facts underlying the controversy that was the subject of my last post. I don’t think that anything contained in that e-mail negates the points made in my post, but I want to present as full and accurate a picture as I can. I am thus appending the relevant portion of the e-mail below with the permission of its author.
NYS lost a lawsuit in the early 2000s challenging its funding formula. In 2007, the State had prepared a NEW formula which was being discussed in the Legislature. Unfortunately, the recession hit and it has not moved forward. Instead, under Governor Paterson, the GAP Elimination was introduced which has cost the District over 45 MILLION dollars over the past 5 years. Today, the State is a defendant in multiple lawsuits in both State and Federal courts challenging its funding of school districts.
The key to the formula is the following – according to the Federal government the district is poor. 80% of the kids receive free or reduced lunch. Using a formula from the early 70s, NYS considers the district the 3rd wealthiest in the state. How can this be? The state looks at total property value in the District and the number of public school kids and figures out the ratio. It ignores the private school kids when performing the calculation. We have 8,500 public school kids and 22,000 private school kids. The private school population is increasing by 1,500 kids each year. The ratio is becoming more and more skewed.
When it comes to special ed, you have the picture wrong. There are about 1,500 kids in special ed in East Ramapo schools. There are an additional 200 placed in public schools outside the district, e.g. Clarkstown, North Rockland, and Kiryas Joel. There are about 40 placed in private schools. There are none placed in yeshivas. On the contrary, there are about 500 kids in yeshivas receiving services (which are mandated) for which the district is not reimbursed by the State because they are in yeshivas. This costs the district about 5 million dollars.
If the district was appropriately funded, it should be receiving something like an additional $20 million – this would cover everything that was cut. Instead, it had to make severe cuts and recreate itself. It is what virtually every other district in the State is doing. This past year, Clarkstown cut $6 million from its budget, cut freshman sports, cut teachers and assistants, and nobody said a word. On the contrary, one press report complimented them on staying under the tax cap. In East Ramapo, it was announced on July 1st that after school sports and clubs were being restored, additional special ed and ESL teachers hired, additional guidance counselors, repairs to buildings commencing, etc. We are still waiting for the media to report these developments. The writer from the Journal Agenda (aka Journal News) was present and even tweeted it. She never reported it.
Bottom line – the district has retrenched and financially is probably in better shape than every other district in the county (heck, look at Yonkers and the mess there). Who needs oversight? Yonkers, North Rockland (where Asst. Superintendent stole millions of $$$ to make sure his daughter would get raise), Hempstead (look at the mess there). Our district get the worst press by far, but the Journal Agenda is corrupt and we are victims of yellow journalism. Are we perfect? Far from it. But things are far better than what is reported.