When I last wrote about the ongoing situation in the East Ramapo school district, the future of legislation to ensure strong oversight over the district’s finances remained uncertain. Since then, the three-person monitor team led by Dennis Walcott has released their report on the district, which reiterates a call for legislation to create a fiscal monitor with the power to veto decisions made by the school board. Currently, the majority of the elected school board members are Orthodox Haredi, even though most Haredi children in this school district attend private yeshivas.
Walcott’s report provides further credibility for those of us who have argued that strong oversight, including a monitor with veto power, is the best way forward for the struggling school district. A monitor with veto power would only be able to override school board decisions if doing so is necessary to ensure “the educational welfare of the students … and/or the financial stability of the district.” For a school district that still faces significant fiscal stress and questionable fiscal management, installing a monitor with veto power will give the community and state officials the assurance that the financial assistance the district sorely needs will be properly spent.
Some who oppose Walcott’s proposal contend that installing a monitor with veto power is anti-Semitic. While we are always concerned about anti-Semitism and vigorously oppose acts of anti-Semitism, we know that calling for oversight is not anti-Semitic. Rather, it reflects our understanding of a Jewish tradition that upholds sound financial management and supports public education. The famed scholar Maimonides emphasized the importance of education in creating a healthy community when he wrote that “any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1). Such a basic need should be guaranteed to all, and can only be guaranteed by strengthening public schools.
A bill in the New York State legislature, S.3821/A.5355, would ensure strong state oversight over East Ramapo by allowing the Commissioner of Education to appoint a monitor with veto power. This legislation passed the Assembly last year, but did not pass the Senate and therefore must go through both chambers again this year. RJV is working with Strong East Ramapo, an organization dedicated to preserving the district’s financial future, to advocate for this bill. Together, we raised the call for a monitor with veto power at Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, and we will continue to find more opportunities for Reform Jews to make it clear to the legislature that public education is a Jewish value – in East Ramapo and around New York State.