Vote on new East Ramapo school budget on June 21 cuts tax hike
- In 2019-20, state aid provided 33% of East Ramapo’s revenue, while Rockland’s average was 17%.
SPRING VALLEY — On June 21, the East Ramapo School Board will present a revised spending plan for voters to weigh after the initial budget vote, just like an administrator predicted.
The revised $258,944,880 The 2022-23 draft budget provides for a 1.63% increase in tax levies. More than 70% of voters on May 17 rejected the initial spending plan which included a proposed 3.9% tax hike.
Votes against the spending plan were seen mostly in neighborhoods with a greater Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish presence. About three-quarters of school-aged children in the district attend private schools, mostly yeshivas; about 9,300 children attend public schools in East Ramapo, and most are black or Latino. About 86% of public school children are considered economically disadvantaged.
The school board has long been dominated by majorities of men who are seen as favoring the interests of the yeshiva system over those of the public schools they were elected to administer.
To Reduce the tax levy increase, the district would suspend accessibility improvement plans at the Ramapo High School Theater, which does not meet ADA compliance, and delay the replacement of athletic flooring and bleachers.
“The silver lining,” Administrator Mark Berkowitz said at a March 31 meeting, is that “none of these cuts affect programs. All of this money is money used to make gymnasium floors, bleachers and ADA stuff”.
Buildings in the neighborhood are known for their general disrepair. This school year alone, Spring Valley High School had to be closed for months after asbestos was detected in the building, and an electrical problem at Lime Kiln Elementary left the facility without heat and students in remote instruction for nearly one month.
The district plans to use about $90 million in federal COVID funds to overhaul all of its 14 buildings.
Small budget, higher taxes
Like the $258 million budget plan voted on in May, the revised spending plan for 2022-23 is about $10 million lower than the current budget.
Several factors add up to the peculiarity of a budget plan that spends less but needs more taxpayers’ money.
The plan was built without $7.8 million in transportation assistance that the state will not provide due to missed filing deadlines. On March 31, Linda Macias, assistant superintendent of affairs, said the district is continuing to appeal.
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Meanwhile, transportation costs continue to rise rapidly in a district that has a growing number of private school students attending a large network of yeshivas.
East Ramapo has also been constrained by having to operate with several emergency budgets stripped in recent years, the result of having more budget losses than any district in the state.
The district had used temporary COVID funding to fill its financial gaps. Last year, that helped address a deficit that ballooned to $36 million and saved dozens of employees who were about to be laid off.
But the problem of expenses in relation to revenues is far from settled.
Macias and State Comptroller Bruce Singer have repeatedly explained that the budget must adjust to the district’s limited resources as federal COVID assistance ends, or East Ramapo faces a “fiscal cliff.” “.
With the possibility of another emergency budget and with the distinction of East Ramapo as the leader of the state most financially stressed school districtsome will say it is already there.
Meanwhile, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report on June 1, “Failing: The Jim Crow School District of New York,” which focused on what he called “the district’s most recent failures,” including repeated budget defeats.
While highlighting the state’s legislative efforts to help the district, including granting state-appointed comptrollers more powers to intervene in poor board decisions, the NYCLU report asserts that the academic success of students in ‘East Ramapo continues to suffer.
For example, far fewer students earn advanced degrees and far fewer English learners are able to achieve proficiency compared to other districts in Rockland County.
The neighborhood has also suffered a high chronic absenteeism rate – especially during remote learning and the pandemic – and a high dropout rate.
The report highlights a lack of support for students, especially ELL learners. For example, according to NYCLU, in East Ramapo, the public school student-to-counsellor ratio is 695:1.
And the NYCLU blames these oft-missing budgets. “It’s not because the district lacks wealth, but because white voters refuse to fund public schools,” the NYCLU report said.
The district has to rely on increasing state aid. In 2019-20, state aid provided 33% of East Ramapo’s revenue, while Rockland’s average was 17%.
The NYCLU report acknowledges the conundrum. “A refusal to pay the voters fair share cannot be rewarded with an increase in the state contribution to make up the difference,” he said. “At the same time, the state cannot sit idly by as public schools in East Ramapo starve.”
But Administrator Harry Grossman said at the March 31 meeting that the budget challenges are because the state is missing East Ramapo its due.
“They steal tens of millions of dollars over the years,” Grossman said of the state, citing aid calculations that take into account inflated property values but don’t count the overwhelming number of deprived school children who are entitled to mandatory services such as buses and special services. district education services.
“The state is supposed to provide more funding for this,” Grossman argued.
He suggested the community — “public and non-public” — might consider suing Albany.
Meanwhile, Grossman said he supports the revised budget plan that voters will face on June 21.
“I happen to think this budget is much better than the previous one, I think my opinion on the last budget was clear,” he said.
Plan passed ‘DOA’
Grossman appeared to shock some at an April 12 school board meeting when he announced that the budget plan in the direction of voters was “DOA”. He said the tax hike was a no-start for members of the Hasidic and Orthodox community who were stung by the school district’s decision not to provide space for private summer camps.
Board members and Singer explained that the district needs to focus on a large-scale project that will use tens of millions of federal COVID dollars to make desperately needed repairs to buildings. If the district cannot do the job in time, the US Federal Bailout Act, or ARPA, the refund would be forfeited.
Grossman appeared unfazed. He explained that the community feeling was, “They want me to care about somebody else’s kids, they obviously don’t care about my kids.”
The new spending plan doesn’t appear to address the private camp rental issue that had pissed Grossman off.
At a board meeting on April 26, the board was also warned of the impending defeat of the spending plan by Monsey’s Kalman Weber, who heads a group called the South East Ramapo Taxpayers Association and has during years consistently and accurately predicts the passing or defeating of the district budget.
Although the original budget did not exceed this year’s tax levy limit for East Ramapo, which is 4.13%, Weber said any increase over 2% was doomed.
On June 21, for the revised budget to pass, a simple majority of voters – 50% plus one – would have to vote yes.
Nancy Cutler writes at People & Policy. Click here for his latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.