Public-school parents say the East Ramapo Central School District school board in Rockland County, New York, has been cutting teachers, guidance counselors, art programs, all-day kindergarten and the high school marching band and using the money to fund Orthodox private schools.
Rockland County, located about 30 miles from New York City, has a public school district that is 57 percent Black, including Haitian, and 29 percent Hispanic.
However the school board is controlled by members who are ultra-Orthodox Jews and whose children attend area private schools that they built.
The stark division has led to a flurry of lawsuits and petitions, and New York State has intervened, blocking the sale of a public school building to a Jewish congregation and warning the board to change the way it uses public special education money for private schools.
While state law provides for a school district to pay some private school expenses, for transportation, textbooks and special education, the state alleges that East Ramapo has been too quick to move children – mostly Jewish children – from the public schools into special education schools run by the Orthodox. Each case funnels thousands of taxpayer dollars to the private schools.
The state is also insisting that the district balance its budget, which has an estimated $8 million deficit this school year. At a meeting Tuesday night, the board approved borrowing $7.5 million.
That meeting illustrated the apparent disdain each side has for the other. There seemed little in common between the board members, most in yarmulkes and black coats, and the onlookers, mostly from racial minorities.
About 20 residents shouted in protest, then stood and turned their backs on the board when it decided that in the future, students could address the board only at the end of meetings.
"You're not doing right by these children!" shouted Mae Davis of Spring Valley. "What about freedom of speech?"
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(Photo: AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)