NEW YORK (JTA) — A monitor appointed by New York state to investigate a troubled school district issued a harshly worded report slamming the the majority haredi Orthodox school board.
In his report Monday, Hank Greenberg said the East Ramapo Central School District gave preferential treatment to Orthodox students who do not attend the district’s public schools, The New York Times reported. He said the board’s fiscal management was “abysmal” and that the district is “on the precipice of fiscal disaster.”
Greenberg, a former counsel to the state attorney general, recommended appointing a fiscal monitor empowered to overrule the school board and superintendent while also providing additional funds to the district.
According to The Journal News, Greenberg’s proposal would be “the most dramatic intervention in a school district by New York state in more than a decade” and is expected to be approved by the New York Board of Regents and then sent on to the State Legislature.
The Rockland County district encompasses a suburban area where haredi Orthodox Jews, who attend yeshivas, make up more than half the population. The public school students are mostly black or Latino.
Since 2005, when the elected school board became majority Orthodox, the district, which has made significant budget cuts, has been accused of not allocating adequate funds to the public schools. Community activists also have alleged that the board improperly diverted taxpayer funds to benefit area yeshivas and used public dollars for special-education services at private schools, even when comparable services were available in public institutions.
In a briefing to reporters, the Times reported, Greenberg said the East Ramapo board did not act “out of base or venal motives.”
“What I have found is that you have a board deeply influenced and informed by the community from which they’ve come — so concerned about the children of that community that it has blinded them to the needs of the entire community,” he said.
Greenberg said that the district made sharp cuts to public school spending while significantly increasing spending on transportation and special education for yeshiva students, going well beyond the state-mandated requirements for such spending.
According to Greenberg, the district has depleted its emergency reserves, including funds it is legally required to maintain for insurance, liability and other potential costs.
Greenberg also criticized the board for not allowing the public to attend many of its meetings and for dismissing critics by accusing them of anti-Semitism.
He did not recommend a state takeover, however.
In a statement, the Times reported, board president Yehuda Weissmandl said he was “uncomfortable with some of the characterizations” in the report, but “hopeful that it will lead to progress for the children of the district.”