East Ramapo, NY. - Recently, a State Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the school district in early 2016. Per Politico New York, the Judge "said the petitioners failed to show that they or their students were impacted by the actions [of the School Board] and thus couldn't seek relief. He further wrote that the actions the parents were seeking are discretionary and can't be mandated." This setback for detractors of the district follows an earlier setback in Federal court when a judge dismissed 8 of 9 complaints in a different case before the case even started. The plaintiffs later dropped the 9th complaint in exchange for not being counter-sued by the district. In yet a different case, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in September 2016 that challengers of the board lack standing to bring a class action lawsuit where plaintiffs claimed that board members favor private schools over public schools.
The judge's opinion in the state case published mid September echoes some of the points OJPAC wrote in January 2016 explaining why it is a sham lawsuit. For years, media reports had you believe that when the district faced budget shortfalls, the board members - a majority of them Orthodox Jewish - placed the interest of Yeshivas before public schools, but the judge ruled that the plaintiffs can’t force the board to cover non-mandated programs in public schools which due to budget shortfalls have been placed second to mandated programs in private schools. The board simply followed the law when doing so.
The dishonest reporting falsely blamed the board for failing to provide the mandated ‘sound basic education’ for students; an accusation that the judge rejected saying that the claims by the plaintiffs are on non-mandated stuff.
The ruling can have broad implications; here is how: In early June 2015, then-chancellor of New York State schools Merryl Tisch was pushing the state-Legislature to place a monitor on East Ramapo. Ms. Tisch co-authored an op-ed with David G. Sciarra the executive director of the New Jersey-based Education Law Center (ELC) hitting the district. Weeks later, a state monitor was imposed on East Ramapo; a thing not done on any of the other 700 districts in the state including those with steep problems. Using the narrative co-authored by its Director, ELC filed the above-mentioned lawsuit in State court a half year later. Now the case was thrown out thus debunking the flawed reasoning for the monitor; raising questions as to why the monitor is still in place.
The ruling in the state case and the outcome of the Federal case prove that lawmakers, media and certain activists wasted years misleadingly blaming the board members for funding challenges in the district rather than advocating for more state funding as has been done by lawmakers, media and activists for other districts.
In fact, thanks to Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, a much smaller school district neighboring East Ramapo received $5 million in state funds last year to help the district pay back a property owner that has been over taxed for years. Meanwhile however, East Ramapo received only $3 million in special state funding and only after Mr. Zebrowski pushed for the state monitor in East Ramapo years earlier. Lohud Opinion, the editors of the most circulated newspaper in Rockland county (where East Ramapo is) and Westchester county, spent years peddling claims against the East Ramapo board that eventually crumbled in the courts, yet those editors advocated for more state funding in Yonkers; a school district in Westchester without pointing fingers at local leadership as the editors did in East Ramapo. (As of this writing, Lohud has not reported on the developments in court.)
East Ramapo tax payers already cover 69% of the district budget; well above the average for tax payers statewide, yet the public schools still lacks funding due to a faulty state funding formula which short changes districts where a large percent of its students attend private schools such as in East Ramapo and in Lakewood, New Jersey. It is imperative that state lawmakers in both states grant both districts more funding to be allocated directly for the good of public school students.
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