Read the DePrisco Campaign Insider Newsletter written by Tom DePrisco, candidate for the 38th Senate District in New York for September 9, 2016.
There are numerous factors that have contributed to this crisis for many years:
- East Ramapo has had the highest percentage of voter budget rejections in New York State. Eight budgets have been rejected within the past fourteen years. The private school community seems to be resistant to approving significant tax increases.
- The district has had lower tax levies throughout the years therefore a lower amount of money expected to be paid by taxpayers.
- Questionable spending by the Board of Education with regard to special education student placements. The NYS Education Department placed East Ramapo under enforcement action due to their determination that special needs students were being placed in more costly private school programs rather than available public school programs. In the seven year period ending in 2014, the district’s special education costs increased by 77% while the statewide average costs increased by 24%. East Ramapo’s special education costs consist of 26% of the total budget, while the statewide average is 21%.
- The district’s transportation costs have increased more than twice the statewide average. In the same seven year period ending in 2014, East Ramapo’s transportation budget increased by 48% while the statewide average increased by 22%. Thus the district’s transportation costs increased nearly $9 million from 2007 through 2014. East Ramapo’s transportation costs consist of 11% of the total budget, while the statewide average is 5%. Additionally, the school district utilizes segregated busing for the yeshiva students which increases the total transportation costs. Both previous monitors recommended a review of this busing practice. Considering that East Ramapo receives transportation aid for private school busing, it is my opinion that public tax dollars must not be used for religious busing purposes. This cost should be borne by the private schools. I am confident that the school district can realize substantial savings if segregated busing is no longer subsidized by the taxpayers.
- Questionable real estate decisions made over the years by the board of education.
- Questionable legal costs budgeted by the board of education.
- The general population, most notably children under the age of eighteen, within the communities encompassing East Ramapo have steadily increased at a much higher rate than the other villages and hamlets within Rockland County. United States Census data reveals a much higher than average continuing population increase within many of the communities encompassing the East Ramapo School District. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the total school age population attends private schools. Both monitor reports have indicated that nearly 24,000 students attend yeshivas. Two years ago, Mr. Greenberg estimated that the private school population could increase to at least 40,000 in ten years.
Additional factors have contributed to this crisis since 2008:
- The Great Recession of 2008 resulted in extraordinary and burdensome increases in district employer contributions into the state pension funds.
- The State Legislature froze the promised and budgeted Basic Foundation Aid for four years starting in 2009 resulting in a loss of millions of dollars in state aid for the district. It should be noted that East Ramapo received nearly twice the amount of Foundation Aid than all of the other school districts in Rockland County with the exception of North Rockland.
- The State Legislature enacted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which also resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in aid. East Ramapo was fortunate enough to be repaid the GEA over the past few years at a faster rate than all of its neighboring districts.
While I believe the New York State Education Department must reevaluate the formula used in determining basic Foundation Aid distributed to school districts such as East Ramapo, the Education Commissioner must continue to provide strict oversight of budgetary decisions made by East Ramapo.
- The Education Commissioner must ensure that all state aid provided for services and materials (special education, transportation, textbooks, library, computer software and hardware, etc) for all public and private school students is proper. As I stated in my previous article, it appears that East Ramapo is indeed receiving its fair share of aid for these categories.
- The district’s special education private school placements must continually be reviewed to ensure appropriate placements are made.
- A determination must be made with regard to the segregated busing of yeshiva students. Public tax dollars must not subsidize this practice. There is a potential for cost savings.
- Review the private school transportation practices to ensure that state mileage limits are adhered to.
- During previous research of the district’s transportation aid, I attempted to reconcile where all the private school students were attending school. Mr. Greenberg’s monitor report indicated that 23,778 students were enrolled in yeshivas. A review of numerous websites, including the NYS Education Department website, and internet searches revealed 16,395 students attending over 60 yeshivas in Rockland County. This leaves over 7,300 students unaccounted for. Granted that these figures are fluid considering the population increases, but one should be able to account for most of the private school student population. Are there private schools that are not listed? Understandably, there are yeshivas in surrounding counties such as Bergen and Orange. Are regular education students being transported beyond the fifteen mile limit?
Any additional education aid must be overseen by a monitor who directly reports to the Education Commissioner. I will ensure this happens. The public school children of East Ramapo deserve nothing less.
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