COMMUNITY VIEW BY ROBERT I. RHODES, PRESERVE RAMAPO
Politicians hate to take positions on anything that is likely to alienate any of their constituents. They prefer to attack the usual whipping boys who don’t vote. Thus, for example, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence gets on his white horse whenever a utility company goes to the public service commission to ask for an increase in its fees.
This being the case we have to ask ourselves what is really going on when out of the blue a politician proposes a radical solution to an issue that divides his constituents?
This gets us to Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski’s suggestion that the East Ramapo school district be divided in two. My first reaction was that this was just a nutty proposal that no one would take seriously. I also wondered, given the widespread real estate tax fraud in Monsey, who would pay the taxes that would support this new school district.
But then I smelled a rat. Would Zebrowski have suggested such a dubious solution without the approval of leaders in the Hasidic community, and probably even Democratic leaders in Albany? I don’t think so, and that implies that Zebrowski has proposed a very serious trial balloon. I was more disturbed when I found out that leaders in the Black community had already opposed this plan before Zebrowski made it public.
Doesn’t Zebrowski need the support of Ramapo’s Black community? Apparently not! I suspect that he has made the calculation that our minority communities are so wedded to the Democratic Party that he believes he can make a deal with the Hassidic community that appear to be reasonable and get away with it.
In the long run Democratic decisions that hurt minority communities will undermine that constituency’s support for the Democratic Party. A Democratic party that continually panders to the leadership of the Hasidic community may ultimately threaten its political control of New York State. There is always the possibility, however remote, that a Republican populist will rise up to defend both our taxpayers and our minority communities.
Most bills die in Albany without any serious prospect of passage. Nevertheless, let us assume that Zebrowski’s proposal becomes law. What impact would this have?
First, the new religious district would be able to operate without any significant oversight. We have already seen how an unscrupulous school board can find myriad ways to illegally siphon funds out of the East Ramapo public school community. Second, it could then go to Albany, plead poverty, and ask for more generous school aid. Third, and certainly, most important, this act would signal a complete capitulation to a religious leadership that refuses to educate its own children in English, Mathematics, Science, or any of the other tools one needs to earn a living in our modern world.
The New York State constitution guarantees children the right to an education and the U.S. constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. But today thousands of children who go to religious schools can graduate today without ever hearing the English language. A completely autonomous religious district would never have to worry about its failure to educate.
Years ago the East Ramapo leadership made peace with the leaders of the Hasidic community. The deal went something like this: We will continue to support your school systems financially and we will make believe that your education meets the requirements of the New York State Department of Education. You, in turn, won’t work too hard to defeat our school budgets. Obviously the agreement has broken down. Appeasement never last forever.
The 2010 census found that our Hasidic population is growing at least 50 percent a decade. As it continues to expand at this extremely rapid rate the state legislature will be asked again and again to redraw district lines. The victims of this policy of appeasement will be our Hasidic youth and the public school students who still live within the boundaries of this segregated district.
What is believed to be true is true in its consequences. The creation of this district will send a signal throughout Rockland:
Our political leaders in Ramapo and Rockland are owned lock, stock, and barrel by the leaders of the Hasidic community. And these leaders are backed by our opportunistic and cowardly leaders in Albany. (emphasis author’s)
Already prospective home buyers are telling real estate agents that they are not interested in looking at houses in Ramapo. They often do not distinguish between homes located in the East Ramapo and Ramapo Central school districts.
While this aversion to home purchases in Ramapo is already having a negative impact on our real estate market it has real advantages for Hasidic slum lords. Homes abandoned because of high real estate taxes and declining home values give them the opportunity to make a killing. They can buy homes cheaply, convert them into illegal multi-family homes and welcome many more thousands of religious families that want to escape from Brooklyn. In the long run, of course, this strategy will bankrupt first Ramapo and then all of Rockland.
This process is well understood by many of Ramapo’s Orthodox families who are being squeezed out of Monsey. Increasingly they decline to vote for Supervisor St. Lawrence who they believe correctly is a tool of the Hasidic leadership. They also won’t support Preserve Ramapo because they believe the assertion cultivated by St. Lawrence and Ilon Schonberger that Preserve Ramapo is anti-Semitic. And they won’t support the local Ramapo Republican party because it is a party of losers who represent nothing. So, even though our large Orthodox community could play a vital role in local politics it has essentially disenfranchised itself. Politics is indeed a strange business.
Instead of looking for novel “solutions” to our East Ramapo School crisis responsible political leader should support a serious effort to stop the erosion of our tax base and use existing fire and safety regulations to protect all of our citizens from slum lords. But these efforts must be subordinate to the struggle to overthrow East Ramapo’s sleazy and vicious leadership.
If our political leaders really care about our children they will lead the fight for the proposed legislation in Albany that would give our New York State Department of Education the legal tools it needs to replace irresponsible administrators and financial officials who work against the best interest of our children.
If this proposed legislation never gets out of the respective education committees in Albany it will be a clear signal that our children don’t count. It is hard to believe that our political leaders are willing to sell out our children in return for a bloc vote and dirty money. Unfortunately, past history suggests that this is indeed the case.
How our political leaders respond to the crisis in East Ramapo will tell us a lot about their integrity.
Robert I. Rhodes, Chairman, Preserve Ramapo, Ph.D. www.PreserveRamapo.org