East Ramapo Board member writes open letter to School Monitor Dennis Walcott

Dear Dennis:

I am writing as an elected member of the Board of Education, a resident of East Ramapo, a voter, a taxpayer, and the father of an East Ramapo  public school student. Your recommendations to the Board of Regents are personally offensive to me, my family, my community, and especially to the 6,438 voters who entrusted me with the responsibility to safeguard their interests. I am also concerned that you do not appear to have given meaningful consideration to the harm your “recommendations” will cause our District for years into the future.

Given your recommendations, and your apparent disdain for our Board and parts of our community, I am wondering how you can continue to serve as Monitor for our District, or how we will be able to work productively with you going forward. You deliberately misled us. We believed that you and your team were honest brokers, who would bring expertise and calm to our troubled District. You told us that your first and only interest was in identifying our District’s real challenges and helping us find solutions. And even though we have been repeatedly abused, blamed, and personally vilified by those who appointed and preceded you, we took a risk and trusted you.  We followed all of your recommendations, even when it was personally and politically difficult for us. You played us for fools.

Trust is built on mutual respect, and you have made clear that you have none for us.  Despite your protests to the contrary, this is very personal.  Your report gives ammunition to the same extremists who invaded my home, frightened my family, and tried to intimidate me into resigning my seat. You have validated the views of people who call us criminals, looters, and worse. You did so even though you know that these same people continue to anonymously insult and threaten my wife. We showed you that the Board is committed to moving the District forward. Our community opened the door to reconciliation.  But the so-called public school “activists” want only more chaos and endless conflict with the Jewish community. And you gave it to them.

Spare me the lame rationalizations you fed to the press. You recommended that the State appoint an unelected overseer with authority to “veto” our Board’s lawful decisions. Let’s be real — a board whose policies can be overruled just because one unelected official disagrees is a farce. The 6,438 people who voted for me did so because they trust me to make hard decisions for the good of the entire District – not just for the small minority of public school students and their parents. If we can’t do that anymore, there is no point for the voters to elect us in the first place.

And don’t pretend that your recommendations are balanced.  You have been in the District long enough to know that your recommendation amounts to taking sides, and will reignite the conflict in our District. Yet you made your recommendations, even though you know the District’s challenges were not caused by any bad decisions by our Board. Indeed, your report confirms that the actions our Board took to cut the budget were necessary, even if the budget cuts were misunderstood and unpopular among public school parents (of which, I remind you, I am one).

Your “justification” for calling for an overseer with the power to “veto” our Board is particularly troubling.  You have argued that this measure is necessary because you can’t be sure that hypothetical future board members elected from the Orthodox Jewish will be as accommodating as we have been.  You insult and patronize our entire community. Do you really think it is reasonable for an entire community to be deprived of the right to freely elect their own representatives, just because they might choose someone you would find unacceptable?  You should have learned in grade school civics that such an approach is wholly undemocratic, and profoundly inconsistent with our state and federal constitutions.

But rather than promote those fundamental democratic principles, you seem to have bought into the perverted argument that the core values of majority rule and proportional representation are secondary to racial and religious grievances. How else can you recommend the installation of an overseer whose express purpose is to overturn policies preferred by the District’s Jewish community and enacted by duly elected representatives? I urge you to think again, because your recommendation for an unelected, all- powerful overseer violates the most basic guarantee of representative democracy.

You also recommended new legislation requiring three seats on the Board to be reserved exclusively for “parents of children attending public schools selected in a local process by other public school parents.” That recommendation is so obviously illegal and undemocratic that I have a hard time believing you are serious. But it is your stated rationale for this recommendation, more than any other that reveals an underlying prejudice against the Jewish community that discredits you and your report. You have explained that reserving Board seats for “public school parents” is justified because other Board members “may not be motivated by the same focus on the public schools as a traditional board member.” Do you have any idea how offensive that statement is?  What is a “traditional board member?” A board member who has the same values as you? A board member who is not an Orthodox Jew? I am both a public school parent and an Orthodox Jew. Do you presume you understand my motivations?

Your report and recommendations will, unfortunately, prolong conflict and acrimony in our District.  The public school activists have seized upon your report and will press for the toxic legislative measures you have recommended. The Jewish Community will oppose them. The politics will be ugly, feelings will be hurt, and yet another generation of students will be consumed by swirling anger and resentment. You could have chosen a different path. Had you simply reported the facts as you found them, we could have continued our work rebuilding the District. That is what you repeatedly told us you were going to do.  I am profoundly disappointed that you didn’t deliver on that promise.


Yonah Rothman

2 Lacey Court Wesley Hills, NY

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