NY Lawmakers Pass Vote for ERCSD Monitor Veto Power

A year after a federal judge ruled that the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD) board violated the federal voting rights act, the New York State Legislature passed a measure on June 10 that will expand the powers of a district monitor appointed to ensure equity in the district.

Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick introduced and pushed for the legislation.

“Thank you to the countless parents, students, and families who have spent years fighting for this bill, this is your victory!” wrote Reichlin-Melnick on Twitter.

The new powers would allow monitors to overturn a decision by the district board that does not align with the school’s academic goals. Monitors would also be able to mandate training for board members, introduce resolutions for a board vote, and help in the decision process of hiring a new superintendent.

The bill is pending final approval from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Advocates have spent several years fighting for more oversight of the ERCSD school board.  The State Legislature narrowly passed the bill for a monitor in 2016, after Senate Republicans opposed previous proposals that would have given the state veto powers over the district. The bill was passed after  the monitors’ powers were lessened and additional state aid was added. Parents and advocates have expressed hope that having a district monitor with stronger powers would help improve public schools.

The Spring Valley NAACP branch has spearheaded the campaign to provide public school students with the resources they are entitled to by the state.

After the federal Supreme Court found ERCSD guilty of holding racially polarized elections that favored private schools, the Spring Valley NAACP turned its focus toward appointing a monitor to protect the interests of public school students.

“On behalf of the members of the Spring Valley NAACP, I wish to express appreciation to East Ramapo alumni, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, (President, NY State Conference NAACP); and above all, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick for their unwavering support of East Ramapo’s public school children,” said Willie Trotman, President, Spring Valley NAACP.

Reichlin-Melnick said with the district set to receive $200 million in state aid and federal stimulus money next year, the passing of this legislation is necessary. “It is imperative the NYS Education Department is able to oversee disbursement of those funds, and ensure appropriate financial planning is undertaken to ensure all students receive an excellent education,” said Reichlin-Melnick.

While many have spoken in favor of the legislation, not everyone agrees with the passing of the bill. Agudath Israel, an organization that supports and advocates for the Orthodox Jewish communities, issued a statement criticizing the approach.

“It overturns the will of the voters, giving the monitor the power to thwart the decisions of a democratically elected school board,” wrote the organization. “In addition, this will not solve the underlying issues in the East Ramapo school district, as it does not deal with the root causes of the funding inequities fomented by a flawed state formula.”

Agudath Israel also condemned those who accused the board of racism. “Falsely accusing the school board – consisting primarily of Orthodox Jewish members – of ‘Jim Crow’ style racial animus is especially offensive, especially given the recent rise in antisemitic hate crimes,” said the organization.

Agudath Israel acknowledged in its statement that the district has already made progress over the last four years with the existing monitor. “It is the hope of Agudath Israel that the divisive rhetoric will end and lawmakers will find a way to address the root of the problem and represent the will of all those in East Ramapo.”

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