April 14, 2024
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Feds Now Monitoring School District In Nearby East Ramapo

It’s not only the State of New York that will be monitoring the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD), but the federal government as well. And while many residents throughout Rockland County as well as elected officials are eager to see some oversight, Yehuda Weiss­mandl, President of the ERCSD, is calling it an offensive action.

After years of complaints from parents about the cuts made to public school pro­grams such as music and art, with allegations that the mostly Orthodox and Chasidic School Board was diverting funds to the yeshivas, the New York Commissioner of Education, Dr. John B. King, Jr, appointed a fiscal monitor to pro­vide administrative and fiscal oversight to the district.

Rockland County Legislator Barry Kantrow­itz who had sponsored county legislation ask­ing for a fiscal monitor said, “The appointment alone will not solve all the problems, but will be a step toward building confidence among the public school community that their children have not been forgotten. It is only through the intervention of an independent monitor that the process to repair the ERCSD can begin.”

As if State oversight was not enough, New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-17) called on two offices of the Federal Department of Education to expedite investigations of the ERCSD in its use of federal funds and potential civil rights violations. Though federal funds for ERCSD increased in Fiscal Year 2014 by approx­imately $20 million, there is an ongoing inves­tigation of ERCSD in matters of appropriate use of those monies. Also the Department’s office of Civil Rights is reviewing a complaint from the Spring Valley Branch of the National Asso­ciation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) regarding the school district.

Weissmandl’s letter to the NY Commission­er of Education acknowledged the receipt of a letter notifying him that a fiscal monitor was being appointed in an advisory capacity in or­der to ensure that the District is able to pro­vide an appropriate educational program and properly manage and account for state and federal funds received. While stating that the Board had serious concerns about “this deep­ly offensive action,” he did not acknowledge the results of an audit by the Office of the State Comptroller or by the Division of Local Govern­ment and School Accountability audit. It con­cluded that “after reviewing the information gathered during our initial risk assessment, we determined where weaknesses existed and evaluated those weaknesses for the risk of po­tential fraud, theft, and/or professional miscon­duct. We determined that financial condition was the area most at risk.”

The Comptroller found that the ERCSD ex­perienced both planned and unplanned op­erating deficits in its general fund over the last two fiscal years caused by inaccurate budget estimates. Also, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, the District’s financial records and its independent auditor reported an unassigned general fund balance deficit of $1,781,571. Also found was that ERCSD had stalled checks totaling $37,091 that are more than one year old, there was a liability to the Teachers’ Retire­ment System overstated by $86,168, and the reserve for encumbrances was overstated by $266,520. This was the beginning of a laundry list of problems with the financial manage­ment including estimating Medicaid aid at $2.8 million while actually receiving $625,000. Officials of ERCSD were unable to account for some of the problems noted in the audit re­port because between July 1, 2009 and Feb­ruary 1, 2013 there was a turnover of three dif­ferent Assistant Superintendents for Business.

Weissmandl wrote to King, “The most troubling aspect of your letter is that you fail to provide any reasoned explanation for the Fiscal Monitor appointment.” He wrote, “You are also aware that the District is regularly audited by the New York State comptroller, who has never found any evi­dence of fraud or wrongdoing by the Board or its employees.”

After addressing Statewide educational fi­nancial woes, Weissmandl wrote, “In light of these indisputable facts, it is clear to us that the decision to appoint a Fiscal Monitor is motivat­ed less by claimed ‘fiscal concerns,’ and more by divisive local politics. Self-proclaimed social justice leaders and long-standing political op­ponents of the Board— including several can­didates for the Board who couldn’t get elect­ed—have seized upon the District’s financial difficulties as ‘evidence’ of incompetence, mal­feasance, and even fraud by the elected mem­bers of the Board. The drumbeat of these libel­ous accusations— without a shred of evidence to support them—have been repeated in the press, advanced in lobbying trips to your of­fice, to state representatives and to the Gover­nor, and have led to your appointment of a Fis­cal Monitor.”

He also writes, “The serial critics of our Board openly contend that the Board’s ac­tions are suspect merely because a majori­ty of our members are elected from the dis­trict’s Orthodox and Hasidic communities. They assume—based upon our religion alone—that we have stolen from the very children we have been elected to serve. This is nothing but hateful bigotry.”

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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