The only two non-Orthodox Jewish members of an embattled Rockland County school board unexpectedly resigned this week, citing continuous intimidation from fellow board members, according to The Journal News, a daily newspaper that covers Westchester and Rockland counties.
The resignations of Stephen Price, who had served for 20 years, and Suzanne Young-Mercer, who was first elected in 2007, were announced at a Tuesday board meeting.
Young-Mercer told The Journal News that she and Price made the decision to resign together. Doing her job as an elected official had become “exceedingly difficult … due to the lack of trust I have in the information being provided to me” and the “persistent level of intimidation” she felt when she spoke out or raised concerns, including verbal abuse from fellow board members.
According to The Journal News, Price wrote in his resignation letter that Superintendent Joel Klein ignored his repeated requests for financial data and other budget information, generally providing only information that was “incomplete or inaccurate.” He also complained of being “wrongfully accused of religious discrimination” and threatened with legal actions.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Board President Daniel Schwartz called the departures “everybody’s loss,” but neither he nor Klein responded to messages from reporters.
The seven remaining board members are chasidic Jews who send their own children to yeshivas. A group of parents and community members filed a class-action lawsuit this summer against the seven and against the financially troubled district’s administrators, charging them with various acts of misconduct, among them: selling public school property at below-market prices to Jewish schools, placing children in private special-education programs (at district expense) without first following state-mandated procedures, purchasing thousands of dollars worth of religious books to loan to Jewish schools and replacing the district’s local attorney with a twice-as-expensive Long Island attorney.
The East Ramapo district includes Spring Valley, Chestnut Ridge, New Hempstead and Monsey, serving approximately 8,000 public school students and approximately 18,000 private school students.
About 85 percent of the public school students are black or Hispanic; the vast majority of the private school students attend yeshivas.