There is a proposed bill in the legislature that, if passed, will remove the authority of the elected Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District, and appoint an outside “monitor” to control the District. Some of the bill’s supporters have said that this extreme, unprecedented measure is justified because the elected Board has denied public school students a sound basic education, has “grossly mismanaged funds,” has unlawfully “diverted” funds from public schools to private schools, and because the District is on the “brink” of fiscal disaster.
If any of those accusations were true, then the “Monitor Bill” would not be necessary. If the East Ramapo Board has violated the law, mismanaged finances or diverted funds, the New York State Education Commissioner is authorized by law to step in and correct the misdeeds. But the Commissioner hasn’t done so. And the reason is that there simply is no evidence to support the oft-repeated nasty accusations.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s examine the facts: The “Monitor Bill” seeks to authorize the “monitor” (i) to “propose resolutions and override decisions of the board or superintendent;” (ii) to have access to all district documents and records; (iii) to “direct the board, superintendent” or other officials to “undergo any training;” and (iv) to hold public hearings, and come up with a “five year plan” for the district. The Education Commissioner can do almost all of that without new legislation.
The Commissioner already has access to all district financial and educational records, since the Board regularly reports to the Commissioner on educational and financial matters. In addition, the Commissioner audits our general and special education records several times a year.
The Commissioner also has the power to direct School Boards to “undergo training.” In fact, a few months ago the Commissioner did just that, and all of our Board members underwent Public Meetings Law training.
The Commissioner can conduct investigations, and has the authority to direct the Board to implement a corrective plan, were necessary. The Commissioner has done just that with regularity in East Ramapo. For example, the Commissioner directed us to create a new program for bilingual English-Yiddish special education students. We complied. And now we are being criticized for implementing the program. During the height of the recent economic downturn, the Commissioner directed our Board to cut non-mandated educational services in our schools and to lay-off employees in order to balance our budget. We complied with that order, as well, and have been the target of relentless criticism for doing so ever since.
The only new thing the Monitor Bill will accomplish is to empower an un-elected “monitor” to “override decisions of the board or superintendent.” But the Commissioner already has the power to overturn Board actions that run afoul of the law, and can remove board members who don’t follow the Commissioner’s orders.
Can it really be that the purpose of the proposed Monitor Bill is to empower a “monitor” to “override” Board decisions that follow the law and that otherwise comply with the Commissioner’s orders? That doesn’t make any sense. Moreover, it is wishful thinking to argue that the bill is designed to fix the District’s budget or education programs, since nothing in the bill provides any additional funds for the District’s budget. Is the new “monitor” going to be authorized to stop providing transportation services, special education, textbooks, and other mandated services to private school students? That would break the law.
So what is the point of this “monitor” legislation? The best the New York ADL could say for the bill is that it will “hopefully lower the unfortunate tension” in the community. In other words, the “monitor” legislation has little to do with the reality of the Board’s decisions, nothing to do with legal “rights or wrongs,” and everything to do with mistrust of our lawfully elected board and the community that elected us.
That is no reason to support this extreme legislation. There are plenty of lesser ways to work to bring our community back together. The appointment of a “monitor” to undo the results of free and fair elections will not decrease the conflict—it will exacerbate it.
Harry Grossman is vice president of the East Ramapo Central School District.