Yeshivat Avir Yakov, a chasidic school in Rockland County’s New Square, will no longer be permitted to lease the former Hillcrest Elementary School building from the East Ramapo Central School District at below-market prices.
Upholding a petition filed against the district, New York State Education Commissioner John King annulled the lease Wednesday, saying, “ I cannot find, on this record, that the Board took reasonable steps to ensure that it was getting the best deal possible.”
The school also seems to be having more difficulty accessing government technology subsidies, which it had benefited from for several years despite not providing its students with access to computers.
In his ruling Wednesday, Commissioner King also ordered that “prior to disposing of school district property by either sale or lease, the Board take all steps necessary to ensure that it makes a reasonably informed decision, and obtains the best deal possible, including taking any and all reasonable steps to assess the property’s fair market value or fair market rental value,” according to the Rockland Times.
The Times quoted school board candidate Robert Forrest, who filed the petition, saying the lease was “at 60 percent below its actual market rental value.”
District parent Steven White, who is leading a lawsuit against the East Ramapo school board, told the Times that the ruling “substantiates the primary complaint in our civil rights lawsuit: that the school board is illegally diverting resources from public education to support the yeshivas.”
The majority of the school board members, like the majority of voters in the school district, are Orthodox Jews whose own children attend yeshivas, rather than public schools. In recent years, they have made major cuts to the public schools’ programs.
Avir Yakov is one of several fervently Orthodox schools in New York State that, The Jewish Week reported in a series of investigative articles earlier this year, has received unusually large government subsidies for technology purchases even though it does not provide students with access to computers or the Internet.
Through the federal E-rate program, the boys school requested over $1 million each year for telecommunications services from the federal E-rate program in 2011 and 2012, receiving just over $1 million for the two years combined. It has so far requested $603,000 for 2013, but been awarded nothing.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai recommended this week that the E-rate program be overhauled, noting that “dollars are directed not where they are most needed (rural and poor schools) but where people are most adept at navigating the system.”
In his speech announcing the overhaul, he referenced this newspaper’s finding that Brooklyn’s United Talmudical Academy, which is chasidic, has received “tens of millions of E-rate dollars over the years” and that in 2012 one of the school’s service providers billed E-rate $81,600 for Internet access alone. “This is all rather curious because the school’s students are explicitly forbidden from accessing the Internet,” Pai said in his speech to the American Enterprise Institute.