The Congers Elementary School has again become the synecdoche for what is wrong in Clarkstown. What was once one of the best school systems in New York State is now facing declining enrollment as the number of young families with school-age children declines.
The Journal News has reported that parents and other community members are pressing their case that the damaged Congers Elementary School should be reopened as they scrutinized a demographic report that forecasts declining enrollment in Clarkstown’s schools. More than 250 people gathered at the district offices Thursday night for a heated public question-and-answer session on the report.
The demographic study, conducted by Western Suffolk BOCES, indicates that most of the district’s 14 school buildings are underused and will continue to be underused through 2018. It predicts that kindergarten classes will be smaller, following a trend of fewer housing sales and a 7.4 percent decrease in enrollment over the last 10 years.
These findings have become the subject of growing controversy and skepticism as Clarkstown officials mull a districtwide building reorganization. Officials have invited input on the report but have shared few details about what direction they may take. Many parents voiced concerns about what they believe is the district’s unofficial plan to shutter one or more buildings, including the Congers school, which was closed in August 2013 due to structural damage in a gymnasium wall. In February 2014, voters approved borrowing up to $6.5 million to repair Congers. The board then awarded $4.3 million in contracts last fall, setting in motion a construction schedule that would theoretically make the building inhabitable by summer. But officials have kept silent on Congers’ future use as rumors circulate about whether it could be rented out or converted to an administration building, based on the demographer’s findings.
New York State is now #2 in the nation having more people leaving than those arriving. This is clearly driven by plunderous levels of taxation and political corruption which reaches, according to the Moreland Commission, to the doorstep of the Democratic Governor’s office.
The same issues are openly visible in Clarkstown. Our town has over $100 million in bonded debt which it is struggling to reduce and which it has been paying for by reducing the Town’s Reserve Fund and attempting to sell Town assets. That fund is now below the level that will permit the Town to retain its vaunted Triple A bond rating which determines what its citizens must pay in interest on its debts.
Clarkstown is a central part of the “corridor of corruption“. Witness the recent political corruption associated with the arrests of Bronx Republican, Jay Savino, and County Legislator, Frank Sparaco, both hired to jobs in the Town of Clarkstown with the approval of Supervisor Gromack and the controlling Democratic majority on the Clarkstown Town Board despite repeated and prolonged objections by the citizenry.
Additionally, Clarkstown has a looming problem associated with a growing Hasidic population in neighboring Ramapo where the East Ramapo Central School District has essentially been raped. Ramapo has a private Yeshiva population of 24,000 students today which is predicted to grow to 50,000 within 10 years. It must be housed and provided water and sewers in a county which has rejected increasing its water supply through the construction of a desalination plant. Ramapo’s problems are destined to become Clarkstown’s because of the demographics. Rockland County has an out-of-control Medicaid burden being shouldered by its residents which the County Legislature appears complicit in ignoring lest its members find themselves slandered with the term ‘anti-Semitic’.
In the County the buck stopped with County Executive Vanderhoef whose attempt to achieve higher office in the State was roundly rejected by voters because of his failure in dealing with Rockland County’s deteriorating budget situation. It now stops with County Executive Day whose initial attempts to control the county’s budget were roundly rejected by the present Legislature which is coming up for re-election in 2015. In the Town of Clarkstown the buck stops with Supervisor Gromack who claims to have balanced the budget every year of his administration while failing to admit that this was done by selling Town assets and depleting the Town’s Emergency Reserve Fund. That pattern was broken for the first time with the 2015 budget in which the Town was forced by the insistence of the minority Republicans, Hoehmann and Borelli, to cut overtime, reduce spending and balance the budget while staying below the state-mandated tax cap.
Speaking about the consultant’s study predicting further decline in the population of Clarkstown’s public schools, the Journal News reported: “The reality is, this report cannot define the future of Clarkstown,” said parent Sean Magee, of Congers, a former school board candidate. “This report is being used to create what’s going to happen in the budget process, and that is the closing of an elementary school, or two.”
The true reality is that the citizens of Clarkstown cannot permit the core underlying problems driving residents to leave Clarkstown and Rockland to go unaddressed. These are 1) unsustainable property taxes, 2) political corruption, and 3) unsustainable growth of the Hasidic population with its associated Medicaid costs.
Many of those in office have to date shirked their responsibilities in tackling these core issues. One has to wonder therefore if Rockland and the Town of Clarkstown can still be preserved?
[Picture Credit: http://www.siliconsemiconductor.net]