Letter to Editor of Rockland Voice
From: County Legislator Cris Carey
The failure of the New York State Senate to pass a bill appointing an empowered fiscal monitor in the East Ramapo School District is a disgraceful and unacceptable result for anyone who values the important role that free and unfettered access to a quality public education plays in our society. Now that the New York State Senate has failed the children of East Ramapo, it is time for other government agencies such as the State Education Department to step in and utilize all the tools and powers at their disposal to ensure that all students in the East Ramapo School District receive the quality education to which they are entitled.
The State of New York sets the educational standards and requirements that all schools must adhere to and two recent reports from the State Education Department outline many of the ways in which the East Ramapo School District is failing to meet those requirements. The time for reporting and fact finding is over; the time to begin enforcing compliance to these standards in East Ramapo is now. The State of New York must uphold its responsibilities to its citizens.
Our nation’s Constitution was largely framed around the need to protect people from potential tyranny. The intent behind the creation of a Democratic Republic was to create a system of government where the will of the majority was tempered with carefully crafted limitations of power in order protect the rights of the minority. Great care was taken to ensure individual rights were placed above the power of the government.
Sadly, this is the exact opposite of what is happening in the East Ramapo School District where the rights of the most helpless and vulnerable in our society are being trampled by the will of an unyielding and self-serving majority. The State of New York must take whatever action is necessary to remedy this situation including sanctions, increased fiscal restrictions or even the removal of school board members or the superintendent.
Over the past few months, many fingers have been pointed in blame over who is responsible for the continued plight of these students. It is important to remember that this crisis was created and perpetuated solely by the East Ramapo School Board. However, the system of checks and balances designed to ensure the ethical assertion of local power has failed these students at every turn. When we were finally close to moving toward a resolution, the New York State Senate chose to put politics over people in refusing to even put the bill for an empowered fiscal monitor up for a vote. The primary blame for this falls squarely on the Senate leadership and most specifically, Senator Flanagan as the majority leader. He has failed remarkably in his duty to protect the rights of the citizens of New York State.
New York State Senator David Carlucci also deserves his share of the blame for essentially undermining all the efforts, including his own, that brought the bill for a monitor successfully through the State Assembly. When Senator Flanagan expressed his intent to prevent the bill from being voted on, Senator Carlucci chose to gut the Assembly bill and proposed a “compromise” in the interests of being able to say that some form of legislation was passed.
The bill he proposed was little more than a blanket of political cover that did nothing for the students of East Ramapo. The bill took veto power away from the monitor, limited the scope of oversight to be applicable only in enforcing the existing laws of the state, and provided even more funding to be spent at will by a board that has proven time and time again to be incapable of responsible fiscal management.
The Senate chose to run away from the weakened version anyway in letting the issue go unaddressed as their legislative session ended.
However, this does not mean this fight is over. The system of checks and balances to the power of government contains extraordinary measures that are available to be used when called for by extraordinary circumstances. The complete disregard for the civil rights of 9000 public school students is a perfect example of an extraordinary circumstance that calls for extraordinary measures. The State Education Department has the broad powers needed to rescue the East Ramapo School District and it must vigilantly and vigorously uphold its duty to ensure the educational standards of the state are enforced in East Ramapo.
The time to act is now. Please contact New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and let her know that you support the State Education Department’s intervention in East Ramapo. Chancellor Tisch can be reached at Regent.Tisch@nysed.gov