Haredi and political leaders at odds over possible East Ramapo school district takeover

New bill would give the state authority to raise taxes and increase the district’s school budget.

Screenshot of ERCSD board meeting

Jun 3, 2024 6:45 PM


Haredi leaders are at odds with politicians and government officials over a bill that would give the state authority to raise local taxes and expand the school budget for the East Ramapo Central School District, which covers Monsey, New Square, and the nearby area.

The bill – which could be passed as soon as this week – comes after school district voters rejected a budget for the next school year that requested a 1.99% tax levy hike, a choice in keeping with the largely Haredi community’s history of repeatedly rejecting funding for public schools. 

State assemblymember Ken Zebrowski said that even that proposed hike would have been too small. "Even with the 1.99% (tax levy hike) this district was going to run into times when [it] could not meet payroll," Zebrowski, who introduced the new bill, told the Journal News.

The bill — which has the support of the New York State Education Department — would install a fiscal control board that could raise local property taxes, and allow the district to access future state aid sooner. Issues facing the district have long pitted public school students against Haredi taxpayers who send their children to private schools and want public funding to do so.

Zebrowski, a Democrat representing parts of Rockland, says that without extreme measures, "these kids will not have a school to go to."

In a recent press release, Agudath Israel of America, an organization that lobbies the government on issues affecting Haredi communities and advocates for more yeshiva funding, called Zebrowski’s bill “a misguided effort which would completely overturn the will of the voters of the district.”

“This legislative effort is counterproductive and supports those who, instead of looking to craft real solutions, have often reverted to antisemitic tropes and false accusations of racism which only serve to further divide people and do nothing to improve the education of students in the district,” Agudah said.

The Journal News reported that votes against budget proposals have been concentrated in neighborhoods where more children attend yeshivas.

The vast majority of students who go to public school in the district are people of color, and most are English language learners, according to the Journal News. Their voting power is curtailed by the fact that one must be a U.S. citizen to vote in school elections. The school board, which oversees all public funds that go to education in the district, has a majority of Orthodox Jews, even though almost all children from the Haredi communities go to local Jewish private schools.

According to the Journal News, the district has staffing shortages, among the lowest standardized test scores in the state, and inoperable water fountains whose water is tainted with lead. About 14.8% of students there are legally considered homeless

The district spends over 20% of its budget on transportation, as it offers universal busing to its fast-growing body of students, who mostly attend Haredi private schools. State senator Bill Weber and assemblymember Karl Brabenec, both Republicans, have proposed transferring transportation costs from the district to the state in districts where many of the students attend private schools.

Agudah’s proposed solution is for the state to change its formula for how much foundation aid each district gets from the state. “The current formula which bases the aid on the number of public school students, can never suffice when more than three quarters of the district’s students attend yeshivas and other private schools which the district is required to serve,” the press release said.

The community will vote again on June 18 on a budget that would only increase taxes by 1%, the Journal News reported.