East Ramapo School Board Member Writes Letter To Dennis Walcott Regarding State Monitor

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ersdDear Dennis [Walcott]:

I am writing as an elected member of the Board of Education, a resident of East Ramapo, a voter, a taxpayer, and the father of an East Ramapo public school student.

Your recommendations to the Board of Regents are personally offensive to me, my family, my community, and especially to the 6,438 voters who entrusted me with the responsibility to safeguard their interests. I am also concerned that you do not appear to have given meaningful consideration to the harm your “recommendations” will cause our District for years into the future.

Given your recommendations, and your apparent disdain for our Board and parts of our community, I am wondering how you can continue to serve as Monitor for our District, or how we will be able to work productively with you going forward. You deliberately misled us. We believed that you and your team were honest brokers, who would bring expertise and calm to our troubled District.

You told us that your first and only interest was in identifying our District’s real challenges and helping us find solutions. And even though we have been repeatedly abused, blamed, and personally vilified by those who appointed and preceded you, we took a risk and trusted you. We followed all of your recommendations, even when it was personally and politically difficult for us. You played us for fools.

Trust is built on mutual respect, and you have made clear that you have none for us. Despite your protests to the contrary, this is very personal. Your report gives ammunition to the same extremists who invaded my home, frightened my family, and tried to intimidate me into resigning my seat.

You have validated the views of people who call us criminals, looters, and worse. You did so even though you know that these same people continue to anonymously insult and threaten my wife.

We showed you that the Board is committed to moving the District forward. Our community opened the door to reconciliation. But the so-called public school “activists” want only more chaos and endless conflict with the Jewish community. And you gave it to them.

Spare me the lame rationalizations you fed to the press. You recommended that the State appoint an unelected overseer with authority to “veto” our Board’s lawful decisions. Let’s be real — a board whose policies can be overruled just because one unelected official disagrees is a farce. The 6,438 people who voted for me did so because they trust me to make hard decisions for the good of the entire District not just for the small minority of public school students and their parents. If we can’t do that anymore, there is no point for the voters to elect us in the first place.

And don’t pretend that your recommendations are balanced. You have been in the District long enough to know that your recommendation amounts to taking sides, and will reignite the conflict in our District. Yet you made your recommendations, even though you know the District’s challenges were not caused by any bad decisions by our Board. Indeed, your report confirms that the actions our Board took to cut the budget were necessary, even if the budget cuts were misunderstood and unpopular among public school parents (of which, I remind you, I am one).

Your “justification” for calling for an overseer with the power to “veto” our Board is particularly troubling. You have argued that this measure is necessary because you can’t be sure that hypothetical future board members elected from the Orthodox Jewish community will be as accommodating as we have been. You insult and patronize our entire community. Do you really think it is reasonable for an entire community to be deprived of the right to freely elect their own representatives, just because they might choose someone you would find unacceptable? You should have learned in grade school civics that such an approach is wholly undemocratic, and profoundly inconsistent with our state and federal constitutions.

But rather than promote those fundamental democratic principles, you seem to have bought into the perverted argument that the core values of majority rule and proportional representation are secondary to racial and religious grievances. How else can you recommend the installation of an overseer whose express purpose is to overturn policies preferred by the District’s Jewish community and enacted by duly elected representatives?

I urge you to think again, because your recommendation for an unelected, all-powerful overseer violates the most basic guarantee of representative democracy.

You also recommended new legislation requiring three seats on the Board to be reserved exclusively for “parents of children attending public schools selected in a local process by other public school parents.” That recommendation is so obviously illegal and undemocratic that I have a hard time believing you are serious. But it is your stated rationale for this recommendation, more than any other that reveals an underlying prejudice against the Jewish community that discredits you and your report. You have explained that reserving Board seats for “public school parents” is justified because other Board members “may not be motivated by the same focus on the public schools as a traditional board member.”

Do you have any idea how offensive that statement is? What is a “traditional board member?” A board member who has the same values as you? A board member who is not an Orthodox Jew? I am both a public school parent and an Orthodox Jew. Do you presume you understand my motivations?

Your report and recommendations will, unfortunately, prolong conflict and acrimony in our District. The public school activists have seized upon your report and will press for the toxic legislative measures you have recommended. The Jewish Community will oppose them. The politics will be ugly, feelings will be hurt, and yet another generation of students will be consumed by swirling anger and resentment. You could have chosen a different path. Had you simply reported the facts as you found them, we could have continued our work rebuilding the District. That is what you repeatedly told us you were going to do. I am profoundly disappointed that you didn’t deliver on that promise.

Sincerely,

Yonah Rothman


12 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know all the relevant facts in this situation, but it seems to me that the overriding consideration has to be what will produce a Kiddush Hashem and what will produce a chillul Hashem. That, I feel, requires daas Torah from impartial Gedolei HaTorah who are familiar with American conditions and, possibly, who have listened to all sides in this very potentially explosive conflict, both Jews and Gentiles. It may require giving up things that seem entirely legitimate to the people involved in the situation. I’m sure the Gedolim are aware of this. We should all be davening that only a Kiddush Hashem come out of this situation and not a chillul Hashem, chas v’shalom.

  2. One other important point in this saga is that we all have to keep in mind that Hashem is the One Who is doing everything, not the Board of Regents and not Mr. Walcott. They are only His messengers and it requires Daas Torah to interpret His messages and in turn teach us how we, as his servants, are expected to act on them. Chazal tell us that Daas Torah is generally the opposite of daas baalei batim.

  3. por, the fact that you think that daas torah is goin to help this situation at all, or is indeed anything remotely Jewish, speaks volumes about your ignorance.

  4. Mr. Rothman,
    Brilliant letter ,written beautifully and clearly. I wish you much success and admire your dedication to doing the very best for our children.

  5. Well said. I think this is the first time I have heard or read something so articulate and straightforward. Thank you.
    I only wish people would always present our side so forcefuly.

  6. The answer is to do like Kiryas Joel and have a separate school district. Let the public school parents pay for the school themselves. No taxation without representation. Of course, since most of the public school parents aren’t American, they wouldn’t know about that.

  7. shuali, watch what you say mr. rothman has a special needs child. he has gone above and beyond for the entire klal. there should be nothing negative to be said here besides for a thank you for all that these board members are doing on behalf of the klal!!

  8. Por: i don’t know Mr rothman at all, but many frum parents of special needs children in east ramapo send to public school. Especially since there is a program within one of the public schools for Yiddish bilingual special needs students. I personally know of a few parents of special needs children who send to public school.

  9. @ Brother_Jew. I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I have to ask. Did you really just insult Daas Torah?
    Please tell me that I misunderstood what you wrote.

    B’Ahava Rabba
    M.

  10. I hope Gedolei Yisrael are involved in the decision making here. History has proven, time and again, that guidance by daas Torah results in the best long term results. Moral and ethical guidance is paramount.