ERCSD Trustee Tells the State to Put Up or Shut Up After Board Votes to Put Students First

ERCSD Trustee Tells the State to Put Up or Shut Up After Board Votes to Put Students First

By M.C. Millman

Last night, the East Ramapo Central School District met with the goal of voting on one of the three budget scenarios presented to the board, with the oft-repeated mission being to make sure that whatever the choice – it would prioritize the students. 

Superintendent Clarence Ellis made sure to point out that even if the full tax levy of 5.4% is passed when the budget vote takes place in April, funding would still have to be taken from reserves to cover next year’s budget.

“We would need a 17% tax increase to cover the shortfall, which isn’t being considered, but that’s what’s needed,” Ellis pointed out after a short review of the previous board meeting, reported on by Rockland Daily here.

Along the same lines, Trustee Yitzchok Gruber stated the reality that no one had been willing to state until then, which is that there is no way to fix the ERCSD’s budget problems with any of the three scenarios. 

“We are playing with less than 5 million out of a 20 million deficit,” Gruber said with regards to the $4.7 million budget adjustment the board needed to vote on, “so we are stuck regardless.”

Gruber pointed out that despite the picture being painted that the ERCSD’s budget issues are unique and despite the accusations that they are all caused by the voters' unwillingness to allow taxes to be raised annually, that is not the case. 

“Other districts are also in deficit,” Gruber said. “While a picture is being painted that the only district with an issue it is East Ramapo, and the only reason for it is the community, if you start looking in the every day, a different district has a huge deficit, and nobody has enough money … and now suddenly the state has pulled funding, and everyone finds themselves without money which means this has nothing to do with losing votes or not.”

Despite trying to exercise foresight to fix the budget issue once and for all, as the ERCSD reserve funds would not last beyond three years even with the passing of the budget increase by the voters, Dr. Bruce Singer insisted, “Budgets are one year at a time,” He then asked point blank if Gruber would go back to his community to insist they vote for the increased tax levy. 

“I can try, but it won’t help us. The only help is if the government will send money… Even if with the budget vote, we pick up eight million dollars, we are still short nineteen million and have to take fifteen million dollars out of reserves. This is unsustainable. We are still short even after cuts, which are only 1.3% of the entire budget, which is a small change... We are asking voters to vote for a five percent increase every year going forward for the next five or six years as the only way to maybe balance the budget. The only solution is when the state gives money, then we’ll have enough .” 

“How will eight million fix a deficit of sixty or seventy million over the next few years?” Grossman backed Gruber. 

School Board President Shimmy Rose agreed as well, saying, “4.7 million is such a small part of the deficit,” while Ellis protested, describing how whittling the budget down to arrive at those $4.7 million in cuts was a “gut-wrenching process.”

With regard to the state helping to fund the school district, Trustee Harry Grossman explained a new bill in the works, as reported by Rockland Daily here, that would have the state take over funding of nonpublic school students in districts where the non-public student population is 25% or more of the school district’s students.  Presently, the state works on a wealth ratio, which determines foundation funding for each district. The ration is based on the total value of property in each district, which is then divided by the number of public school students in the district. While there are 44,000 students in the ERCSD, funding is only given for 11,000 of them, as 33,000 are to nonpublic school students whose homes are included when calculating property value but whose numbers are not included for funding. This creates a skewed perspective by the state, which claims that the ERCSD is one of the wealthiest districts in the state when the truth is that it’s actually one of the poorest, as per the Census 2022 statistics. The bill, sponsored by Senator Bill Weber and Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, will provide funding for busing, textbooks, and special education, saving the school district millions of dollars annually and resolving the budget problems of the district. 

In response to the usual complaints the ERCSD doesn’t deserve help because it keeps voting down budget increases, Grossman stated, “It is 100% true that the voters voted down budgets over the past ten years,” Grossman said, “that has definitely negatively impacted the district, but by the same token the state shortchanging the district $20 million a year for the past ten to fifteen years has had 500 percent more impact on the school district so let the state put up or shut up!”

Grossman went on to share the 2022 Census statistics that report that the median income in the ERCSD is $67,000, while other districts nearby, like Haverstraw’s median is $97,000, and the other six are over 100,000 with Clarkstown coming in at a $158,000 income median. 

“So if you want to know why budgets are voted down,” Grossman said, “it’s not because of black, and it’s not because of brown, it’s because of green. It’s because we don’t have it!”

“Why are we wasting our time voting on three scenarios knowing they’re not good for us and not a solution?” Sabrina Charles-Pierre, ERCSD Vice President, asked in frustration as the conversation continued to go around in circles and the state monitors refused to offer suggestions when asked. “If the state doesn’t have solutions and the monitors don’t have solutions, how do we move forward?”

The board meeting concluded with the board members stating one by one that they do not support any scenario where any cuts affect any students. The final consensus was not to allow cuts on anything and to instead pay out of reserves this year in hopes of Albany having to fix the desperate situation before next year.

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