Rockland County, NY - Dennis Walcott Sheds Light On E. Ramapo Report In Journal News Interview
Rockland County, NY - East Ramapo monitor Dennis Walcott spoke at length Tuesday with Gary Stern of The Journal News’ editorial board about his controversial 19 point report issued late last month.
As previously reported on VIN News, while the report acknowledged that the district was seriously underfunded by New York State, it also recommended that a monitor with veto power be put in place to potentially overturn decisions made by the predominantly Jewish school board. The report also recommended that future school board elections be supervised by monitors and cast doubt on whether gender segregated busses would continue to be provided to the private school community.
Walcott blamed the district’s problems on poor decision making over many years by the East Ramapo school board, which didn’t properly provide for the district’s public school students.
“Unfortunately this board and these students are really suffering as a result of some of those decisions,” said Walcott.
Walcott said that reliance on state funding, which had never been guaranteed for the long term, is another factor that has caused East Ramapo to lapse into its current state of crisis.
Drawing an unequivocal line in the sand, Walcott noted that the state will not allocate any additional funding to East Ramapo unless a monitor with veto power is appointed to the district, an ultimatum that will likely place the lead monitor directly at odds with the current school board. Walcott pointed to controversial attempts by the school board to sell off unused public school buildings several years ago to yeshivas at below market prices as prime examples of situations when a monitor could have stepped in and intervened for the benefit of the school district.
Walcott criticized the board, saying that his recommendations were drafted to prevent future injustices.
“The board has been somewhat disconnected from the community and sometimes been not proper in their relationships with the community and I think we have to make sure that that does not repeat itself in the future and that is part of what we are looking at and how we put those systems in place,” said Walcott.
Yet Walcott also praised current school board president Yehuda Weissmandl, noting that he has been diligent in his efforts to work with the district’s unique demographics.
“I want to be very clear that under Yehuda’s leadership the board has taken some steps,” observed Walcott. “ I am always impressed with his balancing act and how he has to deal with the leadership of being the board president and representing a variety of different constituency groups, trying to bring those constituency groups together on behalf of all the students in the district because as you well know this is a very unique district.”
Despite strides taken by Weissmandl, Walcott said his decisions were based on the future of the district, suggesting that Weissmandl could be voted out in the next school board election.
Walcott shrugged off allegations of anti-Semitism that were hurled once his report was made public. Calling on his own experience working with a failed school district in central Harlem some 20 years ago, Walcott said that people were upset that a decision was made to have the school board taken over by a group of trustees and suggested that the move had been racially motivated, a situation that he compared to the troubles in East Ramapo.
“It doesn’t involve the issue of religion or race when people feel that someone is not doing their job properly and that had been the case before up here in East Ramapo,” remarked Walcott.
Given the district’s unique demographics, religious issues cannot be ignored, explained Walcott.
“I think where religion comes in is that you have a population that is growing that is entitled to their services and we have to make sure that all the services and dollars that they are entitled to they receive and receive appropriately,” said Walcott.
But Walcott said that the main problem in East Ramapo has nothing to do with the district’s unique demographics.
“I think that part of the challenge of this district is that you do have the intersection of religion and race and ethnic identity that are all part of the discussion but sometimes it just deals with the fiduciary responsibility of an institution more than the religion,” observed Walcott.
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