Divisions Persist in Debate Over E. Ramapo School Aid

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A New York Magazine article last month exposed the tensions in Rockland County among the Orthodox, mostly Hasidic, Jewish communities and a largely new immigrant population, predominantly from Haiti and Latin America, over the public school system.

Author Benjamin Wallace Wells told The Brian Lehrer Show the school board has a majority of Hasidic members even though they do not send their children to the public schools. They see the school system as a drain on their taxes and they've set their sights on reducing costs. This has meant laying off teachers, eliminating after-school programs and sports teams, cutting kindergarten to a half-day program. To hear the full interview click on play above.

On Wednesday, Aron Wieder, a former president of the East Ramapo School Board, defended the board's actions.

"There is a conscience in that school board towards the community at large," he said, putting the blame on Albany lawmakers for not properly funding the state's school districts.

A caller identified as Nana said the community is misappropriating funds and setting priorities to meet their own needs, including legal costs connected to getting more public funds to pay for Hasidic special needs students to receive services at their private schools.

"While there should be common ground, the Hasidic community is doing just what it want which is keeping taxes low," she said. "They are not using funds which could have been used to repair buildings, to pay for teachers, they are cutting taxes."

Sevveral people online said the East Ramapo school system has deteriorated rapidly, forcing many residents to enroll their children in private schools.

"Unfortunately, because the school system has been allowed to flounder, I have had to send my son to a private school in order to ensure that he receives a quality education. It's outrageous that I need to pay both school taxes and private school tuition because a special interest group has gotten such a choke hold on our school district," one person wrote.