By Joel Petlin
Last year at this time, the East Ramapo School District was mired in controversy, as local residents and the State struggled to find solutions to a vexing problem – how to best educate students in a unique high needs/low resource school district. In the year that followed, we have seen a new Commissioner of Education, a new local member of the Board of Regents, a new District law firm, a new school Superintendent, a new Haitian-American board member and a new monitoring team. With each of these developments we can now see the opportunity for fresh perspectives and new beginnings.
Yet, despite these seismic shifts, there remains a core vocal constituency who continues to demand more. Their never ending rant, at school board meetings, protest marches and social media posts, is that the current Board must be removed. It makes no difference to them that each was democratically elected or that none of these Board member have ever been charged with any criminal offense. Why, therefore, in the face of all these positive measures to improve East Ramapo does the vitriol still remain?
Here are my thoughts:
- Blame: It’s easy to point fingers when things go wrong, but solutions require a willingness to work together for the common good.
- Fear: The changing demographics in the Town of Ramapo has caused some to mistrust their neighbors and disrespect lifestyles that differ from their own.
- Hate: The comments section of Journal News articles on East Ramapo are quickly filled with anti-Hasidic rants, drowning out more moderate posters.
- Politics: Our elected officials, who should be interested in bringing communities together, have unfortunately discovered the political benefits of keeping them apart. That’s because blame, fear and hate can be effective tools to get elected, and are far easier to articulate than actually working to solve the problems at the core of their complaints.
Recently, the Journal News published a well researched expose on the troubles faced by the Yonkers City School District. Like East Ramapo, Yonkers is a poor community with a high percentage of minority students and English Language Learners. Like East Ramapo, Yonkers faces both fiscal and academic deficits. But while all constituencies in Yonkers have come together to demand fiscal equity for their District, the constituencies in East Ramapo have only come together to attack the Board of Education.
Shouting down volunteer Board members and their wives at their homes is a cruel and pointless exercise. It may provide headlines and video clips, but it does nothing to bring badly needed resources to East Ramapo.
This past year has brought significant changes and renewed hope. Both Dennis Walcott and Dr. Deborah Wortham bring many years of successful educational leadership to their roles. Only by working together, with them and the elected Board of Education, will East Ramapo truly find success for all students.
Joel Petlin is the Kiryas Joel School District Superintendent, an East Ramapo taxpayer and a member of the LoHud Board of Contributors