Lawrence, NY – Just days after a scathing report called for massive intervention in the troubled East Ramapo school district, a powerful New York State Senator denounced it as unconstitutional and anti-Semitic.
Senate majority leader John Flanagan came out strongly against the recommendations put forward by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a meet and greet with Jewish community leaders in Lawrence organized by Agudath Israel of America this past Thursday night.
Flanagan, who said that he has taken more meetings regarding East Ramapo than any other legislator, observed that he found discussions last year in the Assembly regarding a bill that called for state oversight in the embattled school district to be disturbing.
“What transpired on the floor was very unsettling and I think it should be unsettling to everyone because I think there were racial overtones,” said Flanagan. “I think there was anti-Semitism and I find that abhorrent.”
Flanagan affirmed the importance of local control, home rule and allowing those who are duly elected to serve. The senator expressed indignation at one particular recommendation made by Walcott and his team of monitors.
“They actually had in the report that you had to guarantee that at least one member on the school board in every election cycle is going to be a public school parent,” said Flanagan. “I was like, ‘How is that constitutional?’ That violates every precept of due process, constitutionality and things like that.”
Flanagan pledged his support as the senate majority leader to those who oppose the East Ramapo report.
“I think there were 19 recommendations and, really, what they want to do is over take the school district and we are not doing that,” vowed Flanagan, who chaired State Senate Education Committee for five years.
The senator said that he told Walcott that if he believes that the East Ramapo school board is misappropriating or diverting funds to private schools he should take advantage of existing mechanisms to handle the problem at the state level.
“If something is not being done properly it can be fixed,” said Flanagan. “We don’t need any new legislation for that.”
Flanagan, who represents the nearby 2nd Senate district, introduced himself to members of the Jewish community as a graduate of Touro Law School.
“The only A I got in law school was in a course called ‘Jewish Law,’” quipped Flanagan. “I satisfied my legal writing requirement with that class…What I did my legal requirement on was the get, so here I know more about Jewish divorce than almost anybody in the legislature.”
While it is East Ramapo that is currently in the media spotlight, it is not the only school district that faces problems because of a disproportionately large number of private school students, leaving members of the Jewish community in other areas cautiously observing the scenario as it unfolds.
Michael Fragin, a trustee for the Village of Lawrence, noted that similar accusations have been hurled at the Orthodox Jewish members of the Lawrence school board.
“Every district is different and has its own dynamics,” Fragin told VIN News. “We certainly have a similar issue here in regard to the state funding formula and receive far less funding than we should although East Ramapo has a much bigger district with many more students so there are much bigger issues.”
Fragin described the contention that private school parents should be disqualified from serving on school boards as “discriminatory and un-American.”
“The president sends his kids to private school,” said Fragin. “Governor Cuomo sends his kids to private school. John King, the immediate past commissioner of education for New York State, sends his kids to private school. No one questions them, but for some reason it just seems that Orthodox Jews are viewed as less qualified or less willing to serve all people which I think couldn’t be farther from the truth.”